Making sense of the abstract uses of the prepositions in and on

Anja Jamrozik, Dedre Gentner

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Prepositions name spatial relationships (e.g., book on a table), but also abstract, non-spatial relationships (e.g., Jordan is on a roll)—raising the question of how the abstract uses relate to the concrete spatial uses. The two most frequently extended prepositions are in and on, and there has been no consensus about what aspects of spatial meaning they retain when used abstractly. We propose that what is preserved is the relative degree of control between the located object (the figure) and the reference object (the ground). Building on previous work showing that this aspect of meaning can distinguish conventional abstract uses of in and on (Jamrozik & Gentner, 2011), we found that it is also extended to the comprehension and production of novel abstract uses. We discuss the application of the findings to second language instruction.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
EditorsPaul Bello, Marcello Guarini, Marjorie McShane, Brian Scassellati
PublisherCognitive Science Society
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)978-0-9911967-0-8
StatePublished - 2014


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