Cognitive relations in the semantics of Brazilian-Portuguese preposition em

In this paper, we present a semantic description of the polysemy of Brazilian-Portuguese preposition em, by following Ronald Langacker’s model of Schematic Network. We based our study on an introspective analysis of a 1.2-million-word corpus of journalistic texts published in three newspapers from major Brazilian cities between 2007 and 2008. A locative sense has long been ascribed to this word, although it can be found in some uses which do not invoke this concept. Furthermore, em occurs in less specific contexts than locative prepositions with approximate values in other languages, such as dans, sur, à, and in, on, at, into, and onto, a fact which renders its meaning strongly context-dependent. Our aim then is to propose an account for both its abstractness and its polysemy, by adopting Langacker’s (1987) usage-based model of language and his concept of ‘construal’, Johnson’s (2005; 1987) ideas about ‘image schemas’, Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980) theory of ‘conceptual metaphor’, Talmy’s (2000) ‘closed-class semantics’, and Vandeloise’s (1991) study of ‘functional relations’ as determinants of the meaning of spatial prepositions. The analysis of 2813 samples revealed two highly schematic senses for the preposition em, derived from the CONTAINER schema: ‘location’ and ‘specification’. The first is elaborated in twenty-two categories and subcategories, representing 86.78% of the uses. As a result of the functional effects of ‘control’ and ‘support’, nine categories were found to instantiate the latter sense of specification, also in various concrete and abstract domains. Most of the variation obtained in spatial contexts could be explained by construal effects and the Container/contained functional relation. Other uses were interpreted as emerging from metaphorical and metonymic processes.

Keywords: preposition, construal, functional relation, polysemy, schematic network

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