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Article

Redefining constructio praegnans: on the variation between allative and locative expressions in Ancient Greek

Journal of Greek Linguistics. 2013. No. 13. P. 103-141.
Rodin (Maslov) B., Nikitina T.

In traditional Ancient Greek grammar, the term constructio praegnans refers to an apparent syntactic anomaly whereby the idea of motion is missing from either the verb or the prepositional phrase: a verb that does not express motion is combined with a directional prepositional phrase (e.g., ‘slaughter into a container’) or a motion verb combines with a static prepositional phrase describing a goal of motion (e.g., ‘throw in the fire’). This study explores such usages in the period from Archaic to Classical Greek and argues against treating constructio praegnans as a unitary phenomenon. The seemingly aberrant combinations of the verb’s meaning and the type of prepositional phrase are shown to be motivated by four independent factors: 1) lexical (some individual non-motion verbs select for a directional argument); 2) aspectual (static encoding of endpoints is allowed with perfect participles); 3) the encoding of results with change of state verbs; and 4) the archaic use of static prepositional phrases in directional contexts (the goal argument of a motion verb is described by a static prepositional phrase). The four types of “pregnant” use are paralleled by different phenomena in other languages. Based on statistical analysis, they are also argued to undergo different kinds of diachronic development. Some of these developments, nevertheless, fall into a more general pattern: Ancient Greek gradually moves toward a more consistent use of specialized directional expressions to mark goals of motion, conforming increasingly to the “satellite-framed” type of motion encoding.