A Cognitive Grammar account of the Latin preverb per-: A path towards abstractness.

Research output: Other contribution


The present paper is concerned with investigating the relationship between prepositions and preverbs in Early Latin. More specifically we aim at analysing the polysemic network of the Early Latin preverb per- and the relationship linking it with the corresponding preposition. For this purpose we have investigated the entire electronic corpus (PHI5) of comedies by Plautus and a technical work (i.e. Cato’s De Agri Cultura, ), which represent a substantial sample of the oldest Latin attestations in an extensive and non- fragmentary form. This choice allows a broad survey of the formerly grammaticalised usages of the preverb, which constitutes a firm platform to gain a perspective on its subsequent evolutionary lines.Our analysis is based on Cognitive Grammar (CG) (Langacker 1987; 1991), as well as on arguments proposed within the Theory of Grammaticalisation (Bybee 1980; Heine et al. 1991; Hopper & Traugott 1993); moreover, we complement our analysis with considerations put forward in Functional Grammar (Pinkster 1972; 1990). Considering both prepositions and preverbs as meaningful elements, this approach allows an explicative account, supplying suitable theoretical tools to describe the interconnection among the various senses of a polysemic entity and preventing the analysis being restricted to the assumption of a vague concept of “relatedness”.It is widely recognised that in Indo-European languages prepositions and preverbs have developed from adverbs. This development must have occurred in a very ancient phase of Indo-European since all the Indo-European languages have both prepositions and preverbs (Kuryłowicz 1964; Watkins 1964; Pinault 1995). Although prepositions and preverbs are semantically connected, their meaning convey different degrees of abstractness, reflecting different points along the grammaticalisation chain. Prepositions indeed are autonomous items, expressing the atemporal (stative) relationship between entities, i.e. a basically spatial configuration. On the other hand, in forming a lexical unit with the verb, the preverb reduces its phonetic shape, loses syntactic autonomy and is somehow subsumed under the meaning of the verb (Lehmann 2002; Booij & van Kemenade 2003). This behaviour represents a clear step towards abstractness and is consistent with the meaning conveyed by the preverb, which is typically more abstract than the prepositional one: per- rarely conveys spatial meanings (fodio “to dig” / perfodio “to dig through”), rather it is mainly used to express abstract notions concerning the verbal process, like ‘intensification’ (e.g. vigilo “to remain awake” / pervigilo “to always remain awake”) and ‘telicity’ (e.g. fero “to bring” / perfero “to bring to an end”) even affecting the valency of the verb (repto intransitive “to crawl” / perrepto transitive “to crawl through”); sometimes the semantic relation between the preverb and the preposition is completely bleached (do “to give” / perdo “to ruin, to destroy”).These considerations allow to set the relationship between Early Latin per and per- within the field of the Theory of Grammaticalisation. We intend to explore the consistency of this relationship, analysing the role of the preverb’s schematic import in the spread from basic (spatial) to abstract (processual) meanings.References:Bybee Joan (1985). Morphology: A study of the relation between meaning and form. Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins.Booij, Geert & van Kemenade Ans (2003): Preverbs: An introduction In: BOOIJ GERT & V AN MARLE JAAP (eds.) Yearbook of Morphology 2003. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1-12.H
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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