[Lingtyp] terminological question about local cases/adpositions

Christian Lehmann christian.lehmann at uni-erfurt.de
Wed Mar 24 14:30:43 UTC 2021

May I briefly interrupt the epistemological debate with a much simpler 

Several languages (notably, many Uralic languages) display a rich local 
case system which neatly distinguishes between spatial regions ('top', 
'bottom', 'interior', exterior' etc.) and local relations ('rest, motion 
to/from/through') to these or to the object irrespective of its regions. 
The descriptive tradition for such languages has responded to the 
structure of such paradigms by reflecting it in a set of Latinate terms 
of the following structure:

adessive, allative, ablative
inessive, illative, elative
superessive, superlative (never mind the homonymy of this term), delative

and many others. It does not matter at the moment to what extent the 
case systems or the terminology are systematic and complete. My concern 
is the distinction between rest (essive) and motion (lative). Such a 
distinction is made in local cases or adpositions of many languages. 
Contrasting with these, there are (possibly equally many or more) 
languages whose adpositions only code the spatial region, leaving the 
local relation to other components of the clause. My question is how we 
can apply the terminological pattern mentioned to these languages in 
order to get appropriate grammatical category labels and abbreviations 
for the morphological glosses of such adpositions. Here are some such 
concepts and corresponding ponderous terms:

non-specific:    essive/lative
top:    superessive/-lative
bottom:    subessive/-lative
interior: inessive/illative
proximity: adessive/allative
vicinity: apudessive/-lative
and others.

These terms have at least two disadvantages:

  * They are long-winded.
  * The 'lative' member of each pair has commonly been applied
    specifically to the direction to(wards) the reference object, not
    generally to a motion relation.

The first pair in the list is often simply called 'locative'. But what 
about the others? Are there shorter, but equally systematic terms in use 

Some may prefer just using English words like 'on', 'under', 'beside' to 
designate and gloss such adpositions or cases. Such a solution is 
fraught with problems, too:

 1. These are no technical terms in a grammatical description, so they
    don't imply a grammatical category and paradigm. (We can say such
    things as 'it is marked by the ablative', but hardly 'it is marked
    by "from"'.)
 2. Some of these English prepositions (being SAE prepositions) do imply
    a local relation, like English /in/ is incompatible with ablative
    directionality (must be /out of/).
 3. Yet other spatial regions like vicinity are not matched by an
    English preposition (/by/ is too ambiguous, other candidates are too

Ignoring problems 2 and 3 would therefore evoke mistaken ideas in the 
recipient of the description.

Grateful for any useful hints,



Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
Rudolfstr. 4
99092 Erfurt

Tel.: 	+49/361/2113417
E-Post: 	christianw_lehmann at arcor.de
Web: 	https://www.christianlehmann.eu

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