Landmarks, Trajectors, and Pompoms

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

We're going hands on in this post, creating a three dimensional figure to help us visualize the preposition on and how this tiny word impacts how we visualize movement.


When talking about movement through space, it's important to discuss the terms "landmark" and "trajector." In addition to Space Grammar, Landacker was the first to coin these terms. These ideas were then more fully developed by Lakoff and Johnson (1987) in a series of publications on metaphors in language and the conceptual imagery behind the metaphors. This conceptual imagery was termed "image schemas."

But back to Landmarks and Trajectors. It turns out, English speakers tend to refer to spatial scenes in terms of a moving item (trajector) foregrounded against a background, (landmark). For example, an English speaker might say "The cake is on the table," but not "The table is under the cake." Or they would say, "I put the cookie in the jar," but not "I put the jar around the cookie." The smaller, movable or moving object tends to be the subject or direct object. The larger or non-moving object serves as a background to orient the movement in space, and is often the object of a prepositional phrase: At night, to the door, by the river.

Strangely enough, it saves time and energy for English speakers to drop a well known landmark and/or trajector and keep only verb with the preposition or adverb as reference. So "put the coat on your back" becomes "put the coat on," and "Pick the toys from the ground, and put them on the shelf" becomes "pick up your toys," which then simplifies even more to "pick up." These simplified but meaning rich combinations of simple verb (usually a verb of motion) plus adverb or preposition (termed hereafter a particle) are called "phrasal verbs."

One of the secrets to ferreting out the meaning of phrasal verbs is to identify the intended trajector, and the intended landmark. Sounds difficult, but I'm going to show you one way to visualize this using a pompom, a pipe-cleaner, two plastic eyes, a container, and yourself. I show you in this video how to create these props for yourself and for your students. Here is the image that inspired the idea, from Tanka, 2011b:



In these images, you can see abstract representations of "Landmark" (the line or path metaphor, the wall or surface metaphor, the cube and circle or container metaphors, and the hands or link metaphor. You can see more about these metaphors in another post. You can also see abstract representations of "Trajector" - here represented by a round ball...with personality! There are many other ways to abstractly represent landmarks and trajectors, but I love the personality in this particular representation!


Fujii, K. (2016). Effects of learners’ English proficiency level in learning English prepositions through the schema-based instruction. English language teaching, 9(10) p. 121.

10.5539/elt.v9n10p121

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