Deictic centre

The word deictic comes from the Ancient Greek word δεικτικός (deiktikós, “capable of proof”), from δείκνυμι (deíknumi, “I show”).

Deictic centre Deictic centre

Create learning materials about Deictic centre with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    Deictic centre definition

    When someone says 'I am standing here' they are using a deictic centre to indicate their current location, from this utterance alone we cannot know where 'here' is, only the speaker and the person addressed will know this from context.

    This location may change ten or more times in the next hour or so, but the speaker can still, at any point during that hour, indicate his location in the same way: 'I am here'.

    Deictic centre diagram:

    Deictic Center - The speaker's location - StudySmarterA deictic center indicates the speaker's current location.

    As with deixis, we cannot know the physical location of 'here' in this situation without context.

    The deictic centre will shift according to other factors - the choice of verb, for instance, and context - most often in conversation.

    Let's imagine two people (A & B) text each other about holiday plans: A is in Italy, B is in Crete.

    A messages: 'I am going to Crete next week' - this makes Italy A's deictic centre, as that is where A is based. A could also say: 'I am coming to Crete next week', in which case the deictic centre would shift to Crete.

    NOTE: The deictic centre is also referred to as 'origo' (origin); it can tell us the origins of time, place and person of the utterance itself.

    Now take the earlier example of 'I am here.' This is a simple statement of fact, made up of coordinates. The coordinates originate at the deictic centre (where the speaker is).

    So here we have the 'origin' of a person ('I') and of place ('here'). If we wanted to add the origin of time, we could add 'now', as in: 'I am here now.'

    'Come' and 'go', 'now' and 'then', and 'I' and 'you', are deictic terms that can tell us origins of time, place and person depending on the context.

    Let's say A is in a field or a square, talking on the phone to B, who is on their way to join A.

    A tells B 'I am here,' and B responds with 'I am coming there now.'

    Deictic Center - Deictic Terms - StudySmarterThe meaning of deictic terms varies according to the situation

    The meaning of these deictic terms varies according to the situation. In the case of B: 'there' (origin of place) becomes the Deictic Centre, 'I' the origin of Person, and 'now' the origin of 'when'.

    The expressions we use relating to deictic centre form part of the deictic field (see below). In cases where context and situation change, the deictic centre moves, or shifts, thereby changing our focus. This can happen more especially in a narrative (see below: Deictic Shift Theory and The Deictic Centre in Narrative).

    Deictic field includes all deictic expressions that relate to one deictic centre.

    What is Deictic Shift Theory?

    Deictic shift theory (DST) is about the change of focus we experience when following a story in any media.

    Think of Scheherazade, who must tell the king a new story every night or suffer beheading come dawn. She manages to hold the king's attention through a series of tales, like Aladdin's lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor.

    In the story of Aladdin, the hero discovers a magical lamp containing a genie who offers him three wishes.

    As readers, we switch our focus (or have it switched for us by the narrator) a few times - first we are with Sheherazade and the king, then we are with a new character called Aladdin; after that, when the genie appears and decides to tell his life story, we would have yet another change of focus - and this is an example of what is meant by deictic shift.

    This shift also occurs because we have a story within a story; also known as a nested story, or an embedded narrative.

    The nested story is a popular device and can be found in both classics and contemporary writing: Chaucer's Tales, Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Homer's Odyssey, Shakespeare's Hamlet , Peter Ackroyd's The Fall of Troy , and Ragnarok by AS Byatt - all use this technique, as does the Netflix series Russian Doll by Poehler and Lyonne.

    In all these examples, the story reveals another story within it (and sometimes more than one), thus shifting the narrative focus; the narrator may speak in the first person, and their use of deictics, such as 'here' 'there' and 'then', are recognizable in the narrative context to the reader.

    Once the reader is 'in' the story, they automatically make connections, and process imaginative deictic centres throughout. This process forms the basis of the deictic shift theory (DST). The reader can experience deictic shifting in several ways.

    The first basic shift is the reader, who engages with the world of the story: the deictic centre shifts from the 'here and now' of the reader's environment to the 'here-and-now' of the story.

    There can be further deictic shifts; for instance, when the deictic centre moves from one narrator to another. This can be found in novels such as Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, where the narrator changes eleven times, or Nabokov's Pale Fire which involves three shifts. The reader switches from one narrator to the next narrator, much as one does when meeting new people at a party.

    Another form of deictic shift happens when (part of) the story is narrated through letters or diary entries, email, texts and / or video journal entries. We switch accordingly, to follow the narrative of the letter-writer or diarist.

    Deictic centre analysis: the where, when and who.

    The Where:

    As the story progresses, its narrative will also change location; the Where will shift.

    'Here' functions as a deictic in much the same way in narrative as in everyday conversation, yet may become implicit through narrative.

    'Night came, and with it all the terrors of the wild - a distant fox squealed, a nearby badger tramped its way home. Dave sat up in his tent, listening intently. The forest, far from being a haven of quiet, was now alive with nocturnal traffic. '

    In this case, the 'here' is implicit: we are with Dave in his tent in the forest at night; this all becomes the 'here' of the narrative world.

    The When

    In most narratives, the simple past is used, as in the example above. We can infer a sequence of events and establish the When, even without time references. We automatically use a mechanism to establish the time sequence of events.

    As readers we shift again, this time taking on the perspective of the moment in time that corresponds to what we are reading about in the narrative.

    'Night came .... Dave sat up .... The forest was alive ': none of these 'moments' is occurring now in the real world; instead they are occurring in the 'now' of the fictional narrative. By entering that world, we take on the time sequence of that world. 'Everything which comes before the now-point is in the past (in the world of the story) and everything that comes after the now-point is in the future from the perspective of that moment of the story' (Almeida & Shapiro, 1983 ).

    The Who

    There is a focal Who in narrative, and a non-focal Who; for instance, Dave would be the focal Who in the text above, whereas the fox and badger would be non-focal. Dave captures the deictic centre of the narrative; we may or may not know how he is feeling, (although we can guess), but the deictic centre remains where he is. The badger and the fox are non-focal in that we do not shift to them; we as readers are not given access to their world.

    Let's add a bit more to the text:

    'Night came, and with it all the terrors of the wild - a distant fox squealed, a nearby badger tramped its way home. Dave sat up in his tent, listening intently. The forest, far from being a haven of quiet, was now alive with nocturnal traffic. The others slept on; one of them snoring lightly. '

    The others, including the snorer, would also be non-focal. As with the animals, the reader is not invited to enter their world; the deictic centre remains with Dave.

    Examples of the deictic centre in narrative

    There are two roles for deictic centre in narrative:

    • To connect the dots or 'fill in the gaps'

    • To establish scope of knowledge about ongoing events

    This is done directly or through inference.

    (Direct): 'Jeff remembered it was Cody's birthday and ordered extra beer.'

    The reader is told that Jeff remembered his friend's birthday, and that therefore Jeff ordered more beer to help celebrate.

    Having read the above, imagine the reader then comes across the following paragraph:

    (Inferred): 'There was beer in the fridge, with more stacked beside, pizza on the table, and hardly space to stand; the stereo, under the management of Cody's DJ brother, did gentle background battle with the steady hum of conversation. '

    There is no distinct reference made to Jeff here. Yet we the reader can infer that Jeff is either experiencing the party or is aware of it. And we can also infer that the beer in or beside the fridge is the beer ordered by Jeff for Cody's birthday party, which is now in progress.

    Because Jeff was already introduced to us by name in 'Jeff remembered it was Cody's birthday and ordered extra beer', we know two things already: Cody is having a birthday, and, Jeff has ordered extra beer. From this we can understand (although we are not told) that a birthday party is planned. This is confirmed later on by the paragraph opening with 'There was beer in the fridge…' etc. We also learn that Cody's brother is a DJ who is looking after the music at the party.

    We can make further inferences about the party itself (there was music, now there to sit because of so many people and so on). Lastly, we imagine Jeff is there, as we began with him as our focal 'who' and continue to follow from his perspective (until told otherwise).

    What is Deictic Field?

    Deictic field is meant to include all deictic expressions that relate to one deictic centre.

    Take our hapless Dave, still caught up in the forest at dead of night. We have established that he sits at the deictic centre (ie. 'he sat up,… listening'). So the deictic field radiates from this deictic centre and contains the spaces, objects, events relating to Dave's deictic centre. These spaces, objects and events can be referred to using the relevant deictic expressions; for example, if Dave pointed at a passing fox and said 'Look, over there,' his utterance would form part of the deictic field.

    So while connected, the deictic field and deictic centre occupy two different spaces. Imagine a cross, contained within a sphere. The speaker stands at the middle of the cross (the deictic centre), while the sphere contains all the expressions relating to the deictic centre:

    Deictic Center - Visualization of Deictic Field - StudySmarter

    The deictic field relates to the deictic centre but is not the actual centre itself.


    The deictic centre remains the location at which a speaker says something. The deictic field contains all the objects, events and expressions that relate/are connected to the deictic centre.

    What is the difference between Deictic Centre and Deictic Shift Theory?

    The deictic centre always refers to the speaker. As we saw earlier, when the speaker says 'I am here', 'I' and 'here' refer to the speaker. If the speaker changes location, he can still always say 'I am here,' and the deictic centre will continue to apply. The deictic centre can shift according to factors including the choice of verb, and context - most often in conversation.

    Deictic shift, by contrast, is about focus, and relates to the reader/viewer, and is most often applied to narration. The focus of the reader will change (or shift) according to who is telling the story, and how the story is told. In embedded stories, the focus shifts from the introductory characters to a second set of characters. In some cases, there will be more than one narrator, and the reader's focus will switch to follow each new narrator.

    While the deictic centre is linked to who is speaking, the deictic shift is linked to who is reading / observing.

    Deictic Centre - Key takeaways

    • A deictic centre refers to the location of the person at the time of speaking
    • While you might change your location, your deictic centre remains
    • The deictic centre is also referred to as 'origo' (origin)
    • The deictic centre can shift according to factors including the choice of verb, and context - most often in conversation
    • Deictic Shift Theory is about the way our focus changes when we follow a story
    • Deictic shifts typically occur in embedded stories or stories within stories
    • The shift can happen where you the reader become fully involved with the world of the story
    • The shift can also happen when the narrator changes, i.e: three or more different characters telling the story from their point of view
    • Another shift occurs when the story is told through letters, diary entries, email, texts and video journals
    • Deictic field is meant to include all deictic expressions that relate to the one single deictic centre
    Frequently Asked Questions about Deictic centre

    What is deictic centre?

    A speaker uses a deictic centre to indicate their current location.

    What is a deictic expression?

    'Deictic expression' is another term for 'deixis'. Deixis refers to words or phrases that indicate a location, person or time.

    What is deictic and non deictic?

    Something that is deictic can be demonstrative of someone's perspective, such as saying "over here" (here is subjective depending on who has said it and where they are). If something is non-deictic, it doesn't change to accommodate for different perspectives; it is something fixed or factual, such as "the Eifel Tower is in Paris".

    What are the three types of deictic expressions?

    The three types of deictic expressions are: personal, spatial (or local) and temporal.

    What is the difference between deictic and deixis?

    Deixis is a noun referring to the use of words or phrases that indicate a location, person or time. Deictic is an adjective used to describe a word or phrase whose meaning is dependent on surrounding context.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    A deictic field is :

    Deictic shift theory is:

    True or false: A deictic centre is dependent on context.

    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Deictic centre Teachers

    • 13 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App