paper studies the language according to a cognitive
perspective. It is believed that the form of the language,
its grammar, is to a certain extant innate. It is also
recognizable that it is not possible to put it into
practice without experience to empower the process
of linguistic formation.
The spatial prepositions in Portuguese and English
are analyzed based on the semantic theory by the linguist
Ray Jackendoff (1983,1992).He postulates the existence
of a Conceptual Structure organized mentally. The contents
of the Conceptual Structure consist of innate elements
that are Situation, Event, State, Object, Place and
The conceptual constituent Place is explored in this
paper because it accounts for the spatial prepositions.
They are the key elements to the understanding of spatial
relations in the language. It is discussed what the
concepts encoded in these grammatical expressions are.
The elements of spatial relations
There are three elements involved in the spatial relation,
that are: figure- the object to be located, the reference
object- the ground and region-where the object is located.
Jackendoff and Landau (1993:224) exemplify the elements
The book (figure) is lying on the table (reference
The train (figure) reached the station (reference object)
The star (figure) is inside the circle (reference object)
The circle (figure) lies around (surrounds) the star(
In 1), the figure book is located in the region expressed
by the prepositional phrase on the table. The region
is described by the reference object the table and
the spatial relation by the preposition on. This preposition
means in contact to the surface of the reference object.
The prepositions in 2),3) and 4) also relate spatially
the figure to the reference object expressed by the
prepositions in, inside, and around.
The spatial relation is encoded in a preposition along
with the reference object, that defines the region.
The region is whatsoever the location of the reference
object. It answers Where the object is located or its
route in case it is moving.
The functions of the prepositions
The spatial prepositions can play two functions that
are places or routes.
The place is the location where the object is and
the route its path in case it is moving.
The concept of place consists of an intransitive preposition
such as forward, that way and upstairs or a transitive
preposition like on the table, under the chair or in
Moreover, the place can mention two reference objects
such as between the square and the circle and across
the road from the hotel.
The place these prepositions refer to is different
from the reference object to the extent that they suggest
a variety of locations.It is possible to keep the same
reference object and have different spatial situations
just by altering the preposition. The situations below
can exemplify that:
Under the table, on the table, at the table.
The other function spatial prepositions can play is
the route. It specifies movement or orientation. There
is no influence on the geometry of the objects just
the axial structure that is the object`s upper and
lower sides. Some examples of routes can be the prepositional
phrases toward the mountain, around the tree and to
the floor. These prepositions specify the route followed
by the object. The argument of a route can also be
a reference place such as from under the table whereas
from expresses the path and under the place.
Classifying the preposition to as a route can make
it easier for Brazilian students of English so as to
clarify the semantic difference between to and for.
Both prepositions stand for the prepostion para in
Portuguese. The difference lies on the function para
plays, either as a route, which is a spatial preposition,
or as a purpose, which has a non spatial meaning.
Comparing the spatial prepositions in Portuguese and
Taking into account Brazilian learners of EFL there
appears to be that the prepositions in, on and at are
misapplied in a sentence because of L1 interference.
The concepts encoded by the prepositions in, on and
at are expressed by the solely preposition em. It is
suggested that the preposition em is highly polissemic.
However, it is important to consider the difficulties
native speakers of English have with prepositions as
well. For example, North Americans tend to say in the
bus whilst British say on the bus.
The answer to this puzzle lies on the format of the
spatial cognition. The spatial prepositions interface
the language faculty and the 3D central module. This
module has three dimensions and is responsible for
our understanding of geometry. So, using the correct
preposition requires a mental calculus. In addition
to that, it is required to know the relevance of the
geometric features of a reference object in a certain
culture. It means that the use of in a bus in US English
considers the geometric property of the bus as a container
more relevant than the geometric property of the internal
surface of the bus encoded by on the bus in UK English.
As a result, it is suggested that English is richer
than Portuguese when lexicalizing spatial concepts.
This fact entails that the subtlety of the preposition
is missed out when it is translated. It was verified
by the prepositions in, on and at, whereas in is a
third dimension preposition, on is a bidimensional
one and at just requires coarse geometric properties
of an object. All in all, they are translated as em
in Portuguese so much as the learner is unable of encoding
subtle geometric properties.
Jackendoff, R.(1983).Semantics and Cognition. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press.
___________.(1992).Languages of the mind.
Jackendoff,R. Landau,B. (1993).What and Where in Spatial
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