Continuity and discontinuity in the semantics of the Latin preposition per: a cognitive hypothesis

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Abstract

We intend to analyse the semantic network of the preposition ‘per’ (“through”, “across” etc.) in Early Latin and the role of its conceptual structure in the spread from basic/spatial to abstract meanings. Although prepositions in ancient languages have raised a great deal of attention, there is little regarding Latin, and an in-depth semantic analysis of Latin prepositions is still lacking. A cognitive-based investigation of Plautus’ comedies (254-184 BCE) shows that, unlike other Indo-European languages, the spatial value rests on a schema representing ‘motion along a path’ not necessarily involving a bounded Landmark. The spatial meanings are predominant in Archaic Latin; the only abstract value which is fully grammaticalised and largely attested is Instrumental (per litteras “by letters”), directly depending on the spatial one and from which different meanings contextually originate (e.g. Cause). The instrumental meaning selects inanimate participants, whereas only few cases of animate intermediation are attested. Nevertheless, Animacy is relevant for other abstract values: 1) formulas of oath/entreaty (per Iovem “by Jove”); 2) expressions denoting ‘origin of judgment’ with personal pronouns (per me “as for me”). We hypothesise that these values do not constitute a linear continuum, rather a multi-directional configuration: a prototypical nucleus branches out into a complex of meanings, metonymically selected on a contextual basis. Consequently, a number of peripheral uses can be interpreted as branch-lines selecting different implications of the basic schematic import. Hopper P.J.-Thompson S. 1980, “Transitivity in Grammar and Discourse”, Language 52/2: 251-297. Langacker, R. 1987, Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Stanford University Press. Luraghi, S. 1989, The Relationship between Prepositions and Cases within Latin Prepositional Phrases, in G. Calboli (ed.), Subordination and other Topics in Latin, John Benjamins: 253-271. Pinkster, H. 1990, Latin Syntax and Semantics, Routledge.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2009

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