Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

The Polysemous Nature of Some Arabic Prepositions

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

The Polysemous Nature of Some Arabic Prepositions

Article excerpt


The present study is a semantic approach that deals with the meaning of Arabic prepositions which is a complex issue due to their polysemous nature that they intentionally alternate with one another for rhetorical purposes. Basically, every preposition has one primary meaning and other secondary meanings which are, in a way or another, related together on the one hand and to the primary meaning on the other. The study is interested in investigating how the primary meaning of a preposition comprises the other secondary meanings and that they form a network of related meanings with the primary one acting as the centre or the basis of the other ones. The examples presented in the study are taken from both Classical and Modern Standard Arabic. The study concludes that Arabic prepositions are very important functional words which have polysemous nature and that through the notions of transitivity, implication and alternation, the meaning conveyed by a preposition varies to a wide range.

Keywords: Polysemy, Relatedness, Arabic prepositions, Transitivity, Alternation, Implication

1. Introduction

This linguistic study is devoted to the Arabic language because of its importance "as the language of a major culture and of a major religion" (Comrie 1991: 4). Again, the study is devoted to 'prepositions' as the least tackled word class though they are most important to the structure and the semantics of a sentence. However, "a preposition is semantically empty as long as it appears alone but when it comes in a sentence it denotes a meaning in its neighboring element; however, it does not denote a time" (Hassan 2004:1/68) (translation mine). Moreover, prepositions in Arabic are subdivided according to their form into separable and inseparable and according to their type into original, redundant and quasi-redundant (See the Appendix for the phonemic symbols used in the transcription of Arabic forms).

The separable preposition is the one that has a free form which is not attached to the noun such as Iminal 'from', l?ilal 'to', I9cin/ 'away from', I9alal 'on' and /// ?η'. However, the inseparables are always bound or rather prefixed to the nouns such as lbi-1 'of and ///-/ 'for'. As for the original preposition, it always adds a new meaning to the sentence in which it appears and is always connected with the verb or its regent. The redundant preposition does not add a new meaning to the sentence and does not have a regent. It is used only to confirm the meaning of the sentence like:

(1) lastet 9alayhim bi-muSciyTir (Qur'an 88: 22)

Thou art not one to manage (men's) affairs.

(All Qur'anic translations are taken from Ali (1938))

The quasi-redundant, on the other hand, adds a new meaning which is either a meaning of 'decrease' or 'increase', but does not have a regent like lrubb-al 'maybe' as in:

(2) rabb-ci Daarrat-in naafi9at-an

Maybe what seems harmful can be beneficial.

Hassan (1996: 2/434) explains the function of an original preposition in two ways. First, it adds a new detailed meaning to the sentence. Second, it links the regent (the verb) with the following noun as follows:

(3) jaa?-a muhammad-un

Muhammad came.

This sentence arises many urgent questions in the minds. Simply, one is eager to know the beginning and the end of Muhammad's route. So, if Imina/ 'from' is used; it adds a new subsidiary meaning of the starting point of his motion and if l?ila/ 'to' is used, it denotes the end of the journey. That is the preposition adds, in the two cases, two new meanings: one for 'the beginning' and the other for 'the end or the termination'. However, these meanings are only understood when the preposition appears in the sentence, but when it appears alone, it doesn't convey a meaning.

The second function of a preposition in a sentence is to make a link between the verb that precedes it and the noun that follows it (Ibid). In other words, it acts as a bridge by means of which the verb passes on to an object. …

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