An analysis of the distinctive senses of the English prepositions on, in and at from a non-structural, qualitative perspective
Preceding methods for studying the semantics of prepositions tend to be based on spatial analytical constructs, from Euclidean constructs in a three dimensional world, for example Landau 1999, to structural constructs, such as containers, paths, centers and other image schemas in Cognitive linguistics (Johnson 1987). Even when spatial constructs are substituted with more functional constructs, such as ‘control’ and ‘influence’ in Vandeloise’s (1984), methods implicitly or explicitly assume the Kantian notion that thought is primarily spatial (Miller and Johnson-Laird 1976: 375). This primacy of space in linguistic analysis of prepositions may be a methodological bias by assuming that spatial uses are prototypical (Langacker 1999), or more significantly it may have its source in a broader cultural bias in the Western philosophical tradition: a tradition that emphasizes perceptual categories of space to the detriment of conceptual categories for place meaning (Casey 1997). The consequences for the study of semantics of prepositions are that the spatial uses of prepositions are described with explanatory force, while even claiming psychological reality in theory. Yet McDonough et al. 2003 argues that there is no empirical proof that language should arise from perceptual and motor representations. Some abstract conceptual knowledge is needed. Furthermore, recent findings by Sinha et al. 2011, for instance, demonstrate that the spatial-temporal mapping hypothesis is more cultural than fundamental and universal. The aim of this paper is provide a semantic analysis of the prepositions on, in and at in various syntactic contexts, collected through corpus search, based on a qualitative perspective that is both non-structural and non-geometrical. Defining the knowledge status of image schemas as qualitative, non-specific mental representations based in part on Mandler’s (2004 and 2010) and Barsalou’s (1999) view on conceptual representations, the analysis proceeds to describe and explain the distinctive senses of these prepositions and their interconnections. In keeping with Sinha and Kuteva’s (1995) analysis, it is proposed that the semantics of prepositions are relational arising from their linguistic contexts. Further, the analysis contributes to Anelo’s (2005) survey on the study of prepositions, which outlines both the “controversial issues” that all analyses must address and the guidelines for a strict methodology. The results of following Anelo’s orientation, as well as using the current analytical method, which includes viewing image schemas as qualitative oriented, leads to a “less than perfect conceptualization” for exploring additional issues and hypotheses regarding the analysis and semantics of the prepositions on, in and at.