Review of Seongha Rhee. 2021. Linguistic Forms at the Border of Lexis and Grammar: Grammaticalizaton of Adpositions across Languages. Seoul, Global Contents Publisher. ISBN 979-11-5852-358-9

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Adpositions, encompassing prepositions and postpostions, constitute an interesting grammatical category since they signal diverse grammatical functions of the nouns they host. Despite the wide spectrum of their functions, there seem to be certain notions that are often found across languages, which are realized as ‘grammatical cases’ (Lehmann 2004, Blake 2004 [1994]). In addition to these grammatical cases, there are local cases denoting spatial relationship and non-local cases denoting various non-spatial concepts, of which the range widely varies across languages. Adpositions occur with differential morphosyntactic cohesion, from very loosely attached periphrasis to very tight bound morphemes. For this reason, the development of adpositions has been a topic of interest for students of grammaticalization. Rhee (2021) provides a comprehensive analysis of the grammaticalization of adpositions in six typologically and genetically diverse languages: Korean, Japanese, English, Spanish, Chinese and Thai, and offers a fresh insight on grammaticalization patterns influenced by human cognition and linguistic typology. A particular focus is on spatial adpositions and those that are supposed, according to frequency criteria, to be currently undergoing grammaticalization.

The book consists of eleven chapters. The first two chapters set the background of research. Chapter 1 provides a detailed introduction: identifying objectives, research methods, language typology and language samples, grammaticalization theory, and the scope of the research. Chapter 2 includes a preliminary exposition on space in language and adpositions, focusing on the status of adpositions in theories of grammar, issues surrounding terminologies, and functions carried by adpositions. In particular, it adopts a three-way distinction based on morphosyntactic complexity, i.e., primary, composite, and complex adpositions.

Chapters 3 through 8 are analyses of the six individual languages. Chapter 3 describes the grammaticalization of 24 primary, 15 composite, and 165 complex postpositions in Korean, which developed from nominal, verbal, and deictic sources. Forty-two spatial postpositions are currently undergoing active grammaticalization processes. Chapter 4 describes the grammaticalization of 33 primary, 4 composite, and 42 complex postpositions in Japanese that developed from nominal, verbal, and unidentified lexical sources. Twenty-eight spatial postpositions are being actively grammaticalized. Chapter 5 describes the grammaticalization of 97 primary, 64 composite, and 523 complex prepositions in English, many of which developed from nouns. Those of foreign origins (Spanish and Latin) are numerous. The number of prepositions is phenomenal (684) but only 25 of them are spatial prepositions actively undergoing grammaticalization. Chapter 6 describes the grammaticalization of 25 primary, 136 composite, and 690 complex prepositions in Spanish, totaling 851, the largest among the sampled languages. Their lexical sources are predominantly nominal although many develop from adverbial sources, as well. Verbal sources are limited. Of these, 33 spatial prepositions are currently in active grammaticalization. Chapter 7 describes the grammaticalization of 42 primary and 14 composite prepositions and 18 primary, 7 composite, and 10 complex postpositions in Chinese, totaling 91. Prepositions tend to develop from verbal sources, whereas postpositions tend to develop from verbal sources encoding spatial relationships. Only 2 prepositions and 5 postpositions are in active grammaticalization. Finally, chapter 8 describes the grammaticalization of 101 primary, 71 composite, and 9 complex prepositions in Thai, most of which developed from verbal and nominal sources with a few from adjectival and adverbial sources. Sixteen spatial prepositions are actively undergoing grammaticalization.

Chapters 9 and 10 address some issues of theoretical significance. Chapter 9 discusses principles and hypotheses. In addition to Kuteva et al.’s (2019) desemanticization, extension, decategorialization and erosion, discussed in each chapter for individual languages, other noteworthy principles and hypotheses are extensively discussed, i.e., divergence, persistence, source determination, unidirectionality, universal path, analogy, reanalysis, and reinterpretation. Chapter 10 discusses issues in typology and language contact. It presents commonalities across the sampled languages and analyzes them with respect to restrictive and expansive motivations and propensity for positivity. In addition, it discusses the influence of the differences determined by word order (SOV vs. SVO) and morphological patterns (inflection vs. agglutination vs. isolation). It further discusses the effect of language contact, notably Sinitic influence on Korean and Japanese, French influence on English, Latin influence on Spanish and English, and Chinese influence on Thai.

Overall, this book provides a useful overview of the issues surrounding the grammaticalization of adpositions, especially from a comparative and typological perspective. There are a few particularly noteworthy insights and strengths this book offers for grammaticalization research.

First of all, from the early times of grammaticalization studies in the 1980s, a large body of research has focused on individual exemplars, whereas paradigm-based or crosslinguistic studies have been underrepresented. In this regard, this book addressing a whole paradigm of adpositions in typologically and genealogically diverse languages presents an insight from a global perspective, a welcome addition to grammaticalization scholarship. In particular, it elaborates on the current state of affairs and compares the grammaticalization processes in individual languages based on general cognitive mechanisms, typological characteristics, and external factors such as language contact.

Formal categorization inherently involves difficulties because of the indeterminacy of forms and arbitrariness of criteria. It is difficult to establish an indisputable inventory of adpositions in individual languages because of the fuzzy boundary between complex adpositions and syntactic constructions. Even within the adpositions delineating the subcategories, such as primary, composite, and complex adpositions, is equally difficult largely because individual forms constitute a cline along a continuum instead of discrete categories. Setting up the criteria for categories for individual languages for direct comparison is even more problem-ridden because of their widely varying typological differences. The author uses multiplicity of components and morpho-syntactic complexity as the key criteria for setting up the subcategories. Considering typological differences, such criteria seem to be intuitively adequate.

Another important issue relates to the degree of grammaticalization. Quantifying the degree of grammaticalization is particularly problem-ridden because grammaticalization occurs at all levels of grammar, e.g. phonology, semantics, morphology, and syntax, and advancement in each of these levels does not go in tandem. Thus, when a form exhibits extensive development in one parameter and limited development in another, there is no way of assigning proper weighting across these parameters. Among the popularly used criteria is frequency (Hopper & Traugott 2003 [1993], Bybee 2011, Diessel & Hilpert 2016), even though its adequacy has been challenged (Hundt 2001, Hoffmann 2005, Fischer 2011, Rhee 2014, Yae 2018). The book under review relies solely on token frequency for categorization, and thus may need to be supplemented by more elaborate sets of criteria. For instance, in recent research Correia Saavedra (2021) suggests a comprehensive quantitative model incorporating token-frequency, letter counts, collocate and colligate diversity, and dispersion. Methodological issues notwithstanding, the book shows that Spanish has the largest number of prepositions (851), whereas Japanese has the smallest number (79), claiming that the two languages differ in their level of use of the structural templates. It also shows that Korean has the largest number of spatial postpositions undergoing active grammaticalization (42), whereas Chinese has the smallest number of adpositions undergoing active grammaticalization (7), proposing that the Korean adpositional system is the most fluid and Chinese the most stable.

Another noteworthy aspect of the book is its discussion of a number of issues surrounding language contact. Echoing the findings of Narrog and Rhee (2013) and Narrog et al. (2018), the author elaborates on the influence of written Chinese on Korean and Japanese, which led to proliferation of complex postpositions through Sinification, and on how these innovative forms carry divergent specialization. Considering that most research to date has addressed ‘internally-motivated’ grammaticalization (Heine and Kuteva 2005, 2008), i.e. natural, language-internal process, the discussion of ‘contact-induced’ grammaticalization, especially in East Asian languages, is a much-needed addition. It is an interesting observation that the grams from borrowing, thus supposedly newer forms, specialize in more abstract notions, which are normally associated with more extensive development, whereas older, native grams specialize in more concrete notions.

Still another noteworthy contribution of the book is that it addresses asymmetries between polar notions, especially in axial terms (e.g., top-bottom, inside-outside, front-back, goal-source, etc.). The goal vs. source asymmetry
(‘the goal bias’, Ungerer & Schmid 1996), in particular, has been addressed in earnest in a number of recent studies, notably Kepecka and Vuillermet (eds.) (2021). A crosslinguistic direct comparison elaborated in the book is helpful for a better understanding of cognitive and linguistic asymmetries across languages.

Everything considered, this book, by virtue of adopting a crosslinguistic comparative perspective, based on typologically- and genealogically-balanced language samples, makes a significant contribution to the study of the grammaticalization of adpositions, linguistic typology, and cognitive linguistics in general. Researchers of various persuasions will benefit from reading it.


About the authors

Yae Sunhee

Da Vinci College of General Education, Chung-Ang University

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3313-9725

Associate Professor

Seoul, Republic of Korea


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Copyright (c) 2022 Sunhee Y.

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