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Classification of PPs: Circumpositions

A circumposition (sometimes also referred to as a prepositional-postpositional group) is an adposition consisting of two components, namely a prepositional component and a postpositional component which share a common complement, thus constituting an adpositional phrase (also compare Ponelis 1979:176, 326-327).

The following examples illustrate the use of circumpositions:

Hulle verstandhouding het oor die jare heen inniger geword.
their understand.attitude have.AUX over.CIRCP the years away.CIRCP closer become.PST
Their mutual understanding has become more intense over the years.
(Ponelis 1979:176)
Probeer tussen die vergaderings deur 'n tydjie afknyp.
try.LINK between.CIRCP the meetings through.CIRCP a time off.pinch
Try to find a little time between meetings.

Circumpositions express a relation between two entities, most commonly as PPs of location or PPs of time (Ponelis 1979:176), as illustrated by the following two examples.

Hulle kon heelwat steenkool kry in die sloot af langs die rivier.
they can.AUX.MOD.PRT many coal find in.CIRCP the ditch off.CIRCP next the river.
They were able to fine a lot of coal in the ditch next to the river.
(Ponelis 1979:176)
Van vandag af moet dit verander.
from.CIRCP today off.CIRCP must.AUX.MOD it change
From today onwards, it must change.
(Ponelis 1979:176)

Although not as common as PPs of location and PPs of time, circumpositions can also be used for other types of PPs, such as PPs of direction (Ponelis 1979:327), as illustrated with the example below:

Teen die sloot af lê die steenkool gesaai.
against.CIRCP the ditch off.CIRCP lay the coal strew.PST
Down the trench the coal lay strewn.
(Ponelis 1979:327)

Ponelis (1979:326) provides the following list of common circumpositions in Afrikaans:

  • in + op/af
  • langs + op/af/uit
  • met + aan/af/op
  • om/oor + heen
  • teen + af/op/uit
  • tussen + in/deur

Some compounded prepositions in Afrikaans are separable (e.g. vanaf from, vooruit forward, agterin in the back, tussendeur in between). These prepositions can also, depending on the sentence in which they occur, manifest as circumpositions (e.g. van die winkel af from the shop, voor die groep uit ahead of the group, agter by die deur in in at the back though the door and tussen die studente deur through the students.

However, not all circumpositions have separable compounded prepositional equivalents, as illustrated by the example pair below:

a. met die pad af
with.CIRCP the road off.CIRCP
along the road
b. *metaf die pad
with.off.PREP the road
along the road
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