Ami Okabe
Leiden University Centre for Linguistics/Kyoto University

STAND and LIE in expressing the location of buildings and landforms

Keywords: posture verbs, contrastive linguistics between Dutch and German, corpus, location

Nutshell. The location of buildings and landforms can be expressed both by staan/stehen and liegen/liggen in Dutch and German. However, this does not mean that the verbs are identical in terms of their use. I will present the difference between the verbs by analyzing corpus data statistically and demonstrate what leads to the verb distinction.

Background. Literature has proposed a number of factors regarding verb distinction between stehen/staan and liegen/liggen in locative expressions about buildings and landforms, which appear to be not determinative but only influential (Serra Borneto (1996) for German and Lemmens (2002) for Dutch among others). In consequence, previous studies have yielded a list of factors which allegedly affect the verb distinction to some unknown degree. I examined this list of factors in a quantitative way to evaluate whether the factors can be verified using a statistical method. Moreover, there has not been a discussion on the extent to which Dutch and German posture verbs share the same semantic features in this domain. Accordingly, language comparison is the other goal of this research.

Data. I have used data from two corpora, namely ‘Das Deutsche Referenzkorpus’ (via COSMAS II) and ‘Corpus Hedendaags Nederlands’ (via BlackLab). The extracted data amount to 477 hits in Dutch and 402 hits in German. The data were analysed in terms of sixteen parameters, each corresponding to a factor proposed in the literature. The parameters are classified into three categories: (a) a category related to the perspective of the writer (e.g. immediately visible or not); (b) that of parameters indicating the verticality and horizontality of the located entity and the location; and (c) that of linguistic parameters, such as word order and the presence of temporal adverbs.

The analysis using Fisher’s exact test suggests that the linguistic parameters in category (c) play a most prominent role at verb distinction between stehen/staan and liegen/liggen. For example, the presence of the temporal adverbs (like nog/noch, nu/nun) significantly correlates with the use of stehen/staan. Regarding language difference, no crucial difference has been detected in this study.

Discussion. Compared to the parameters proposed in the literature, less than half of them proved to be relevant to the verb distinction. The statistically significant parameters do not necessarily indicate the physical features of the locative situation; rather they show how the writer construes the situation in question. Accordingly, the writer seems to use either verb which fits his/her construal the most. In other words, the construal of the writer affects the tendency to use either verb.

Conclusion. In conclusion, the results suggest that the linguistic parameters, which reflect the writer’s construal of the locative situation, correlate the most with the distinction between the verbs in both languages. Considering the fact that English has a different pattern of usage in this domain (Newman 2009), Dutch and German seem to form a unity against English.


Lemmens, Maarten. 2002. ‘The Semantic Network of Dutch Posture Verbs’. In: John Newman (ed.). The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing and Lying. (=Typological Studies in Language 51). Amsterdam and Philadelphia. John Benjamins. 103–139.

Newman, John. 2009. ‘English posture verbs. An experientially grounded approach’. Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics 7. 30-57.

Serra Borneto, Carlo. 1996. ‘Liegen and Stehen in German: A Study in Horizontality and Verticality’. Casad Eugene (ed.). Cognitive Linguistics in the Redwoods: The Expansion of a New Paradigm in Linguistics. Berlin and New York. Mouton de Gruyter. 459–506.