The Dynamics of Prepositions and Prepositional Constructions in Spanish

Scientific Network


The scientific network “The dynamics of prepositions and prepositional constructions in Spanish” has the overarching goal of investigating Spanish prepositional constructions as well as the role of prepositional elements within constructions, e.g. distinto a/de ‘different from’, vehículo de/a motor ‘motor vehicle’ or contactar con/a alguien ‘contact sb’, which are typical for the Romance languages. However, both prepositions and prepositional constructions are extremely heterogeneous and disputed categories and defy a uniform classification in category-based linguistic approaches as well as in psycho- and neurolinguistic studies on language acquisition and processing. This is mostly due to the fact that prepositions and prepositional constructions both lie on a lexicon-grammar continuum and simultaneously include elements that have traditionally been considered grammatical(ized) and lexical(ized) items.

In order to grasp the particular status of prepositions and prepositional elements, our network adopts a usage-based Construction Grammar approach, in which prepositions are seen as an emergent category that is learned from prototypical slots in constructions, which are subject to constant reorganization and where a static endpoint is in principle never attained. In constructionist approaches, we assume different levels of schematicity going from fully schematic constructions, such as [N Prep N], over partially filled constructions, such as [N de N], to fully lexically filled constructions, such as [vehículo de motor]. The underlying hypothesis for the projects in our network is that the interaction and variability between and within different levels of schematicity as assumed in Construction Grammar determine both the nature and the role of prepositions. 

We assume that this change of perspective contributes to a refined understanding of the nature of prepositions in at least three ways. First, we do not investigate prepositions as isolated items but bring into focus larger linguistic units (or ‘constructions’) as well as the respective (lexical, grammatical or discursive) elements that are connected by prepositions within them. Second, the assumption of a continuum between lexicon and syntax resolves the unclear lexical vs. grammatical cut-off line, both for prepositions and for the constructions in which they occur. Third, the constructionist perspective highlights the dynamic relationship between concrete tokens and more schematic patterns at various levels of complexity and abstraction. Relying on synchronic and diachronic corpus analyses, these can be captured in syntagmatic and paradigmatic associative networks. In order to determine whether constructions that can be assumed to be related in a constructional network are also cognitively linked in individual speakers, we rely on experimental psycholinguistic methods such as priming and eye-tracking. In this vein, we critically examine the role of mid-level (i.e., partially lexically filled) constructions, in which prepositional ‘pillars’ are attributed a central role in constructionist approaches, for the processing of prepositions and prepositional constructions. Our findings and their theoretical implications for Spanish may then also be extended towards a cross-linguistic comparative perspective on prepositions and prepositional constructions in other languages (e.g. Romance or Germanic).


The scientific network will be funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for three years from 2023.


Network coordinators

PD Dr. Inga Hennecke Jun.-Prof. Dr. Evelyn Wiesinger (University of Tübingen)



Dr. Philipp Dankel (University of Basel)

Email: philipp.dankelspam



PD Dr. Hans-Jörg Döhla (University of Regensburg)

Email: hans-joerg.doehlaspam


Prof. Dr. Oliver Ehmer (University of Osnabrück)

Email: oliver.ehmerspam



Dr. Teresa Gruber (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

Email: teresa.gruberspam



Dr. Nely Iglesias Iglesias (University of Salamanca)

Email: nelyspam


Dr. Pedro Ivorra Ordines (KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt)  

Email: Pedro.IvorraOrdinesspam



Ph.D. candidate Eleni Kanli (University of Tübingen)

Email: eleni.kanlispam



Prof. Dr. Carmen Mellado Blanco (University of Santiago de Compostela)

Email: c.melladospam


Project page:


Ass.-Prof. Dr. María Sol Sansiñena Pascual (KU Leuven)

Email: mariasol.sansinenaspam



PD Dr. Alexander M. Teixeira Kalkhoff (University of Heidelberg)

Email: alexander.teixeirakalkhoffspam



Prof. Dr. Johanna Wolf (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

Email: johanna.wolfspam

Central Aims and Focus Areas

Our scientific network follows the overarching hypothesis that the interaction between and variability within different levels of schematicity, as assumed in Construction Grammar, determine both the nature and the role of prepositions. The network projects aim at investigating and discussing the dynamicity of Spanish prepositional constructions and the role of prepositional elements in these constructions against a usage-based constructionist theoretical background, as well as by combining different empirical methods such as corpus analyses and psycholinguistic, experimental approaches.

The overarching goal includes the following more specific aims:

a) In contrast to studies from a more traditional (e.g. generative or structuralist) perspective, our scientific network intends to provide a more comprehensive investigation and modelling of Spanish prepositions and prepositional constructions that incorporates the multi-level nature of constructional networks on an empirical basis and exploits various kinds of constructional links (e.g. taxonomic and paradigmatic), which may also extend beyond the sentence level.

b) As a second aim, the network members intend to provide a contribution to refining the theory and methodology of Construction Grammar by adopting a more dynamic perspective on prepositional constructions and constructional networks and by combining the analysis of corpus data with psycholinguistic methods.

The composition of the network members allows us to intertwine different methods within several project teams and to study prepositional constructions from different perspectives, which will be organized around the following two focus areas:

Focus Area 1: Productivity of prepositional constructions and interrelations across prepositional constructions

This focus area aims to investigate the productivity and complexity of constructions containing a preposition in interaction with different types of slot fillers and in larger constructional networks. More specifically, the projects of Focus Area 1 analyse the open slots that are related via prepositions in Spanish constructions, which include, for example, partially filled constructions such as [N1 de N2]. Relying on combined corpus-linguistic methods and interactional multimodal data on individual speakers and communicative events (e.g. of co-constructing events), the projects included in Focus Area 1 investigate prepositional constructions with different degrees of frequency, productivity, complexity and compositionality and situated at different positions in the assumed continuum between lexicon and syntax. This corpus-based approach is intended to answer the following questions related to the constructional level:

1a. Which kinds of open slots are possible in prepositional constructions and how are they productively embedded at the word, phrase and discourse level?

1b. Are there limits with regard to the productivity and complexity of the open slots in prepositional constructions?

Regarding the level of constructional networks, the projects in Focus Area 1 will also analyse variation that goes beyond specific prepositional constructions and consider the dynamic interrelations within larger constructional networksThe projects in Focus Area 1 centre on, for instance, prepositional constructions that show the possibility of modification and/or may be related to various source constructions, e.g. Spanish peinado a la moda ‘fashion hairstyle’/peinado a la última moda ‘latest fashion hairstyle’ or por parte de ‘on the part of’/por buena parte de ‘by large parts of/by most of’. With regard to the dynamicity of the complex paradigmatic and inheritance links, we aim to address the following questions based on synchronic and diachronic corpus analyses:

1c. Which paradigmatic networks are formed by Spanish prepositional constructions and up to which level can generalizations be assumed?

1d. How can the various interrelations in constructional networks be accounted for in terms of embedded constructions or multiple inheritance links?

Focus Area 2: Flexibility and variation of the prepositional element within larger constructions

In complementation to Focus Area 1, Focus Area 2 investigates the flexibility and variation of prepositions within larger constructions (e.g. con respecto de/a ‘with regard to’, distinto a/de ‘different from’, en/con base a ‘based on’, confiar en/a alguien ‘trust sb’, camisa de/a rayas ‘striped shirt’, ansias de/por volar ‘desire to fly’) as well as the question whether variation takes place to the same extent across different types of constructions. Within Focus Area 2, we aim to critically assess the lexical vs. functional/syntactic divide that is found in traditional approaches (e.g. generative and structuralist approaches) to prepositions as well as in previous studies on preposition processing. The focus area aims to combine corpus data on frequency, flexibility and variation of the prepositional element with psycholinguistic research methods, such as production tasks and eye-tracking, as well as acceptability judgment tasks. The projects in Focus Area 2 intend to answer the following questions:

2a. How flexible are prepositions within different types of constructions?

2b. Does variation within specific constructions take place to the same extent and in the same way across ‘functional’ and ‘lexical’ uses of prepositions?

With regard to these questions, we also aim to discuss the link between language representation and change (as deduced from corpus data and usually descriptively discussed in Construction Grammar) and more dynamic language processing in the individual (as investigated in psycholinguistic research). Bringing together the findings of Focus Areas 1 and 2 in this way, we intend to address the following questions:

2c. Do prepositions necessarily represent a constant in partially filled schematizations over fully lexically specified constructions?

2d. Are constructional networks organized around functional elements or around the lexical fillers?

In this vein, Focus Area 2 may help us refine theoretical assumptions made in usage-based Construction Grammar. This refers especially to the internal organization of constructional networks, such as the fact that prepositions are usually considered a central pillar of partially filled constructions (e.g. Spanish [N1 de N2]). Our empirical findings and theoretical implications can then be extended from the investigation of Spanish to the discussion of prepositional constructions in other (e.g. Romance or Germanic) languages.


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To be announced


 First network meeting planned for 06 and 07 July 2023 at the University of Tübingen

To download the schedule of the meeting please click here.

Invited speakers

Prof. Dr. Francesca Masini (University of Bologna)

apl. Prof. Dr. Alice Blumenthal-Dramé (University of Freiburg)  

Dr. Susanne Flach (University of Zurich)

 Second network meeting planned for 09 and 10 September 2024 at the University of Heidelberg

To download the programme of the meeting please click here.

Invited speakers

Valentina Piunno (Università di Bergamo)
“Prepositional constructions in Romance languages. A usage-based and constructionist perspective”

Elena Smirnova  (Université de Neuchâtel)
“German complex prepositions: Diachronic dynamics of the constructional network”