'På' is a Norwegian preposition which is considered very confusing by many who do not have Norwegian as their first language. In its most basic form, 'På' is meant to indicate a coinciding relationship of superiority of the figure to the ground. "To fugler sitter på taket", means "two birds are sitting on the roof". Here we have a physical location, and the located object is "to fugler" and the reference object is "taket". The birds are coinciding with and superior to the roof.
In the case of "Et bilde henger på veggen", which means "a picture hangs on the wall", the located object is "et bilde" an the reference object is "veggen". The objects are in contact and there is a physical location. However, the picture is not superior to the wall. It is anterior to it, yet the preposition 'på' is used. We see a similar example in "vi spruta maling på veggen" - once again the located object is not superior to the reference object, merely coinciding. This might be explained by gravity. If the located object is continuously coinciding with the reference object and not moving away from it due to gravity (falling to the ground), then the preposition 'på' can be used. Usually this will indicate superiority of the reference object to the located object, but in certain examples, like paint and pictures on walls, this is not necessary. "Klærne henger på tørkesnoren", meaning "the clothes hang on the clothesline", signals coincidence between a located object and the referential object. Here the reference object is two-dimensional, a linear object.
However, its usage is very varied, and can mean many things which does not have any obvious connection to the semantic meaning of the basic form.
'På fest', 'på byen', 'på bussen', 'på reisefot', 'på gang', 'på flaska', 'på tur', 'på shopping' etc
There are also many situations that can be described by both 'på' and other prepositions, but have small differences in semantic nuances.
Hun er i byen
“She is in the town”
Hun er på byen
“She is out on the town”
While the first phrase simply locates the person in question as being within the borders of the town, the second phrase implies that she is on a nightclub or some other establishment serving drinks and the like, going out with friends and drinking alcoholic beverages.
Hun går i fjellet
“She is walking in the moutain”
Hun går på fjellet
“She is walking on the mountain”
While the first phrase simply locates the person in question in some mountainous area, the second one implies that she is walking on a specific mountain.
Han er på bussen
“He is on the bus”
Han er i bussen
“He is inside the bus”
These two phrases, while semantically very alike, have certain differences, as the first phrase seems to imply that the person in question is not simply inside the bus, but is also riding it, heading towards a location, while the second one seems to imply that the bus is standing still, and the person min question is simply located inside it.
Sometimes the difference in use of prepositions can cause the phrase to have a completely different meaning
“In the bottle”
The many different meanings of the preposition 'på' can among other reasons be partially explained by the use of metaphor, but also that the preposition gains extended meaning from space into more abstract domains.
Here we see which fields 'på' extends into:
a) Direct placement: På bordet, På hylla
b) Location: På stasjonen, På hotellet, Påfyllinga
c) Time-point: På samme tid som skuddet falt, På slaget midnatt
d) State: På frifot, På jobb, På ferie, På en snurr, På talefot
e) Area: God på gjetting, Ram på snekring, Dårlig på matematikk
f) Belonging to a verb: Gløtte på døra, løfte på hatten
g) consecutiveness: Bok på bok, slag på slag
"På" is another preposition in Norwegian signalling coincidence.
The reference object can also be three-dimensional, but the reference object is still two-dimensional, since the located object here is located on the surface of the object. "Gutten plasserte et klistremerke på ballen", means "the boy put a sticker onto the ball", this sentence signals coincidence. We have a movement of the located object, the sticker, and we have motion, and a physical location. The reference object is the ball. Here the located object is in contact with the surface of the reference object.
Back to Classroom:NTNU, LING1113 (2009) - Motion and Space