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Topic-Marking Prepositions in Spanish: Contrasting Corpus and Questionnaire Data in the Analysis of Prepositional Synonymy

Chapter in book
Authors Anton Granvik
Published in Empirical Approaches to Cognitive Linguistics / edited by Milla Luodonpää-Manni, Esa Penttilä, Johanna Viimaranta
Pages 215-260
ISBN 978-1-4438-7325-3
Publisher Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Place of publication Newcastle upon Tyne
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Pages 215-260
Language en
Keywords Spanish, topic-marking prepositions, synonymy, multifactorial analysis, corpus linguistics, questionnaires, converging evidence.
Subject categories Spanish language, Linguistics


This paper focuses on the Spanish prepositions "de", "sobre", "acerca de" and "en torno a", which are all used to express the subject or topic of a conversation or what we are thinking about. When used to express the topic-marking relation between a head element and the prepositional complement, as in "una discusión de/sobre/acerca de/en torno a política" ‘a discussion about politics’, the four prepositions all express the same meaning and can thus be considered synonymous. Since meaning is always contextual, however, and considering that most linguists accept that absolute synonymy does not exist, the aim of the study is to find out to what degree these prepositions can be differentiated in terms of usage. Approaching the issue of synonymy in terms of interchangeability in context, I investigate the usage contexts of the four prepositions by means of multifactorial analysis of corpus data combined with questionnaires in order to look for converging evidence. The results show that of the four prepositions only "de" and "en torno a" present distinct usage profiles, whereas "sobre" and "acerca de" are often interchangeable both with each other and with "de" and "en torno a". The four prepositions thus constitute a structured group of synonyms presenting distinct usage profiles on the one hand, while being clearly interchangeable in many contexts without any significant change in meaning, on the other.

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