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Deixis

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In linguistics, deixis refers to the phenomenon wherein understanding the meaning of certain
words and phrases in an utterance requires contextual information. Words are deictic if their
semantic meaning is fixed but their denotational meaning varies depending on time and/or
place. Words or phrases that require contextual information to convey any meaning - for
example, English pronouns are deictic. Deixis is closely related to both indexicality and
anaphora, as will be further explained below. Although this article deals primarily with deixis
in spoken language, the concepts can apply to written language, gestures, and communication
media as well. And even though this article is primarily concerned with English, deixis is
believed to be a feature (to some degree) of all natural languages.[1] The term’s origin is
Ancient Greek: δεῖξις ""display, demonstration, or reference"", the meaning "point of
reference" in contemporary linguistics having been taken over from Chrysippus.[2]

Contents
[hide]

• 1 Types of deixis
o 1.1 Traditional categories
 1.1.1 Person
 1.1.2 Gender
 1.1.3 Place
 1.1.4 Time
o 1.2 Other categories
 1.2.1 Discourse
 1.2.2 Social
 1.2.2.1 T-V distinction
 1.2.2.2 Honorifics
o 1.3 Anaphoric reference
• 2 Deictic center
• 3 Usages of deixis
• 4 Deixis and indexicality
• 5 See also
• 6 References
• 7 Further reading

• 8 External links

[edit] Types of deixis


[edit] Traditional categories

Possibly the most common categories of contextual information referred to by deixis are those
of person, place, and time - what Fillmore calls the “major grammaticalized types” of deixis.[3]
[edit] Person

Person deixis concerns itself with the grammatical persons involved in an utterance, (1) those
directly involved (e.g. the speaker, the addressee), (2) those not directly involved (e.g.
overhearers—those who hear the utterance but who are not being directly addressed), and (3)
those mentioned in the utterance.[4] In English, the distinctions are generally indicated by
pronouns. The following examples show how. (The person deictic terms are in italics [a
signaling notation that will continue through this article].)

I am going to the movies.


Would you like to have dinner?
They tried to hurt me, but he came to the rescue.

[edit] Gender

In many languages, that only have male and female, referring to gender neutral subjects has
different aspects. Objects , or things have their own gender too between male or female.
When referring to a genderless object, it is often referred to as a male, though the object is
genderless. In the English language, when referring to any character that has no gender, a self-
aware entity, it is referred to a male, or as a "He", such as an "it" is inappropriate when calling
the sentient object a thing. In many languages, they would address to people as in male, such
as a group mixed with men and women is referred to as a male, such as Ils in French. An
example would be :

A man is responsible for his own soul

as opposed to

Each person is responsible for his or her own soul

common in many religious text referring to people of all genders using only the male gender.
This can be understood in context, the male gender being used to signify male or female
persons.

[edit] Place

Place deixis, also known as space deixis, concerns itself with the spatial locations relevant to
an utterance. Similarly to person deixis, the locations may be either those of the speaker and
addressee or those of persons or objects being referred to. The most salient English examples
are the adverbs “here” and “there” and the demonstratives “this” and “that” - although
those are far from being the only deictic words.[3]

Some examples:

I enjoy living in this city.


Here is where we will place the statue.
She was sitting over there.

Unless otherwise specified, place deictic terms are generally understood to be relative to the
location of the speaker, as in
The shop is across the street.

where “across the street” is understood to mean “across the street from where I am right
now.”[3] It is interesting to note that while “here” and “there” are often used to refer to
locations near to and far from the speaker, respectively, “there” can also refer to the location
of the addressee, if they are not in the same location as the speaker. So, while

Here is a good spot; it is too sunny over there.

exemplifies the former usage,

How is the weather there?

is an example of the latter.[4]

Languages usually show at least a two-way referential distinction in their deictic system:
proximal, i.e. near or closer to the speaker, and distal, i.e. far from the speaker and/or closer to
the addressee. English exemplifies this with such pairs as this and that, here and there, etc.

In other languages, the distinction is three-way: proximal, i.e. near the speaker, medial, i.e.
near the addressee, and distal, i.e. far from both. This is the case in a few Romance languages
and in Korean, Japanese, Thai, Filipino and Turkish The archaic English forms yon and
yonder (still preserved in some regional dialects) once represented a distal category which has
now been subsumed by the formerly medial "there".[5]

[edit] Time

Time, or temporal, deixis concerns itself with the various times involved in and referred to in
an utterance. This includes time adverbs like "now", "then", "soon", and so forth, and also
different tenses. A good example is the word tomorrow, which denotes the consecutive next
day after every day. The "tomorrow" of a day last year was a different day than the
"tomorrow" of a day next week. Time adverbs can be relative to the time when an utterance is
made (what Fillmore calls the "encoding time", or ET) or when the utterance is heard
(Fillmore’s "decoding time", or DT).[3] While these are frequently the same time, they can
differ, as in the case of prerecorded broadcasts or correspondence. For example, if one were to
write

It is raining out now, but I hope when you read this it will be sunny.

the ET and DT would be different, with the former deictic term concerning ET and the latter
the DT.

Tenses are generally separated into absolute (deictic) and relative tenses. So, for example,
simple English past tense is absolute, such as in

He went.

while the pluperfect is relative to some other deictically specified time, as in

He had gone.
[edit] Other categories

Though the traditional categories of deixis are perhaps the most obvious, there are other types
of deixis that are similarly pervasive in language use. These categories of deixis were first
discussed by Fillmore and Lyons.[4]

[edit] Discourse

Discourse deixis, also referred to as text deixis, refers to the use of expressions within an
utterance to refer to parts of the discourse that contains the utterance — including the
utterance itself. For example, in

This is a great story.

“this” refers to an upcoming portion of the discourse, and in

That was an amazing day.

“that” refers to a prior portion of the discourse.

Distinction must be made between discourse deixis and anaphora, which is when an
expression makes reference to the same referent as a prior term, as in

Matthew is an incredible athlete; he came in first in the race.

Lyons points out that it is possible for an expression to be both deictic and anaphoric at the
same time. In his example

I was born in London and I have lived here/there all my life.

“here” or “there” function anaphorically in their reference to London, and deictically in that
the choice between “here” or “there” indicates whether the speaker is or is not currently in
London.[1]

The rule of thumb to distinguish the two phenomenon is as follows: when an expression refers
to another linguistic expression or a piece of discourse, it is discourse deictic. When that
expression refers to the same item as a prior linguistic expression, it is anaphoric.[4]

Switch reference is a type of discourse deixis, and a grammatical feature found in some
languages, which indicates whether the argument of one clause is the same as the argument of
the previous clause. In some languages, this is done through same subject markers and
different subject markers. In the translated example "John punched Tom, and left-[same
subject marker]," it is John who left, and in "John punched Tom, and left-[different subject
marker]," it is Tom who left.[citation needed]

[edit] Social

Social deixis concerns the social information that is encoded within various expressions, such
as relative social status and familiarity. Two major forms of it are the so-called T-V
distinctions and honorifics.
[edit] T-V distinction

Main article: T-V distinction

T-V distinctions, named for the Latin “tu” and “vos” (informal and formal versions of “you”)
are the name given to the phenomenon when a language has two different second-person
pronouns. The varying usage of these pronouns indicates something about formality,
familiarity, and/or solidarity between the interactants. So, for example, the T form might be
used when speaking to a friend or social equal, whereas the V form would be used speaking to
a stranger or social superior. This phenomenon is common in European languages.[6]

[edit] Honorifics

Main article: Honorifics (linguistics)

Honorifics are a much more complex form of social deixis than T-V distinctions, though they
encode similar types of social information. They can involve words being marked with
various morphemes as well as nearly entirely different lexicons being used based on the social
status of the interactants. This type of social deixis is found in a variety of languages, but is
especially common in South and East Asia.[6]

[edit] Anaphoric reference

Main article: Anaphora (linguistics)

Generally speaking, anaphora refers to the way in which a word or phrase relates to other
text:

• An exophoric reference refers to language outside of the text in which the reference is
found.
o A homophoric reference is a generic phrase that obtains a specific meaning
through knowledge of its context. For example, the meaning of the phrase "the
Queen" may be determined by the country in which it is spoken. Because there
are many Queens throughout the world, the location of the speaker provides
the extra information that allows an individual Queen to be identified.
• An endophoric reference refers to something inside of the text in which the reference
is found.
o An anaphoric reference, when opposed to cataphora, refers to something
within a text that has been previously identified. For example, in "Susan
dropped the plate. It shattered loudly" the word "it" refers to the phrase "the
plate".
o A cataphoric reference refers to something within a text that has not yet been
identified. For example, in "He was very cold. David promptly put on his coat"
the identity of the "he" is unknown until the individual is also referred to as
"David".

[edit] Deictic center


A deictic center, sometimes referred to as an origo, is a set of theoretical points that a deictic
expression is ‘anchored’ to, such that the evaluation of the meaning of the expression leads
one to the relevant point. As deictic expressions are frequently egocentric, the center often
consists of the speaker at the time and place of the utterance, and additionally, the place in the
discourse and relevant social factors. However, deictic expressions can also be used in such a
way that the deictic center is transferred to other participants in the exchange, or to persons /
places / etc. being described in a narrative.[4] So, for example, in the sentence

I’m standing here now.

the deictic center is simply the person at the time and place of speaking. But say two people
are talking on the phone long-distance, from London to New York. The Londoner can say

We are going to New York next week.

in which case the deictic center is in London, or they can equally validly say

We are coming to New York next week.

in which case the deictic center is in New York.[1] Similarly, when telling a story about
someone, the deictic center is likely to switch to them. So then in the sentence

He then ran twenty feet to the left.

it is understood that the center is with the person being spoken of, and thus, "to the left" refers
not to the speaker’s left, but to the object of the story’s left, that is, the person referred to as
'he' at the time immediately before he ran twenty feet.

[edit] Usages of deixis


It is helpful to distinguish between two usages of deixis, gestural and symbolic, as well as
non-deictic usages of frequently deictic words. Gestural deixis refers, broadly, to deictic
expressions whose understanding requires some sort of audio-visual information. A simple
example is when an object is pointed at and referred to as “this” or “that”. However, the
category can include other types of information than pointing, such as direction of gaze, tone
of voice, and so on. Symbolic usage, by contrast, requires generally only basic spatio-
temporal knowledge of the utterance.[4] So, for example

I broke this finger.

requires being able to see which finger is being held up, whereas

I love this city.

requires only knowledge of the current location. In a similar vein,

I went to this city one time . . .

is a non-deictic usage of "this", which does not reference anything specific. Rather, it is used
as an indefinite article, much the way "a" could be used in its place.
[edit] Deixis and indexicality
The terms deixis and indexicality are frequently used almost interchangeably, and both deal
with essentially the same idea: contextually dependent references. However, the two terms
have different histories and traditions. In the past, deixis was associated specifically with
spatiotemporal reference whereas indexicality was used more broadly.[7] More importantly,
each is associated with a different field of study; deixis is associated with linguistics, while
indexicality is associated with philosophy.[8]
Deixis
Deictic words are language features that refer to the who, where and when of language. Words such as "you,
here, now!" (a phrase beloved of fierce school teachers) describe the speaker's position in space and time.

This is also described as

words whose "meanings change quickly depending on the time or space in which they are uttered" (Leu et al.)

There are three main types of deixis:

personal: pronouns such as I and you


spatial: words describing the speaker in space or in relation to other objects such as here and there, come and
go
temporal: words describing the speaker in terms of time such as now, then, yesterday and verb tenses.

So deixis provides context in relation to the speaker.


If Bob says "I swam over here" we hear Bob referring to himself in the context of a given place and time and we
assess the situation in relation to where he is, was and where we are.
The viewpoint must be understood in order to interpret the utterance.

Additional deictic types include:

discourse deixis, empathetic deixis, social deixis and technological deixis (a reference to the forms and purposes
literacy takes as technology changes the nature of literacy in general)
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deixis
Deixis

Deixis is a type of reference constituted by the meaning of a linguistic sign being relativized
to the extra-linguistic context in which the sign is used. The semiotic nature of this kind of
reference, its exact communicative prerequisites and functions, its acquisition by children, and
its processing have long puzzled linguists, philosophers, psychologists, and anthropologists.
This article presents an introduction to some of the research that has focused on deictic signs
and meanings and their phenomenology.

1. Introduction

It is one of the fundamental design features of human language that the interpretation of
linguistic utterances may strongly depend both on the linguistic and the nonlinguistic context.
This context dependence of linguistic reference is known as indexicality (cf. Silverstein
1976). It has been argued by philosophers that in fact without some such underlying
indexicality in all referring expressions, no successful reference to the world would be
possible (Putnam 1975). Take, for example, the utterance She brought this flower for me
yesterday. The noun flower has a meaning that can be defined independently of context (e.g.,
‘the reproductive organs of a plant and their colored (nongreen) envelope’), and it can be used
to refer to real or imaginary flowers that fulfill this definition. Yet, in order to refer
successfully to a plant as a. flower, more than mere knowledge of the meaning of flower is
required: speaker and addressee have to agree on the plant being identifiable by that term
(botanists, for example, use the term differently they do not require the envelope to be
colored).

However, there are expressions that point to the context in their very meaning, such that they
cannot be used to refer to anything before the relevant information from the context is
retrieved. In the above example, the pronoun she takes up a referent of feminine gender that
must have been introduced in the preceding stretch of discourse (if the speaker announced in
the preceding utterance that he is planning to marry his girlfriend Helen, then it will be
inferred that it was Helen who brought him the flowers). This illustrates anaphoric reference.
Deictic reference occurs whenever a linguistic sign receives part of its meaning from the
exfralinguistic context. For example, the pronoun me refers to the speaker it has a different
meaning depending on who utters it. The demonstrative this selects a referent in the speaker’s
proximity this flower, as opposed to that one over there (at least in its most simple spatial
use).

The verb bring designates transport to a deictically defined location {here); this could be the
location at which the conversation takes place, or the speaker’s home (there are in fact many
possibilities). The past tense of brought indicates that the flower arrived at this location prior
to the time of utterance, and the adverb yesterday restricts this time interval to the day before
the day of utterance. So in order to know what exactly is meant by She brought this flower for
me yesterday, and whether this statement is true, one first needs to know who uttered it, on
what day, and where.

It can be argued that reference to most objects (including people), places, and times in the real
world (to be precise, to all those that neither have a proper name nor a unique status, such as
celestial bodies) ultimately requires some form of deictic anchoring. To understand this claim,
one may select an object at random from the environment and try to make a statement about it
that avoids any form of deixis. If the claim is correct, it follows that language could not be
used to talk about the real world (other than in generic statements) without deictic reference.

2. Deictic Expression vs. Deictic Use

The class of linguistic expressions that can be used deictically is much larger than the class of
linguistic signs with an inherently deictic meaning. Relational expressions seem to have a
particular propensity of being used deictically or anaphorically. Relational terms in the
domain of spatial orientation are often used deictically, even when their ‘arguments’ are
expressed nondeictically, because they imply a particular observer perspective. Thus, The
rock is left of the tree means that the rock is to the left of the tree as projected from an
observer, as the tree has no inherent left, and The rock is in front of the tree means it is
between the observer and the tree, as the tree has no inherent front; the perspective will
usually be understood as that of the speaker, the addressee, or both. However, the same terms
refer nondeictically when used with respect to people (which do have an inherent left side) or,
for instance, buildings (which do have an inherent front), respectively (Fillmore 1997).

3. Deixis and Indexicality

Definite descriptions are indexical. Thus, the chair refers to a chair that the speaker assumes
to be uniquely identifiable to the addressee, e.g., ‘the aforementioned chair.’ Therefore,
definite descriptions can be used deictically, provided the uniqueness condition is fulfilled in
the context: Move the chair over! will be felicitous in a situation in which there is only one
free chair in the room and the addressee is aware of that. Anaphoric expressions generally
admit deictic use, while anaphoric use of inherently deictic terms is usually more restricted.
True time-deictic expressions apparently cannot be used anaphorically at all, and neither can
genuine first or second person pronouns. The English demonstratives this and that can both be
used anaphorically, though under slightly different conditions (see Fillmore 1997), and so can
the proximal and distal place adverbs here and there. In contrast, in Yukatek Maya, only the
distal demonstrative forms and adverbs can be used anaphorically (Hanks 1990). The
combined impact of the rather weak deictic anchoring of demonstratives in some languages
and the pervasiveness of their nonspatial uses has led some researchers to propose nonspatial
analyses of the underlying meanings. Similarly, Wilkins and Hill (1995) show that go and its
equivalents in other languages only acquire a deictic reading pragmatically, through the
contrast with a truly deictic come.

4. Transposed Deixis and Text Deixis

Textual deixis occurs when (part of) an utterance or discourse is itself the referent of a deictic
expression, as in The preceding sentence contains 27 words. It has been suggested that some
form of textual deixis is present in every anaphoric reference, to the extent that anaphors
direct the addressee’s attention to an earlier mention of the referent. As long as it is clearly
discernible as deixis, textual deixis will always have a metalinguistic reference. But as soon as
any part of the meaning of an utterance becomes the target, textual deixis becomes
increasingly indistinguishable from anaphoric reference. An intermediary case is constituted
by reference to propositions, facts, or events (cf. Lyons 1977).

Transposed deixis is constituted by an imagined situation replacing the actual speech context
as the ‘indexical ground’ of a deictic form. When the imagined situation is itself described in
discourse, this may have a quasi-anaphoric effect. Consider He arrived in Paris in early May.
Now he finally had the time to explore this great city. The deictic forms in the second
sentence refer to the time and place introduced in the first sentence. However, they are
relativized to the character perspective and therefore function as true deictics. This
perspectivizing effect was actually one of the primary concerns of Biihler (1934), who laid the
foundations of modern research on deixis.

5. The Semiotics of Deixis

Many philosophers of language have pondered the nature of deictic expressions. Perhaps the
most widely known account is within the semiotics of C. S. Peirce. Signs are classified in this
framework based on the relationship between their form and the object they represent into
icons (constituted by similarity; e.g., pictures, blueprints, maps), indexes (constitputed by an
‘existential’ relationship; e.g., a pointing arrow, or smoke as a sign of fire), and symbols
(constituted by convention; e.g., hammer and sickle as the symbol of Communism). Like all
linguistic signs, deictics are fundamentally symbolic on this account; that is, their form does
not stand in any natural relationship with the object they designate. However, deictic
expressions are then often considered ‘indexical symbols’ (e.g., Tanz 1980) which somehow
combine symbolic meaning and indexical reference. Notice, though, that it cannot be the
expression itself, as a type, that bears the ‘existential’ relation in Peirce’s sense (which in the
case of deictics is always a relation of spatio-temporal contiguity), but only its use in a
particular context, as a token (Silverstein 1976), as an acoustic or graphic gesture, as it were
(often accompanied by a manual gesture, see below). This ‘token-indexicality’ evidently
underlies all deictic reference, irrespective of whether the form used deictically is itself a
deictic or a nondeictic expression. What, then, is the symbolic meaning of deictic signs?

6. The Semantics of Deixis

As illustrated with the example flower above, the conventional type meaning of a
nonindexical term can be conceived of as a set of criteria that has to be fulfilled by all
possible referents of the term. This is called an ‘intension’ in the tradition of Frege and
Carnap. Indexical signs do not have such intensions. Perhaps the most striking feature of
indexical meanings is that they cannot be completely reduced to nonindexical meanings
(although the indexical components of an utterance may of course be replaced by
nonindexical expressions that happen to have the same referents). Philosophers (notably
Reichenbach) have attempted to paraphrase an utterance like / am writing this article as ‘The
person who writes the sentence that contains the reference to the person at the time of writing
the sentence is writing an article that contains the sentence.’ This would in fact eliminate all
deictic reference, but it would also fail to identify any article or person in particular, and
would therefore make little sense.

D. Kaplan has suggested that the meaning of indexical expressions is not an intension, but
rather a rule that directly determines a referent in the context in which the expression is used
(e.g., Kaplan 1990). For example, the rule associated with the pronoun / may be stated as ‘The
referent is the person using the pronoun.’ It is not the rule that contributes to the prepositional
content of the utterance, but merely the referent. The rule belongs to a fundamentally different
type of meaning, which Kaplan calls character.

It is presumably due to their lack of intensionality that no more than a few distinctions of
deictic reference are made in each of a limited number of highly general semantic domains in
every language. Deictic expressions single out persons as participant roles with respect to the
speech act (speaker, addressee, nonparticipant, and, in some languages, nonaddressed
participant); they may encode the relative social distance between these (an example are
honorific pronouns such as French vous or German Sie; cf. Brown and Levinson 1987); they
refer to objects in space (demonstratives), to locations (place adverbs and motion verbs; cf.
Rauh 1982), and to times (tenses and time adverbials). No language has been attested to have
a genuine event deictic, but many languages (including Yukatek) have manner indexicals
(translating ‘like this/that’) that are used in reference to events.

7. The Pragmatics of Deixis

Indexical elements have, arguably, three functions in linguistic utterances. First, they
represent the referent in the utterance, as a variable of sorts. Second, they specify what may be
called a search domain for the referent in the context. Third, they direct the addressee’s
attention to the referent. The latter two functions constitute the ‘character’ of the indexical
sign.

The complexity of deictic search-domain distinctions varies considerably across languages


(see Anderson and Keenan 1985, Weissenborn and Klein 1982). Where the English
demonstratives this and that make just a two-term distinction of distance relative to the
speaker, the Bantu language ChiBemba is said to distinguish proximity to the speaker,
proximity to the addressee, proximity to both, distance to both, and relative proximity to the
speaker with respect to the addressee (other languages have been claimed to make even more
fine-grained distinctions, but more recent research has failed to confirm such analyses).
Whereas English demonstratives distinguish essentially relative distance, such that this and
that may be used contrast-ively within a space close to the speaker, the Yukatek system
mentioned earlier operates on an absolute proximal-distal distinction. Similarly, whereas
English tenses merely distinguish past, present, and future with respect to the utterance time,
many other languages distinguish e.g., a past of the same day from a ‘yesterday’ past, a
‘tomorrow’ future from a more distant future, and so on. ChiBemba distinguishes four such
‘degrees of remoteness’ in the past and four in the future (Givon 1972). For an example of a
complex pronominal system, see Foley (1997, pp. 112-18) on Tagalog.

The conditions for felicitous deictic reference in space may depend on whether the
addressee’s attention is already on the referent or not. Some languages even have a formal
contrast that matches this distinction. Thus, in Yukatek, the regular demonstrative forms
translating ‘this’ and ‘that’ are expanded by deictic place adverbs (’this here,’ ‘that there’)
when the addressee’s attention is not on the referent. It has been argued that what is
traditionally considered the ‘mid-distal’ demonstrative of Turkish really has a purely
attention-calling function and contrasts with the proximal and distal forms only in this
domain, not in terms of distance from speaker (Ozyiirek 1998). Pointing gestures may support
attention direction, and in addition serve to narrow down the search domain. Moreover, in
case more than one potential referent of the same kind occurs in the search domain selected
by the deictic form, pointing gestures may be used to disambiguate the referent. There are,
however, search domains which can be referred to without any additional gesture, since they
are uniquely identifiable to the addressee. This is true of here when used to refer to the
speaker’s location, and also of there, when used to designate the addressee’s location,e.g.,
during a phone conversation (Fillmore 1997). The extent to which the use of spatial deictics
requires accompanying gestures seems to vary both with the context of use and with the
language-particular term. The attention-directing demonstrative of Turkish cannot be used
without a gesture at all. In addition to pointing gestures, iconic and conventional gestures may
occur with deictic terms, such as extending the hand, open palm facing up, with presentatives
(Voila!), or iconically indicating an extension in combination with this big or a manner of
motion with like this. The relationship between such gestures and the linguistic reference act
is different from the function of pointing gestures.

Directing the addressee’s attention to an object in space is subject to the perceptual


accessibility of the object. Many languages exclude the use of certain demonstratives in
reference to objects that are not visible, or provide special forms for this purpose. Yukatek has
a presentative form for referents of which there is perceptual (e.g., acoustic), but not visual,
evidence (Hanks 1990). In the Wakashan language Kwakwa’la of British Columbia, every
noun phrase is marked for whether its referent is visible to the speaker or not (Boas 1947).

8. The Genesis of Deixis

It has been argued that pointing gestures are a proto-form of reference, and that accordingly
deixis should be the earliest form of verbal reference both in the phylogenetic rise of language
in human prehistory (Rolfe 1989) and ontogenetically in child language acquisition (Clark
1978). Despite their plausibility, both proposals meet with a major difficulty: the
perspectivizing effect of deixis requires highly non-trivial cognitive skills. Thus, there is no
conclusive evidence that free-ranging primates use pointing communicatively, and it has been
shown that chimpanzees in captivity produce what are commonly considered pointing
gestures irrespective of whether they are seen by the addressee or not; in other words, they
seem to lack awareness of the interlocutor’s mental state of attention (Povinelli et al. 1997).
Likewise, it is not the case that the first referring expressions acquired by children are
deictics. The first deictic forms acquired by English-learning children are personal pronouns,
and the adult-like use of these does not occur before the third year of life. Perspectivizing
expressions such as in front of are consistently used nondeictically at first, and deictic usage
does not come in until the fifth year (cf. Tanz 1980).

9. Conclusions

Deictic reference plays a particularly important role in language: it serves to ‘hook up’
linguistic representations to the world. Deictic expressions directly point the addressee’s
attention to a referent given in the situation in which the utterance is made, often in
combination with gestures. By relativizing the utterance to the particular context in which a
particular speaker uses them, they relativize the utterance to this speaker’s perspective. The
cognitive demands imposed on language processing by this perspectivizing effect are in sharp
contrast with the apparent semiotic primitiveness of deictic reference and with its
pervasiveness in verbal communication.