Another Look at Modification in Spatial Prepositions

Francesco-Alessio Ursini, Nobuaki Akagi


The goal of this paper is to propose a unification of two strands of research within the semantics of spatial prepositions. The first strand focuses on the so- called modification problem, which can be stated as follows. Some, but not all spatial prepositions can occur in sentences including measure phrases, such as ten meters (Mario went ten meters in front of the car). The second strand focuses on so-called prepositional aspect: the fact that some but not all spatial prepositions can occur with temporal adverbial phrases such as in one hour. A unified account is proposed, based on a minimal version of Type-Logical syntax combined with situation semantics. This unified account is shown to explain and predict why, for instance, telic prepositions cannot occur with measure phrases (viz. *ten meters to the park). A compositional analysis of the contribution to lexical aspect of measure phrases, and their compositional interplay with spatial prepositions and temporal adverbials, is offered in detail. The main conclusion is that measure phrases do contribute to the lexical aspect reading of a sentence, but do so in fairly subtle (and compositionally-based) ways.


spatial prepositions; degree semantics; lexical aspect; measure phrases; morpho-semantics

Full Text:



Adger, David. 2010. A minimalist theory of feature structure. In Anna Kibort & Greville Corbett (eds.), Features: Perspectives on a Key Notion in Linguistics, 185-218. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Asbury, Anna. 2008. The morphosyntax of case and adpositions. Doctoral Dissertation, Utrecht University.

Asbury, Anna, Jakub Dotlacil, Berit Gehrke, & Rick Nouwen (eds.). 2008. Syntax and Semantics of Spatial P. John Benjamins, Amsterdam.

Asher, Nicholas. 2011. Lexical Meaning in Context: A Web of Words. Cambridge University Press.

Asher, Nicholas & Paul Sablayrolles. 1995. A Typology and Discourse Semantics for Motion Verbs and Spatial PPs in French. Journal of Semantics 12 (2), 163-209.

Barwise, John, & John Etchemendy. 1990. Information, infons and inference. In Robin Cooper. (ed), Situation semantics and its applications, vol. 1. Stanford, CA: CSLI publications, 30-64.

Barwise, John, & Joe Perry. 1999. Situations and attitudes, 2nd edition. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Barwise, John, & Jerry Seligman. 1997. Information flow: the logic of distributed systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bohnemeyer, Jurgen. 2012. A Vector Space Semantics for Reference Frames in Yucatec. In Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten (Ed.), Proceedings of the sixth meeting on the Semantics of Under-Represented Languages in the Americas (SULA 6) and SULA-Bar. Amherst: GLSA Publications, 15-34.

Chomsky, Noam. 1999. Derivation by phase. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Cinque, Guglielmo, and Luigi Rizzi (eds.). 2010. Mapping Spatial PPs. The cartography of syntactic structures, vol.6. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Chierchia, Gennaro, & Turner, Robert. 1988. Semantics and property theory. Linguistics and Philosophy 11 (3), 191-216.

Cresswell, Maxwell J. 1978. Prepositions and points of view. Linguistics and Philosophy 2 (1), 1-41.

Culicover, Peter W. 1999. Syntactic Nuts. Oxford University Press.

Dikken, Marcel den. 2010. On the functional structure of locative and directional PPs. In Guglielmo Cinque & Luigi Rizzi. (eds.), The Cartography of Syntactic Structures: vol. 6. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dowty, David. 1979. Word meaning and Montague Grammar. Dordrecht: Reidel.

Dowty, David. 1989. Semantic content of thematic roles. In Barbara Partee, Gennaro Chierchia & Ken Turner (eds.), Properties, types and meanings. Dordrecht, Kluwer, 69-130.

Egg, Marcus. 2011. Underspecification. In Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger, & Paul Portner (eds): Semantics: an international handbook of natural language meaning, vol.1. Berlin: de Gruyter, 533-572.

Emonds, John. 1985. A Unified Theory of Syntactic Categories. Dordrecht: Foris Publications.

Emonds, John. 2000. Lexicon and Grammar: the English Syntacticon. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin.

Fábregas. Antonio. 2007. In Monika Basíc, Marina Pantcheva, Minjeong Son, and Peter Svenonius (eds.), Tromsø Working Papers on Language & Linguistics: Nordlyd 34.2, special issue on Space, Motion, and Result, 1–32.

Fábregas. Antonio. 2011. On why Word Phases cannot account for Lexical Integrity Effects. Lingue & Linguaggio X (1), 3-28.

Folli, Raffaella. 2002. Constructing Telicity in English and Italian. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Oxford.

Folli, Raffaella. 2008. Complex PPs in Italian. In Asbury, Anna, Jakub Dotlacil, Berit Gehrke, and Rick Nouwen (eds.). Syntax and Semantics of Spatial P. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, 190-220.

Fong, Vivienne. 1997. The Order of Things: What Directional Locatives Denote. Doctoral Dissertation, Stanford.

Fong, Vivienne. 2001. Into doing something: where is the path in event predicates?. Paper presented at the Paths and Telicity in Event Structure (ESSLLI Workshop), Manchester.

Fong, Vivienne. 2008. From the source. Paper presented a the conference on the Syntax and Semantics of spatial P, Utrecht.

Gamut, L.T.F. 1991. Language, Logic and Meaning, Part 2. Chicago, MN: Chicago University Press.

Gehrke, Berit 2008. Ps in Motion: On the Semantics and Syntax of P Elements and Motion Events. Doctoral Dissertation, Utrecht University.

Ginzburg, Jonathan. 2005. Situation Semantics: the ontological balance sheet. Research on Language and Computation 3 (4), 363-389.

Hale, Ken, and Samuel J. Keyser. 2002. Prolegomenona to a Theory of Argument Structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Harbour, Daniel. 2007. Morphosemantic Number: From Kiowa Noun Classes to UG Number Features. Dordrecht: Springer.

Harley, Heidi. 2012. Semantics in Distributed Morphology. In Maierborn, C. K. von Heusinger, & P. Portner (eds.), Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. Amsterdam: De Gruyter, 688-709.

Herskovits, Annette. 1986. Language and Spatial Cognition: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Prepositions in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jackendoff, Ray. 1983. Semantics and Cognition. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Jackendoff, Ray. 1990. Semantic structures. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Jäger, Gerard. 2005. Anaphora And Type Logical Grammar. Springer: Dordrecht.

Jarema, Gonia & Gary Libben (Eds.). 2007. The mental lexicon: core perspectives. Amsterdam, Elsevier.

Kayne, Richard. 1994. The Antisymmetry of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Kayne, Richard 2004. Here and there. In Caroline Leclére, Edmond Laporte, Marcel Piot, & Marie Silberztein (eds.), Lexique Syntaxe, et Lexique-Grammaire /Syntax, Lexis, & Lexicon-Grammar: Papers in Honor of Maurice Gross. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 253–275.

Kennedy, Chris. 1999. Projecting the Adjective: The Syntax and Semantics of Gradability and Comparison. Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics Series. New York: Garland Press.

Kennedy, Chris. 2007. Vagueness and Grammar: The Semantics of Relative and Absolute Gradable Adjectives. Linguistics and Philosophy 30 (1), 1-45.

Keenan, Edward L., & Leonard M. Faltz. 1985. Boolean Semantics for Natural Language. Dordrecht: Reidel.

Koopman, Hilda. 2000. Prepositions, postpositions, circumpositions and particles: The structure of Dutch PPs. In Hilda Koopman (ed.), The syntax of specifiers and heads. London: Routledge, 204-260.

Kracht, Marcus. 2002. On the semantics of locatives. Linguistics and Philosophy. 25 (1), 57-132.

Kracht, Marcus. 2004. Against the Feature Bundle Theory of Case. In Ellen Brandner, and Heike Zinsmeister (eds.), New perspectives on case theory. Stanford, CA: CSLI publications, 165-190.

Kracht, Marcus. 2008. The fine structure of spatial expressions. In Asbury, Anna, Jakub Dotlacil, Berit Gehrke, & Rick Nouwen (eds.). Syntax and Semantics of Spatial P. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 35-62.

Kratzer, Angelika. 1989. An Investigation of the lumps of thought. Linguistics and Philosophy 12 (5), 607-653.

Kratzer, Angelika. 2003. The event argument and the semantics of verbs. To appear, Cambridge, MA: the MIT Press.

Kratzer, Angelika. 2007. Situations in Natural Language Semantics. In Edward N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition). Available at: [04/20/2013]

Krifka, Manfred 1989. Nominal reference, temporal constitution and quantification in event semantics. In Renate Bartsch, Johan van Benthem and Peter van Emde Boas (eds.), Semantics and Contextual Expressions, Dordrecht: Foris, 75-115.

Krifka, Manfred. 1998. The origins of telicity. In Susan Rothstein (ed.), Events and Grammar, 197-235. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Landman, Fred. 1991. Semantic Structures. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Landman, Fred. 2000. Events and Plurality. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Landman, Fred. 2004. Indefinites and the Type of Sets. New York: Blackwell.

Levelt William J. M. 1989. Speaking: From intention to articulation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Link, Godehard. 1998. Algebraic semantics in Language and Philosophy. Stanford, CA: CSLI publications.

Maillat, Didier. 2001. Directional PPs and Reference Frames in DRT, in Proceedings of the International Association for Computational Linguistics 2001 Conference. Toulouse: Université de Toulouse - Le Mirail.

Mateu, Jaume. 2002. Argument structure. Relational construal at the syntax-semantics interface. Bellaterra: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona dissertation. Available at [03/03/2013]

Mateu, Jaume. 2008. On the l-syntax of directionality/resultativity. In Anna Asbury, Jacub Dotlačil, Berit Gehrke, Øystein Nilsen, & Rick Nouwen (eds.), The Syntax and Semantics of Spatial P. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 221-250.

Merchant Jason. 2001. The syntax of silence: Sluicing, islands, and the theory of ellipsis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Merchant, J. (2004). Fragments and ellipsis. Linguistics and Philosophy 27 (6),661-738.

Moortgat, Michael J. 2010. Typelogical grammar. In Edward N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition). Stanford.

Moortgat, Michael.J. 2011. Categorial Type Logics. In Johan van Benthem & Alice ter Meulen (Eds.), Handbook of Logic and Language. Second Edition Elsevier.

Morryll, Glynn. 1994. Type-logical Grammar: categorial Logic of signs. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Morrill, Glynn. 2011. Categorial Grammar: Logical Syntax, Semantics, and Processing. Oxford University Press.

Morzycki, Marcin. 2004. Expressive Modification and the licensing of Measure Phrases. Journal of Semantics 28 (3), 401-411.

Morzycki, Marcyn. 2005. Mediated modification: functional structure and the interpretation of Modifier Position. Ph.D. dissertation. Amherst, MA: University of Massachussetts.

Morzycki, Marcin. 2006. Atelicity and Measure Phrases: Licensing Measure Phrase Modification Across AP, PP, and VP. In Donald Baumer, David Montero, & Michael Scanlon (eds.), Proceedings of the 25th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project, 279-287.

Nam, Senghou. 1995. The Semantics of locative prepositional phrases in English. Doctoral Dissertation, UCLA.

Pantcheva, Marina. 2008. The Place of place in Persian. In Anna Asbury, Jacub Dotlačil, Berit Gehrke, Øystein Nilsen, & Rick Nouwen (eds.), The Syntax and Semantics of Spatial P. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 305-330.

Pantcheva, Marina. 2010. The syntactic structure of Locations, Goals, and Sources. Linguistics 48 (5), 1043-1083.

Pantcheva, Marina. 2011. Decomposing Path: The Nanosyntax of Directional Expressions. University of Tromsø dissertation.

Parsons, Terence. 1990. Events in the semantics of English. Cambridge, MA: the MIT Press.

Phillips, Colin. 1997. Order and structure. Doctoral Dissertation, MIT.

Phillips. Colin. 2003. Linear order and constituency. Linguistic Inquiry 34 (1), 1-46.

Phillips, Colin. 2006. The real-time status of island phenomena. Language 82 (5), 795-823.

Piñon, Christopher J. 1993. Paths and their names, in Katherine Beals et al. (eds.),Chicago Linguistics Society 29, Vol. 2. Chicago Linguistics Society, Chicago, 287–303.

Poesio, Massimo. 2001. Incrementality and Underspecification in Semantic Processing, CSLI Publications.

Rothstein, Susan. 2004. Structuring Events: A Study in the Semantics of Lexical Aspect. Oxford: Blackwell.

Ramchand, Gillian. 2008. Verb Meaning and the Lexicon: A First Phase Syntax. Cambridge University Press.

Ramchand, Gillian & Mai Tungseth. 2006. In Peter Svenonius (ed.), Nordlyd: Tromsø Working Papers in Linguistics, special issue on Adpositions, 33.2, 149 –175.

Riemsdijk, Henk van. 1978. A Case Study in Syntactic Markedness. Dordrecht: Foris Publications.

Riemsdijk, Henk van. 1990. Functional Prepositions. In Harm Pinkster & Inge Genée (eds.)Unity in Diversity. Festschrift for Simon Dik . Dordrecht, 229-241.

Riemsdijk, Henk van & Riny Huybregts. 2007. Location and locality. In Marc van Oostendorp & Elena Anagnostopoulou, (eds.), Progress in Grammar: Articles at the 20th Anniversary of the Comparison of Grammatical Models Group in Tilburg. Meertens Instituut, Amsterdam, 123-140.

Roy, Isabelle & Peter Svenonius. 2009. Complex prepositions. In Jean François, Émanuel Gilbert, Cecile Guimier, & Michael Krause (eds,), Autour de la Préposition. Presses universitaires de Caen, 105–116..

Schwarzschild, Roger. 1996. Pluralities. Dordrecht: Springer.

Svenonius, Peter. 2006. The emergence of axial parts. Nordlyd, Tromsø University Working Papers in Language and Linguistics 33 (1), 49-77.

Svenonius, Peter. 2008. Projections of P. In Anna Asbury, Jacub Dotlačil, Berit Gehrke, Øystein Nilsen, & Rick Nouwen (eds.), The Syntax and Semantics of Spatial P. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, 63-84.

Svenonius, Peter. 2010. Spatial P in English. In Guglielmo Cinque & Luigi Rizzi, The Cartography of syntactic Structures: vol. 6. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 127-160.

Szabolczi, Anna. 1997. Background notions in Lattice Theory and Generalized Quantifiers. In Anna Szabolczi (ed.), Ways of Scope-Taking. Dordrecht, Kluwer, 1-27.

Talmy, Leonard. 1978. Figure and ground in complex sentences. In Joseph E. Greenberg (ed.), Universals of Human Language, vol. 4: Syntax. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 625-649.

Talmy, Leonard. 1983. How language structures space. In Herman L. Pick, Jr. & Linda P. Acredolo (eds.), Spatial orientation: Theory, research, and application.New York: Plenum Press, 225-282.

Talmy, Leonard. 2000. Towards a cognitive Linguistics. Cambridge, MA: the MIT press.

Tortora, Christina. 2005. The preposition’s preposition in Italian: Evidence for boundedness of space. In Robert Gess & Edward Rubin (eds), Theoretical and Experimental Approaches to Romance Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 307–327.

Tortora, Christina. 2008. Aspect inside PLACE PPs, in Anna Asbury, Jacub Dotlačil, Berit Gehrke, Øystein Nilsen, & Rick Nouwen (eds.), The Syntax and Semantics of Spatial P, 273-301. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Tungseth, Mai. 2006. Verbal Prepositions in Norwegian: Paths, Places and Possession. PhD thesis, University of Tromsø.

Ursini, Francesco-Alessio. 2011. On The Syntax and Semantics of “Ser” and “Estar”. Lingue & Linguaggio 9 (1), 57-87.

Ursini, Francesco-Alessio. 2013a. Esse and Sta: Auxiliary selection in the Aquilan dialect. Dialectologia 10 (1), 107-134.

Ursini, Francesco-Alessio. 2013b. On The Syntax and Semantics of “Tener” and “Haber”. Lingue & Linguaggio 11 (1), 89-120.

Ursini, Francesco-Alessio. 2013c. On the Syntax and Semantics of Spatial Ps in Spanish. Borealis: An international journal about Hispanic Linguistics 2 (1), 117-166.

Ursini, Francesco-Alessio & Nobuaki Akagi. 2013a. The interpretation of spatial At: An Experimental Study. Journal of Cognitive Science 14 (1), 47-76.

Ursini, Francesco-Alessio & Akagi, Nobuaki. 2013b. On the distributed morphology and semantics of spatial Ps. In Il-Jae Lee and Uujinbai Dolgormaa (eds.), Proceedings of the 15th Seoul International Conference on Generative Grammar (SICOGG 15). Hankuk University Press, Seoul, 447-468.

Winter, Yoad. 2001. Measure phrase modification in vector space semantics’. In Megerdoomian, Karine and Leora A. Bar-el, eds., WCCFL XX. Cascadilla Publications, Somerville, Mass, 15-30.

Winter, Yoad. 2005. ‘Cross-categorial restrictions on measure phrase modification’. Linguistics & Philosophy 28 (2), 233-388.

Winter, Yoad 2006. Closure and telicity across categories. In Christpher Tancredi, Maki Kanazawa, Inu Imani, & Ken Kusumoto, (eds.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT16). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 210-218.

Wunderlich, Dieter. 1991. How do prepositional phrases fit into compositional syntax and semantics?, Linguistics 29 (5), 591-621.

Wunderlich, Dieter. 1993. On German “um”: Semantic and Conceptual Aspects. Linguistics 31 (1), 111-133.

Zwarts, Joost. 1997. Vectors as relative positions. Journal of Semantics 14 (1), 57-87.

Zwarts, Joost. 2005. Prepositional Aspect and the Algebra of paths. Linguistic and Philosophy 28 (6), 699-740.

Zwarts, Joost. 2008. Aspects of a typology of direction. In Susan Rothstein (ed.), Theoretical and Crosslinguistic Approaches to the Semantics of Aspects, 79-106. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Zwarts, Joost. 2010. A hierarchy of locations: evidence from the encoding of direction in adpositions and cases. Linguistics 48 (5), 983-1009.

Zwarts, Joost, and Yoad Winter. 2000. Vector space semantics: a Model-Theoretic analysis of Locative Prepositions. Journal of Logic, Language and Information 9 (2) 169-211.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Licencia de Creative Commons

IBERIA An International Journal of Theoretical Linguistics
e-ISSN:  1989-8525