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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

‘Behind’ and ‘in front’ in Ancient Greek: A case study in orientation asymmetry

P. 67-82.
Nikitina T., Spano M.

This paper explores the evolution of spatial terms describing localization behind a reference object
that took place in the period from Homeric to Classical Greek. We trace the gradual increase in the
proportion of prepositional (as opposed to adverbial) uses of the spatial relator ‘behind’, correlating it
with a gradual change in the preposition’s interpretation. In particular, in Homeric Greek, the
preposition ópisthen ‘behind’ is used to localize a Figure relative to the Ground’s internal back. In later
periods, the same preposition is attested with Grounds lacking an internal front/back asymmetry, and
localizes the Figure from the perspective of an external observer (‘x is behind y’ = ‘y is located
between x and the observer’). In addition to exploring these diachronic developments, we point out a
number of differences in the use and interpretation of the terms for ‘behind’ and ‘in front’ and relate
them to a difference in the rate of grammaticalization of the original terms that gave rise to the
prepositions.