Prepositions matter

Today’s Zits:

V + P~Ø (V with oblique object, marked by a P, vs. a direct object, with no P) was the topic of my 2009 Stanford SemFest paper; detailed handout here.

Two phenomena there:

1. “Transitivizing P-drop”: e.g., in British transitive agree ‘agree on/to’

2. “Intransitivizing P-addition”: e.g. in the venerable Southern love on ‘cuddle, caress, show affection for’

Notes on the variants, from the handout:

The virtue of the Ø option is brevity, plus an implicature of close relationship between the denotation of the verb and the denotation of the object (affectedness, directness) [iconicity]. When usage critics prefer this option in a particular case, they generally appeal to brevity (Omit Needless Words) and disregard possible meaning differences.

The virtue of the P option is (relative) explicitness, plus an implicature of more distant relationship between the denotation of the verb and the denotation of the object [iconicity]. Compare “I played the piano for hours” (direct) and “I played on the piano for hours” (oblique). When usage critics prefer this option in a particular case, they generally appeal to explicitness (Include All Necessary Words) and disregard possible meaning differences.

The pair study Sara (what Jeremy says first) and study with Sara (what he corrects it to) is of neither of these types, but surely his first version is a kind of Freudian slip.

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