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Adpositions and Other Parts of Speech

Alan Libert

It has often proven difficult to classify certain words as adpositions or nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. This book looks at the distinctions between adpositions, i.e. prepositions and postpositions, and other word classes with respect to a wide range of languages. In particular, it focuses on how these distinctions have been treated by previous authors and the terminology used to describe items on or close to the adpositional border, e.g. pseudo-postpositions and auxiliary nouns. Chapters are devoted to adpositions as opposed to most of the other traditional parts of speech. Among the criteria for (non-)adpositional status brought up are the presence or absence of inflection on putative adpositions and genitive case marking on complements of such words. Definitive conclusions on how to determine whether words are adpositions seem elusive, but some formal criteria, such as absence of inflection, are problematic; possibly a solution will involve a notion of adpositional function.


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Chapter 2: Adpositions and Nouns


One may perhaps get an idea of the complexity involved in distinguishing adpo- sitions from nouns from the following remarks by Suutari (2006:106): Langacker’s [(1999)] view that Mixtec locative expressions are compound nouns appears problematic because these expressions have separated themselves in meaning from purely nominal use ... On the other hand, a prepositional interpretation does not seem appropriate. This problem affects many different languages; for spatial expressions in Thai, for example, the terms region noun, locative noun, relator noun, relational noun and preposition (Zlatev 2003:[322-3]) are used. The problem is not simply a practical one, because different terms reflect differing interpretations of the degree of grammaticalization and of the whole nature of a category. An example of a complicated situation comes up in König and Heine’s (2003) paper on the Khoisan language !Xun; they state (p. 134) that some “locative distinctions … are encoded by means of elements that we tentatively call postpo- sitions”. Among these words are khùyā, which as a postposition means ‘at’ and as a noun means ‘place’, and ń!ŋ́ ‘in, inside [as a noun]; interior, burrow [as a postposition]’. Most !Xun postpositions can also have the function of nouns, but König and Heine (ibid.:135) say, “The reason for referring to these items never- theless as postpositions rather than as locative nouns is that, in some of their uses, they lack any nominal meaning;1 they may also lack locative meaning”. They later (ibid.:140) indicate that the classification of these words...

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