Cognitive Aspects of the Grammaticalization of Medieval Welsh Prepositions

Cognitive Aspects of the Grammaticalization of Medieval Welsh Prepositions

By Heather Rose Jones

PhD Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 2003

Abstract: Prepositions are one of the tools languages can use to mark and distinguish roles associated with particular semantic frames or grammatical functions. This work studies this phenomenon in Medieval Welsh texts from two angles: a catalog of the functions of prepositions, especially of their more abstract uses, and the cognitive mechanisms by which they are extended to those uses; and an analysis of the variety of motivations for preposition choice, especially when marking significant roles associated with particular verbs or particular semantic frames, and how they compete when multiple motivations are present.

What we find is a systematic hierarchy of motivations:

  • Choice dictated by the abstract structure of the scenario, for example identifying a participant as part of a dual or multiplex constituent.
  • Choice dictated by a relatively grammaticalized use of the preposition, typically based on syntactic rather than semantic function, for example identifying a syntactic agent.
  • Choice dictated by the morphology of the verb, typically arising historically from a semantic motivation, as with the use of a co-locational marker with morphologically mutual verbs.
  • Choice expressing an ad hoc metaphoric expression of the scenario.
  • A conventional lexical association of a preposition with a particular verb, typically deriving from one of the other motivations but generalized beyond its original scope.
  • Choice driven by some prototypical semantics of the frame, arising via metaphor but determined by the nature of the metaphoric target domain.
  • Choice driven by a generalize conventional metaphor (e.g. Event Structure) and determined by the nature of the metaphoric source domain.

Beyond the usefulness of such a study in understanding the structures of a particular language, a comparison of studies of this type can contribute to a cross linguistic understanding of cognitive universals. Adpositional language is typically quite variable in how it bundles groups of spatial meaning, even among closely related languages, making it possible to distinguish significant patterns at a more finely-grained level between languages than within a single language. Finding the commonalties in the metaphoric and grammaticalized extensions of spatial language can help identify universal elements among more complex metaphors.

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