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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton May 5, 2012

Location, existence, and possession: A constructional-typological exploration

Peter Koch,
From the journal Linguistics


The semantic space location–existence–possession has been investigated from different perspectives since Lyons 1967. In this paper it is first accurately redefined (Section 2) so that it constitutes an operative onomasiological grid for lexical and constructional typological research. Patterns of joint expression of categories and of clear distinction of categories are examined over significant subparts of the relevant semantic space (Sections 2.3/3.1: possession corresponding e.g., to E. The boy had a book; thematic location: E. The book was on the table; rhematic location: E. There was a book on the table; bounded existence: E. There are many lions in Africa; (generic) existence: E. There are many unhappy people). This research is conducted on the basis of an initial 19-language sample (Section 3.2 and Appendix B), which, despite its bias towards Europe and Africa, yields very interesting observations concerning crosslinguistic tendencies and the effects of genetic affiliation and areal proximity. Since for the typology of this field it is not only the verbal lexical item that counts, but the whole construction (in some languages even with zero copula), adequate tools for a constructional typology have to be developed in terms of inheritance links inspired by Construction Grammar (Section 4). In the central sections of the paper, crosslinguistic patterns of inheritance and of clear distinction of categories within the semantic space are analyzed with respect to the target concepts possession (Section 5), location (Section 6), and existence (Section 7). On the semantic level the relevant links are all metonymic or at least contiguity-based. From the detailed analyses several interesting crosslinguistic, but also areal tendencies can be gathered (Section 8.1). A general hypothesis about the domain location + existence emerges: languages either opt for informational salience, opposing thematic location to the (rhematic) rest, or for propositional salience, opposing (generic) location to existence, or they dismiss both types of salience, linking (generic) location and existence directly to each other. As a conclusion, three interesting methodological and theoretical issues are addressed: the non-necessary congruence between synchronic patterns and diachronic paths (Section 8.2.1), problems of the conceptual grid in the realm rhematic existence/rhematic location (Section 8.2.2), and the utility of an account in terms of constructional typology (8.2.3).

Received: 2010-04-26
Revised: 2012-01-26
Published Online: 2012-05-05
Published in Print: 2012-05-18

©[2012] by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston