Basic Expressions of Locative Relations: A questionnaire

Expressions of Location and Directed Motion: Third questionnaire, Wordy
version by Peter Svenonius, CASTL, University of Tromsø.
This is a part of a cross-linguistic survey of expressions of spatial relations conducted
by Professor Peter Svenonius of the Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical
Linguistics (CASTL) at the University of Tromsø, in Norway. Tromsø is so far north
that it has an arctic night which is nearly two months long: the sun sets on November
22nd and doesn’t rise again until January 20th.
Below you will find several sentences and some questions about them. The most
useful responses will include a translation of some of the numbered sentences into
your native language, together with a gloss. Additional comments are always very
When it comes to talking about people moving around, there are several important
classes of verbs in English. The most basic is go.
1. The teacher went to the principal’s office.
A trip to the principal’s office could be broken down into several smaller trips.
2. The teacher went out of the classroom.
3. She went down the hall.
4. She went past the drinking fountain.
5. She went around the corner.
6. She went up the stairs.
7. She went into the office.
8. She went toward the desk.
It is slightly odd to say just
9. ?The teacher went.
Though it is okay in context, for example, if somebody asks, ‘Did anyone go to the
office’ then you could respond, ‘Yes, the teacher went.’
The same basic pattern is true for the counterpart of go, come. Come can only be used
if the motion is towards a vantage point adopted by the speaker of the sentence.
10. The teacher came to the principal’s office
11. She came out of the classroom.
12. She came down the hall.
13. She came past the drinking fountain.
14. She came around the corner.
15. She came up the stairs.
16. She came into the office.
17. She came toward the desk.
In other words, you would only say The teacher came into the office if you were also
in the office at the time of the event you are describing, or if you decided to adopt the
perspective of someone in the office for the purpose of telling your story. In fact, if
you take that vantage point, you must use come, and cannot use go.
Q3.1: Is your language similar to English, in these respects, or different? Please
explain, and give some examples.
There are direction-of-motion verbs like enter, exit, descend, and rise; many of (1-8)
could be expressed using these.
18. The teacher exited the classroom.
19. She traversed the hall.
20. She passed the drinking fountain.
21. She rounded the corner.
22. She ascended the stairs.
23. She entered the office.
24. She approached the desk.
In spoken English, (19) and (22) sound a little ‘bookish’ and are less natural than (2)
and (6), though they are fully acceptable. In many languages, though, it would be the
other way around.
Q3.2: Is your language like English in this respect, or different? Is the direction of
motion expressed in the verb, in these cases, or in some other element such as a
postposition or preposition? Please give examples, for example translations of (1-9)
and/or (18-24).
In the second questionnaire, there were questions about basic locative descriptions
like ‘in front of the house’ and so on. In English, the same locative decriptions
combine with go, for example as in
25. The policeman went in front of the house.
26. He went behind the house.
27. He went beside the house.
28. He went to the left of the house.
29. He went to the west of the house.
In each case, the meaning is either that the policeman started somewhere else and
ended up in the location named by the PP, or else that the policeman started
somewhere else and passed through the location named by the PP. This is even true of
the following.
30. He went under the bridge.
31. He went over the wall.
In English, these are ambiguous, like (25-29). (30) can either mean that the subject
went "to under" the bridge, for example to get shelter from the rain, or else that the
subject went "via under" the bridge, for example travelling along a river. (31) can
either mean that the subject went "via over" the wall, crossing it, or else that he went
"to over" (this is perhaps easier to imagine with a fly flying over a dish of food).
Q3.3: Are the same ambiguities present in your language? Can the two be
disambiguated? Please supply examples.
32. He went inside the house.
33. He went outside the house.
34. He went through the house.
35. He went across the yard.
These are not ambiguous. (32) requires the subject to end up in the house, and (33)
requires him to end up outside it. It is as if they mean "to in" and "to outside of." (34)
is also unambiguous, but requires that the subject start outside the house, be inside the
house in the middle of the journey, and then be outside of the house again at the end.
It is as if it means "via in." Similarly, (35) could be paraphrased "via on."
In English, the following sentences are also unambiguous, contrasting in this way
with (30-31).
36. He went above the bridge.
37. He went below the bridge.
Q3.4: How does your language express (32-35)? Please illustrate. Does your language
have a distinction like the one in (30-31) vs. (36-37)?
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