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Image schema theory has yielded important results in the study of linguistic semantics. Cognitive linguists argue that image schemas – highly abstract structures of cognition that emerge from human perceptual and sensory-motor interaction with the world – in fact constitute meaning throughout lexicon and grammar (see esp. Johnson 1987; Hampe and Grady 2005). In particular, in being susceptible of visual and kinesthetic “transformations”, image schemas can account for many cases of synchronic and diachronic polysemy (Sweetser 1990; Nerlich 2003). Image schemas can also be metaphorically interpreted, extending meaning further into abstract domains (Lakoff 1987). Whereas Nikiforidou (1991) argued that the different senses of the genitive case in Greek develop by metaphorical extension of the central notion of “possession”, Luraghi (2003) has demonstrated that the meanings of the cases are rather given by image schemas of spatial relation, which are then interpreted metaphorically in other domains. Evidence points to Latin’s semantics being no less image-schematically and figuratively structured. Expressions of time, for instance, reveal that sense in this domain is organized by systematically related interpretations of the path schema (cf. Bettini 1991, 121-33). And Brucale and Mocciaro ([2011]) describe how the senses of per develop from a “prototypical nucleus” in the spatial domain to cover abstract domains including causation, instrumentality, and purpose: namely, through metaphorical extension of a central schema that represents “motion along a path” and a “bounded landmark”.In this paper I analyze the preposition (and prefix) dÄ“ from the perspective of cognitive semantics,arguing first that this word’s different senses and the relations between them – far from being arbitrary and unfathomable – are easily explained in image schematic terms. I argue that the meaning of dÄ“ is constituted by a complex image schematic “scenario” (Lakoff 1987) representing twobounded regions and directed movement between these regions, as well as including “point of view” relative to the region of destination. This imagistically minimal but conceptually complex and temporally developed mental scenario is susceptible of shifts in cognitive salience, whereby the schema’s various constituent elements can be individually “profiled” (cf. Langacker 1987). These shifts of profile (rather than simply the presence of the semantic feature [downward movement]) explain not only the various conventional spatial senses of dÄ“ and its differences from ex and ab (e.g., why de is appropriate in Plaut. Men. 870, me hinc de curru deripit but not in Cic. Rep. 2.68, auriga indoctus e curru trahitur), but also certain marginal uses, not accommodated by traditional accounts, in which the sense of “away from” is almost entirely absent(e.g., Ov. Her. 21.100, de qua pariens arbore nixa dea est, where the required sense is closer to “toward”). Furthermore, I explain the development of dÄ“’s senses from the purely spatial, over the more or less concrete (referring to material compositional, property possession, group constituency, temporal relations), to the highly abstract (topicality, causality, referentiality, privation) as highly motivated by patterns of metaphorical understanding that are recognizable elsewhere in Latin’s semantic structure: ‘ideas are locations’, ‘substances are containers’, ‘states are locations’, etc. I suggest, moreover, that these metaphors function as “macrosignifieds” (Danesi and Perron 1999) organizing meaning not only in language, but also throughout Roman society’s signifying order: e.g., ‘ideas are locations’ underwrites specific patterns of sociocultural experience, above all forms of senatorial practice and augural ritual, and the theory of literary imitatio. Beyond clarifying a question of linguistic semantics, this study is therefore intended to highlight the pervasiveness of metaphor as a structure of meaning in the Latin language as well as in Roman culture more broadly.


  • Brucale, L. and E. Mocciaro. [2011]. “Continuity and Discontinuity in the Semantics of the Latin Preposition per”. Forthcoming in Sprachtypologie und Universalien Forschung 64 (2).
  • Danesi, M. and P. Perron. 1999. Analyzing Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Hampe, B. and J. Grady, eds. 2005. From Perception to Meaning. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Johnson, M. 1987. The Body in Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lakoff, G. 1987. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Langacker, R. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Luraghi, S. 2003. On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Nerlich, B. 2003. Polysemy. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Nikiforidou, K. 1991. “The Meaning of the Genitive”. Cognitive Linguistics 2: 149-205.
  • Sweetser, E. 1990. From Etymology to Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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