[An-lang] Prepositional verbs

Don Killian donald.killian at helsinki.fi
Mon Sep 19 11:02:11 UTC 2022

Dear Colleagues,

In a more typologically-oriented article, I'm looking at adpositions 
which show spatial deixis marking, a distinction which seems to appear 
quite often (relatively speaking) among Austronesian languages.

One part that is giving me trouble, however, is distinguishing between 
verbs and adpositions on a cross-linguistic level, something that is 
often difficult to tell even for a single language, let alone for the 
whole world. This is something probably more than one linguist on here 
has grappled with!

 From Keesing 1991:

"A widespread pattern in Oceanic languages, clearly preserved in the 
Eastern Oceanic languages of Vanuatu and the southeastern Solomons, is 
the use of what have been called "prepositional verbs." What had at one 
time been second verbs in compound verbal constructions have become 
detached, such that they function semantically and syntactically as 
prepositions, but morphologically retain the structure of transitive 
verbs (in being marked with transitive-suffixes and/or bound clitic 
object pronouns)"

So I'm aware that Oceanicists in particular (although this is definitely 
more widespread than just Oceanic) have long struggled with this 
ambiguity, going back to the 1800's apparently, but has any solution 
been found more recently on a greater level than with a single language?

In particular, I'm running into the problem of distinguishing between 
the following:

-adpositions which originate from verbs, which coexist with homophonous 
verbal forms
-coverbs/prepositional verbs/verboids (or whichever term you prefer): 
something which retains too many verbal properties to be considered a 
"pure" adposition, and is more like a verb which is then used adpositionally

Different researchers may have different thoughts on this, but which 
features in your opinions would definitively say something is a 
prepositional verb rather than a preposition?

Do you have any hints or suggestions on cross-linguistic ways to 
distinguish these two categories, especially when I don't usually have 
detailed syntactic analysis on each individual lexeme analyzed as being 
a prepositional verb?

Thanks for any suggestions or advice you can give!



Don Killian
Researcher in Linguistics
Department of Languages
PL 24 (Unioninkatu 38 B)
FI-00014 University of Helsinki
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