Trajector and Landmark

TRAJECTOR AND LANDMARK are the terms proposed by R. Langacker to describe the semantics of the linguistic expressions denoting simple and complex events, in which one object (the Trajector) is moving or undergoing changes in relation to another object (the Landmark).The line along which the Trajector is moving, either literally or metaphorically, is called the Path.

The objective dynamics of the entities  is not a compulsory feature of the event: the movement or change can be of spatio-temporal character (The balloon (Тrajector) is flying over (Path) the house (Landmark)), or  can be abstract or fictive, for instance: The premier (Тrajector) wants his minister to hack his way through (abstract Path) the state bureaucracy (abstract Landmark); The path climbs steeply out of the valley (see the term “fictive motion” in [Talmy 2001]). Тrajector and Landmark. as elements of conceptualized event are placed in the speaker’s focus of attention, but they possess unequal focal prominence [Langacker 2000: 30]. Trajector as a mobile element of the scene constitutes the primary focus. Landmark which serves as the point of reference for Trajector is usually placed in the secondary focus.

Despite the fact that Langacker insists on a broad meaning of these terms, considering them as the universal asymmetry between the subject and the object of action, state or relation [Langacker 1987: 231], the topological nature of the schema with Trajector, Landmark and Path  results in the spatio-temporal bias in the linguistic studies of events and relations between entities.

The terms Trajector and Landmark. are mainly applied to the linguistic expressions with the spatial meaning – prepositions over, up, under, below, сквозьчерез, verbs of movement and state (move, go, stay), phrasal verbs, qualitative adjectives, complex sentences with spatial and temporal relations (When I arrived, he was already gone). For instance, it is observed in some studies that in complex sentences the principal clause often performs the function of Trajector and the subordinate clause – the function of Landmark (Alex called Sue when she was in Chicago). 

The syntactical perspective also enables the researchers to specify the gradation of elements in terms of their focal prominence: the primary Landmark is expressed by Direct Object and the secondary Landmark – by Indirect Object [van Hoek 2007: 899 — 900].

Trajector and Landmark. are also used in word-formation research, but the studies in this field are scarce. In [Langacker 1990; Ungerer 2007] nominal word-formation (nouns with the suffix –er) is analyzed, as well as the adjectives, nouns and verbs with prefixes un-, in-, contra-, dis- that profile contrast. The meanings of these words are obtained as a result of the combination of several schemas with different Trajectors and Landmarks. For example, in the word climber (альпинист) two schemas are combined: a complex event schema, in which the motion is profiled (Trajector) and the slope and the peak of the mountain constitute the Landmark, and a more fuzzy conceptual structure of the suffix –er,in which the Trajector (the generalized agent) is profiled and the Landmark is not defined. However, it is the suffix –er that transmits the agent to the resultant event schema of the word climber [Langacker 1990: 25].

Further reading

Hoek K. van. Pronominal Anaphora // The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics (ed. Geeraerts D., Cuyckens H.). — Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. — P. 890-915.

Langacker R. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. — Vol. I. — Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987.

Langacker R. Subjectification // Cognitive Linguistics 1, 1990. — P. 5-38.

Talmy L. Towards a Cognitive Semantics. — Volume I: Concept Structuring System. — Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.

Ungerer F. Word Formation // The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics (ed. Geeraerts D., Cuyckens H.). — Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. — P. 650-675.

Olga Iriskhanova

Translated by Liudmila Kadzhelashvili