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A no-preposition English

Language Log's Roger Shuy gives it a try.


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Comments (11)


Have you ever tried explaining prepositions to a native Slavic speaker? It is impossible. We all think that the distinction between "a" and "the" is fairly straightforward, but it is a bitch to verbalize exactly why one is better than the other in many cases.


Of course, it would probably help if I correctly identified prepositions rather than articles. Yeeesh.

But you're right: as hard as we find it to master noun-case inflections (ROMANES EUNT DOMUS!), it's got to be a billion times worse to figure out the nuances of to/for/from/of/with if you're not starting out with your feet firmly in Romance or Germanic blocks.


In the de-prepositionalized-but-otherwise-sage words of Churchill,

"That is the kind errant pedantry which I will not!"


In the de-prepositionalized-but-otherwise-sage words of Churchill,

"That is the kind errant pedantry which I will not!"

("That is the kind of errant pedantry up with which I will not put!")


The chinese have this weird thing called measure words. you have to know the noun and the right measure word to go with it. so you can't just say "5 dollars" (wu qian)you actually say "5 lump dollars" (wu kuai qian). Thank God for "ge" it is like a universal measure word. Good for all occassions although probably not sophisticated if you drop it in everywhere.

James Kabala:

Do Slavic languages not have prepositions? If so, that's something of which I had no idea.

Steven DallaVicenza:

Slavic languages have prepositions russian has an entire case devoted to the bloody things, what they lack are articles.

I think it would be more accurate to say that noun-case inflections do much or most of the work in Russian that prepositions do in English. There's a locative case sometimes called "prepositional" because it does work with spatial prepositions like "in" or "near."

I pretty much freaked out when I read what Matt said about "measure words" and researched it. Check out this mind-boggling list. I also asked a native Cantonese speaker about this phenomenon; she had never noticed it before (a bit like the Molière character who discovers he's been speaking prose all his life). The all-purpose "ge" is "go" in Cantonese.

Some of you may enjoy this chart of the fourteen noun cases in Estonian. Glad I gave that one a miss when I was picking a language requirement in university.

Yeah, Estonian and Finnish come from the same language tree, so I'd heard the 14-case story long ago. Still...damn.

And the "prepositional" case in Russian is somewhat of a misnomer. While it does work exclusively with prepositions, with a couple of exceptions, only one of them common ("about"), it's predominantly locative, as Cosh says. However, the vast majority of Russian prepositions actually take the genitive case, with the dative coming in second, if memory serves. (I'm sure at least a couple of people here are already aware of all this, but I don't often have a lick of expertise in what's being discussed here, so I'm vomiting up what I do know now.)

And while most Slavic languages do lack articles, Bulgarian does, in fact, have a concept of definiteness.


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