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Natural locations and the distinction between ‘what’ and ‘where’ concepts: Evidence from differential locative marking in Makalero

Juliette Huber
From the journal Linguistics

Abstract

Differential locative marking is found in languages all over the world. Toponyms, in particular, are well known to often require less locative marking than other types of nouns, and it has been suggested that they express ‘where’ concepts. This paper presents a case study of differential locative marking in Makalero, a Papuan language of East Timor, where nouns fall into three categories: those which need no overt locative marking, i.e., can be zero-marked; those which are used with a semantically general locative verb; and those which can only be used with semantically specific locative verbs. Zero-marking of spatial relations occurs only in a specific construction where the nouns in question are used predicatively, suggesting that the syntactic equivalent of the ‘where’ category is a relational expression, not a noun. There is furthermore a certain degree of flexibility in Makalero locative constructions, and alternative expressions result in predictable semantic differences. These differences show that the lack of perceptual boundaries and of an internal structure are important parameters that distinguish the referents of so-called natural location nouns from nouns which denote ‘what’ concepts. More comparative case studies are needed to enrich our understanding of these notions and the properties characterizing them.

Acknowledgements

First and foremost, I would like to thank Konrad Rybka, who gave me the idea to this paper and commented on the draft. I am also grateful to Niclas Burenhult and Felix Ahlner for their valuable comments on earlier drafts, and to the Makalero people of Iliomar for welcoming me into their community and providing the data on which this paper is based. The research leading to these results was funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/ERC Grant agreement n_263512. I gratefully acknowledge the Lund University Humanities Lab, which hosted this research, for providing me with a stimulating research environment.

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Published Online: 2018-05-24
Published in Print: 2018-06-26

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