Time, space, and prepositions

January 31, 2008

Came across an interesting post over at Language Log about the prepositions in/on/at.

The basic principles are simple:
in
relates to a 3-dimensional container
on relates to a 2-dimensional surface
at relates to a 1-dimensional location
timenspace.jpg
Time and space as portrayed by Flickr user: Charles Van L.

The experiential key here is that a day (one’s current waking period) is metaphorized as a surface on which one is walking (the slogan is “ontology recapitulates physiology”). That accounts for on Thursday, on the seventh, on his birthday.

The smaller time units are then locations on that surface, whence at noon, at the moment, at 8:15:44.23, 2/17/44, while the larger ones are containers for days, whence in March, in 2007, in the twentieth century. [Language Log]

In the UK, I noticed that it was common to say “I’ve got plans at the weekend” rather than the American way “on the weekend.” Does this mean that Brits find their weekends simply fleeting points in a larger week while Americans delineate the workweek more clearly?

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