Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Middle English Preposition In: A Semantic Analysis (1)

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Middle English Preposition In: A Semantic Analysis (1)

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper presents an analysis of in-prepositional phrases in Middle English. On the semantic level, in-phrases were associated with a spatial or temporal sense in Old English. However, they lost much of their original referential meaning in Middle English as they developed from a spatial or temporal sense to a figurative or abstract one. Unlike on-phrases, the survey of the texts available in the Helsinki Corpus of Middle English shows that the use of in-phrases has increased steadily and progressively throughout the Middle English period. The use of in-phrases to indicate a position on the surface of something and surrounded by its parts is highly represented in the corpus. Also on the surface of something which extends in all directions: heaven, hell, earth, world, sea, field, island, country predominate within the spatial roles (14.06% with regard to all in-phrases, and 42.14% within spatial sense). Unlike in Present Day English, the static location within the boundaries of space (building, house) or the meaning of "enclosed" in is not very common (7.06% with respect to all in-phrases, and 21.18% within the spatial sense). Unlike in the case of on-phrases, the data also evince that there is no significant usage of idiomatic in-phrases with a spatial reference. The number of temporal instances is very small as they only represent a rate of 5.15% with regard to all in-phrases found in the corpus. Our analysis also shows that a great number of in-phrases have acquired a figurative or abstract sense. Thus, nearly half of the in-phrases are used to express the role of a certain manner, state or condition (48.6% with regard to all in-phrases found in the corpus).

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This paper presents an analysis of in-prepositional phrases (henceforth, in-Phs) in Middle English. It is based on the texts available in the Helsinki Corpus of Middle English (henceforth, HCME), and a quantitative approach is used.

On the semantic level, in-Phs were associated with a spatial or temporal sense in Old English. However, many instances of in-Phs found in Middle English lost much of their original referential meaning in Middle English as they developed from a spatial or temporal sense to a figurative or abstract one. There are two contending theories about the semantic roles of topological prepositions (at, in, on) in Present Day English. Thus Bennet (1975:116) considers that the meaning (locative interior vs. locative surface, etc.) resides in the terms of the relationship rather than in the preposition itself. By specifying the roles of the preposition in, Bennet states that "the componential definition of in as locative-interior covers not only its spatial uses but also its temporal uses" (1975:116). Following Bennet's perspective, the topological prepositions at, on and in are not semantically distributed and therefore the choice of one of them rather than the other depends on the nature of the NP that follows. If so, we may state that the prepositional complements monitor the preposition. Thus, a large city, for example, will require in, a village--at, and a small island--on. (2) Leech (1969: 3), however, considers that the topological prepositions at, on and in indicate that they "ascribe" to the following NP a particular dimensionality. Thus, the NP that functions as a complement of the preposition in is seen as an area or volume, that is, as two-or-three dimensional. A similar approach is defended by Dirven (1993: 78-9) as he indicates that English in "conceptualises space as an enclosure or volume" and following this notional category he outlines a radial network of extensions of in: spatial enclosure is the centre from which other branches develop: time-span, state as enclosure, area, manner or means, circumstance and cause. The notion of physical enclosure is expanded to psychological states such as in despair. Similarly, other types of enclosing experiences such as manner or means, circumstance or cause denote an "enveloping" state. …

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