Rawàng Ata – prepositions


Rawàng Ata has a relatively simple system of prepositions.

The three most important locative prepositions are ko, and òa. These are by far the most used locative prepositions, and are all based on the concept of the ‘index-plane’, a hypothetical surface covering the earth. In most cases, the index plane is identical with the surface of the ground or of a large body of water, but certain classes of item are conceived of as beneath, and hence extending, that plane: trees (but not bushes), houses and huts, caves and large overhangs (artificial or natural), the internal volume of ships, the internal volumes of people and large animals (but not insects, etc) regardless of their location, the internal volumes of objects placed on the index-plane (such as boxes when on the ground, but not when on a cart), and the volumes created beneath or within certain bounding or enveloping objects (such as cages) placed on the index-plane — this also includes the areas beneath elevated houses. The plane also extends to include areas that are naturally inimical to life, whether or not they are contiguous with the main plane — for instance, volcanic clouds are included within their own conceptual planes. The definition of ‘inimical to life’ can be superstitious: fog, for example, is generally considered ‘interior’, despite its low lethality. Contrariwise, small streams are considered above the plane, as are rising floodwaters, although the status of slow-draining departing floodwater is variable.

Speakers of Rawàng Ata do not typically discuss this ‘index-plane’ explicitly, nor theorise about it or its significance; rather, it is a general perception of which areas are ‘interior’/’below’ and which are ‘exterior’/’above’.

Ko is the preposition relating to ‘interior’ spaces, and is often translated as ‘within’ or ‘below’. However, more properly it relates to any space ‘below’ or ‘within’ the index-plane: a less confusing translation would therefore be ‘at (an interior place)’. For example, the prepositional phrase ko kòdok can mean only ‘in the chest (i.e. box)’ when the chest is on the ground outside, but it may mean either ‘on the chest’ or ‘in the chest’ when the chest is on the floor inside a house, and the phrase becomes nonsensical when the chest is lifted into the air or placed on a cart (except perhaps in the context of live things being unable to survive within the chest for lack of air). A further complication of this preposition is that it may be used not only in the sense of ‘at’, but also in the with things ‘beyond’ a threshold point on the index-plane. Thus, ko samu means not ‘at the doorway’ but ‘inside the doorway’ or ‘beyond the doorway’.

Parallel to the case of ko, the preposition may be translated as ‘at (an exterior place)’, or ‘beyond (a threshold)’. Hence sà baryòng, ‘at the estate house’, sà samu ‘outside/beyond the doorway’, sà kòdok, ‘on top of a chest placed on the ground, or on or in a chest outside and not on the ground (etc)’.

Òa is correspondingly the appropriate preposition for things located on the index plane – the ground, walls, doors, and so forth. As a slight complication, streams – and other liquids on the index plane – are all considered surface, so all take òa, even for objects within the stream. Similarly, objects floating/swimming in the very topmost layers of a large water body may be considered òa rather than ko. Counterintuitively, although individuals or small groups on the ground are òa, large groups – human armies, animal herds, etc. – are considered to be , as though moving ‘over’ the ground rather than ‘on’ it. Similarly, a fleet sails the ocean, even though the individual ships sail òa the ocean. Abstract ideas likewise move their object, even when their object is planar – gossip, for instance, spreads the streets, as though carried in the air. In the abstract realm, generally overt, large, general or public things are , while hidden, private, secret, important or illicit things are ko, and transient or impersonal things are òa.

Amùa is a preposition broadly meaning ‘along’, ‘along from’ or ‘by’ – it is associated with points along a line. With lines amùa lines, it can be translated ‘along’ or ‘alongside’ – ratta amùa suki, ‘the track alongside the stream’. With points or areas amùa lines, it can be translated ‘by’ – baryòng amùa suki, ‘the estate house by the stream’. With anything amùa a point or area, it can be translated ‘along from’, with an implied line linking the objects – salanekku amùa baryòng, ‘the stall along (the road) from the estate house’. It can more abstractly indicate the next thing in a list, or a later event, or a consequence or deduction. The line being followed by be indirect – a spiral path, for instance – and may be only implicit, such as the line from more public to more private areas within a baryòng. In some cases it may mean ‘above’, where there is a linking element between them: one floor of a house may be amùa the floor below, with the sense of the building as a line upwards.

Radaò in contrast indicates something at a perpendicular distance from a line. With a line radaò a line, it refers to lines perpendicular and may be translated ‘to’ or ‘from’ or ‘at an angle to’ or the like – ratta radaò suki, ‘the track leading up to the stream’. With points or areas radaò lines, it may be translated ‘back from’, ‘away from’, ‘near’ – baryòng radaò suki, ‘the estate house a bit back from the stream’. With anything radaò a point or area, it can be translated ‘behind’, or ‘beyond’, relative to an implied line (or point or area) – salanekku radaò baryòng, ‘the stall at the back of (beyond, behind, further from the road than, hidden by) the estate house’. In more abstract terms it is used with less important or more remote things, with causes, with prior events or premises, reasons and motivations. It may be worth noting that Rawàng Ata encourages its speaker to think of time not as a line, but as an infinite series of right-angle turns: prior events are leading up to the present/future, and then the present and future turn to follow a perpendicular line.

Ulada and tamang are prepositions broadly translated as ‘up from’ and ‘down from’, but importantly the implication is not of vertical displacement, but of motion up and down an angled surface. Sometimes this surface may be metaphorical. Baryòng ulada suki implies the estate house ‘up the slope from’ the stream – the house ought then to be at the top of the bank, or at least close by and higher, but it should not be directly above the stream, and the preposition is inappropriate if it is not possible to travel from one to the other by foot – in this case, the house cannot be on a cliff face overlooking the stream. However, naturally the limits of possible travel are subjective – what an old man may describe as ulada may differ from what a beseiging army with ropes may consider ulada. Importantly, this is the preposition used to describe the relation between houses and streets. As with amùa and radaò, this is primarily a preposition based upon a linear reference – a point ulada a line (eg a street, a stream) is up the bank from the line, but a point ulada another point is merely further up the bank from an implicit line than the object point. So, for instance, salanekku ulada baryòng means ‘the stall further up the bank than the estate-house’. Tamang is slightly more expansive – in addition to locations downhill along a traversable path, it also applies to object that have fallen or slidden down.

More abstractly, ulada has a connotation of challenge, effort and accomplishment, and so can be used of tasks, challenges, successes, rewards and so forth. Tamang conversely connotes apathy, failure, comfort, and so forth.

The prepositions aban and udan both convey the sense of ‘opposite’, ‘facing’ or ‘across from’. Udan is used where two objects are on opposing sides of a line, where the line is at a height similar to or greater than the height of one or both objects. Aban is more rarely used in its literal sense, but occurs where the dividing line is lower than both objects – it is most commonly used for things on opposing banks of rivers, but is also important as the preposition conveying the relation of houses on opposite sides of a street: aban baryòng, ‘facing the house (and elevated)’. Abstractly, aban and udan can both be used for opposites, opposing forces, future possibilities (particularly those metaphorically on the far side of some ordeal or transformation) and so on; aban is particularly used when what lies between is difficult, or the opposing thing or state is intimidating or hostile, whereas udan is more neutral, and is also used for more fundamental oppositions – fire is aban wood, but udan ice.

Surtala and laòn are prepositions for objects perpendicular to and crossing a line. Laòn is the more common, used for more concrete items – it is translated ‘over’ or ‘across’ and governs anything that starts on one side of a line and passes to the other, with the line as the object of the preposition – the passage may be over the line, under the line, or cutting through the line. Tunnels, bridges, fords, and weirs all pass laòn a river. Abstractly, it may be used both for obstacles (things blocking the way) and for ways to avoid obstacles (things passing over or through a barrier). Surtala likewise concerns things crossing a line, but the things in question are more diffuse: fog may be surtala a road, a military camp may be surtala (i.e. spread on both side of) a river. It may even be used where the linear thing itself becomes less linear – a marshy area on a river, a path that turns into a labyrinth. Abstractly, it may be used for diffuse barriers or obstacles, and in particular for things that obscure vision or induce confusion or uncertainty.

The cardinal directions yield four further prepositions: yosamuirun (‘south of’), yahàolin (‘north of’), nirvuàn (‘west of’) and yondruwàn (‘east of’).

Finally, there are two rarer spatial prepositions: uhù and , respectively ‘above’ and ‘below’. These are used particularly where there is a sense of disconnection between the two things. Uhù may also mean ‘beyond’ in an abstract, particularly a religious or philosophical, sense, and contrariwise with .

Further spatial prepositions are formed from combinations of the above with nouns – these spatial nouns are usually fairly concrete, not specialised for the purpose, and may be ad hoc. For instance, to talk of something inside a fruit, one may say sà fùttu, ‘at the seeds’. Four significant fixed expressions, however, are amùa ryārka and amùa yūryarka, literally ‘along the turning’ and ‘along the counter-turning’, but best translated as ‘counter-clockwise from’ and ‘clockwise from’, or ‘left of’ and ‘right of’, and aban rotto and radaò shiunà, literally ‘facing the eyes’ and ‘behind the hair’, but best translated ‘in front of’ or ‘straight ahead’, and ‘behind’ respectively. These expressions are so common they are often abbreviated, as aryārkan and ayūryan for the first pair, and ārottong and òshiun for the latter, although these abbreviations are rarely found in writing.

The above prepositions all create independent prepositional phrases, capable of being topicalised. The preposition i, however, creates dependent phrases, which cannot be topicalised. It indicates motion toward its object – usually literal, but sometimes (as with, e.g. changes in ownership) metaphorical. The preposition ma likewise creates dependent phrases, with the meaning ‘from’, but is much less common. The preposition iruti followed by an independent preposition creates a dependent phrase, with the meaning ‘back and forth along a route’ – so iruti amùa suki, ‘back and forth along the stream’, or iruti radaò suki, ‘to and from the stream’; likewise, and tì ma combined with other prepositions indicate motion to or from a place indicated by that further preposition – so, for example, tì ma suki, ‘from up above the stream’. The preposition ī creates independent phrases with the meaning of ‘oriented toward’, but is rare in speech.

Many of the above prepositions conceptually involve a third (usually linear) argument. This can be specified in one of three ways: it may be (and usually is) left to context; it may be provided through topicalisation; or it may be provided through a case-form complement.


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