Edited by William B. McGregor
[Functions of Language 9:2] 2003
► pp. 169–207
In this article, we set out to describe the general ‘lexicogrammar’ of English locative constructions within a broadly neo-Firthian theoretical frame. First, we look at the question of how the verb and its participants — nominal and prepositional — are structurally integrated with each other. To characterize the representational semantics of locative constructions, we develop Fawcett’s (1987) proposal that they express caused ‘circumstantial relations’. Both diachronic and synchronic data impose, we show, that English locative constructions also manifest a semantic extension into caused possessive relations, associated mainly with the statal passive of locative constructions with ‘container’-verbs. We then turn to the question of the main variants of the locative construction: the into/onto-variant versus the with-variant, and examples with container- versus content-verbs. Interesting but partly divergent claims about the relative markedness of these variants were made by Levin and Rappaport, and Pinker. We confront these with two corpus-based neo-Firthian descriptive heuristics: Halliday’s quantitative weighing of the terms in a system, and Sinclair’s collocational analysis of items in grammatical environments. The result is a pluridimensional characterization of the markedness of the variants. The with-variant is overall the most common and semantically more general variant because it subsumes a large number of statal passives, which attract meaning extensions into the possessive domain. With strict ‘action and event’ construals, however, the into/onto-variant is the unmarked one. Cross-classifying this dimension of variation is the semantic opposition between examples with content-verbs and examples with container-verbs, which are characterized by collocational orientation on the Locatum and the Location respectively.
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