RE: prepositions

From: Joe A. Friberg (
Date: Sun Aug 08 1999 - 15:19:59 EDT

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jason Lee []
> Sent: Saturday, August 07, 1999 2:37 AM

> On Thu, 5 Aug 1999 19:58:25 Joe A. Friberg wrote:
> >> -----Original Message-----
> >> From: jacob cohen []
> >> Sent: Wednesday, August 04, 1999 10:25 PM
> >>
> >> As I am examine how a preposition is being used in a sentance what
> >> should I be asking myself about how to find out if the preposition is
> >> modifing the verb or a noun. For example Wallace points out that most
> >> preps. that take a dative or accusative function adverbally, this is
> >> also the case with genitives with EK and APO.
> >
> >This is an interesting point, and one I had not heard before. My first
> >reaction to this is to ask to what extent it is true, and, if trully
> >general, why?
> >
> >In general, I would expect most prepositional phrases (PPs) to function
> >adverbially, so it would be no surprise that whole classes of PPs would
> >function that way. Why would PPs which take the Gen. be different?
> >
> >My only thought would be (and in this I may be speaking far better than I
> >know, but I have heard) that the presence of prepositions in the PPs is a
> >secondary development--that the older usage within Indo-European
> (and even
> >w/in Homeric Gk) was to simply employ cases which had certain case
> >functions. With the reduction in available morphological cases, the
> >prepositions came to be employed to disambiguate the case functions.
> >
> This is supported by Smyth, particularly in the'Development of
> the Use of Prepositions'(sections 1637 and 1638 of Greek Grammar).
> >Since the Gen. case is used most frequently as a modifier within a Noun
> >Phrase (NP), it stands to reason that with the addition of
> Prepositions, PPs
> >that employ the Gen. would more frequently modify Nouns than Verbs.
> >Conversely, Datives and Accusatives would be generally used only
> in PPs that
> >modify a Verb. Hence, the phenomena noted by Wallace would simply be a
> >residual from an historical process.
> >
> If one accepts the 'historical process' of preposition
> development and use as suggested by Smyth (sections 1636-1646),
> there seems not the need to make such generalizations for
> adverbial or adjectival tendencies of PPs' function based upon
> the case of the object in the PPs. One reason is that exceptions
> abound. There are verbs (and compound verbs)that require the
> 'direct object' to be in the genitive or dative rather than the
> accusative case. Genitive case does not have to occur in NPs.
> Also, in some situations, possessor dative can modify a noun
> attributively without a copulative. The other reason that
> downplays the need for such generalizations is that context often
> shows which function (adjectival or adverbial) makes better
> sense. I am not sure one can get much mileage from making
> descriptive rules based on the functions of prepositional phrase
> which, in turn, are said to depend on the case notion of the
> object of the preposition. I think it's important firstly to
> grasp the intrinsic notions of the case system and secondly to
> understand the development of the use of prepositions, i.e., how
> they started out as adverbs or case-forms and graduately picked
> up increasing roles diachronically until 'nouns were felt to
> depend on the prepositions' in the PPs.
> If the basics are well understood, I think, each instance of PP
> can be diagrammed appropriately as to its function in the
> sentence, given room for a couple of possibilities as the
> occassion calls for.
> In short, I don't see a whole lot of benefits for making more
> grammatical rules out of PP usage

My point exactly.

> or associations to the
> historical development.

The point of making the historical associations is to obviate the need for
rote memory and application of a derived statistical observation. As I
stated previously, "the phenomena noted by Wallace [is] simply...a residual
from an historical process." And if the stats are an underwhelming
majority, they are of no utility whatsoever since they would not
significantly reduce any ambiguity associated with the relation of the PP.
Of course it is the context that determines actual relation of the PP in any
given instance.

It was Wallace who stated the rule, and apparently found it useful. I'm
still curious as to the actual statistical validity of the descriptive rule.
Any input here, anyone?

I appreciate the refs. I have received regarding the historical development
of PPs!

Joe Friberg
Arlington, TX

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