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On the meaning of the preposition 'of': an investigation of its relation with the French preposition 'de'

This research investigates the meaning of the English preposition of in order to understand its relationship with the French preposition de. Old English of had the meaning that is retained in the adverb off: ‘away from’. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) notes that multiple senses of of could have been influenced by French in the aftermath of the Norman invasion. This research examines the present-day situation, through parallel corpora built for the purpose of this research. The corpora consist of written data with articles relating to Rugby, the fishing row conflict and climate change as such articles can be found in both French and English. These will be analysed by examining the frequency and patterns of use of the two prepositions in their various dictionary senses from the OED and LeRobert. This should allow conclusion on whether French de and English of have converged or diverged in function and meaning. Moreover, the genitive case is also looked into, as French for instance has come ‘to be used as a marker of several metaphorical meanings deriving its original ‘source’ meaning’ (Carlier, 20. P. 153). This could also be the case for English of, Haspelmath and Michaelis explained that the genitive objects are ‘an argument of the verb that is lexically specified as marked by a case or adposition’ (Haspelmath and Michaelis, 2008, p.150), which is also found with French de. Their study on the genitive objects is relevant to this research since they make the assumption that ‘English has probably been influenced by French’ and ‘French, Italian and English have been influenced by Latin, as speakers (and writers) equated the genitive preposition de/di/of with the Latin morphological genitive’ (Haspelmath and Michaelis, 2008. p.162). Using corpora and the research cited above, I aim to achieve a view on the relatedness of present-day French de and English of.

Carlier, A., & Versreate, J. (Eds.). (2013). “De: A genitive marker in French?” in Genitive. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p.141-214.
Haspelmath, M., & Michaelis, S. (2008). “Leipzig fourmille de typologies – Genitive objects in comparison*”. In: Corbett, G., & Noonan, M., (Eds). Case and Grammatical Relations: Studies in honor of Bernard Comrie. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 149-166.
Oxford English Dictionary. (2021). ‘off’ preposition. Available at: [Accessed 27th October 2021].