This weekend, in one of our marathon discussions of life, the universe, and everything, my spouse and I came around to: Prepositions–Are They Necessary?
It started with his bringing up the expression “down to” being used where he would expect “down at”: she works down to the hardware store. He had thought it a U.S. Midwesterism, though I think of it as U.S. Southern, but he ran across it in a British work.
We then went to the observation that prepositions seem to be the most idiomatic words, not just in English but in many languages. When I edit work by authors whose first language is other than English, even those whose other usage is impeccable stumble on prepositions; this holds true, in my experience, for native speakers of European, Asian, and African languages..
For example, the Spanish word de can be translated into English as of, by, with, at, about, out, and probably others I have forgotten. The English word from can be translated into Spanish as de, desde, various phrases, and probably others I have forgotten. Spouse says the same is true regarding French.
From there, we went on to whether prepositions really serve any purpose. In spoken language (at least for people who have sight), in many cases they don’t, we decided, because the meaning is obvious from the visual. If my cat is ON the table, and I say, “Get the table!” to her, the meaning is obvious to a bystander (and to one of our cats, but not the other, but for the latter, a preposition doesn’t help). Even if the person can’t see the visual, if I say, “Cat, get the table!” the meaning is reasonably obvious.
In written language, however, usually a preposition is needed. “Get the table” could mean get off the table, get on the table, get [gather] around the table, get behind the table, and myriad others. With no preposition, it is more likely to be understood as “Go get the table” or maybe in slang, “Wow, dig that crazy table.”
Well, that’s the kind of conversation we have.