I never thought much about prepositions in English. As a native speaker, I take for granted that I know when to use “in” vs “at” vs “to”, etc. Over the years, a few friends of mine, who are not native English speakers, had expressed confusion over which preposition to use. I didn’t understand this because I assumed it would be a matter of translating from their native language to English. Until a few years ago when my Brazilian friend, Ricardo, explained that several of our prepositions share the same word in Portuguese, and it was that “A-ha!” moment when all my other foreign friends’ troubles with prepositions became understandable to me. Even if their native language didn’t skimp on prepositions, I could extrapolate the significance that straightforward translation wasn’t always possible, let alone desirable.
Now, even though I’ve studied a few other languages, I never belabored over prepositions, which might mean I was often wrong in the ones I chose. (The value of this potential discovery is moot since, though I studied those languages, I do not speak them well enough to claim that I speak them.) The point is, I never broke down the word “preposition” to realize that this group of words was not haphazardly named, but that its name is an indication of where the words would come in a sentence “pre-“ and that their function was to indicate something’s “position” relative to something else. This next “A-ha!” moment came quite recently in my study of Mongolian, which paradoxically doesn’t use prepositions at all—they use post-positions. This is part of what is meant by saying Mongolian is an agglutinative language, meaning endings (not only post-positions) are tacked on to change the meaning. Let the crazy-awesomeness begin!
The word for time is tsagk, but if you want to say something happens at a certain time, it becomes tsagkt. At seven o’clock is doloon tsagkt.
I came from America (Amerik), or Amerikaas irsen.
I came to Mongolia (Mongol), or Mongold irsen.
(But if you want to say you are going to somewhere, say Darkhan, it becomes Darkhan roo. Unless where you want to go already ends in the “r” sound, such as the capital Ulaanbaatar, in which case you would add “loo”. Darkhan roo or Ulaanbaatar loo.)
And, when telling how you got somewhere, that is, by what means, you add “aar” turning mashin, the word for car, into mashinaar. (Keeping in mind my earlier blog which mentioned the vowel-harmony rule which comes into play thusly: coming by airplane, or ongots, is ongotsoor.)
Putting it all together, you get: Be doloon tsagkt Amerikaas ongotsoor Mongold irsen. And if you were able to translate that word for word, which you couldn’t because dictionaries only have roots of words, you would get “I at seven o’clock from America by plane to Mongolia came.” Whew!