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Deictic expressions

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Deictic expressions

We use deictic expressions all the time; they form an important part of semantics and pragmatics in terms of conveying and understanding meaning.

How to define deictic expression?

A deictic expression (deictic from Ancient Greek δεικτικός, deiktikós, 'capable of proof') is any word or expression used to indicate the place, time and condition or situation of the speaker at the time of speaking.

Deictic expressions (also referred to as 'deictics') will typically include personal pronouns, demonstratives, verbs, and adverbs.

Example A:

'I am here' includes 'I' (personal pronoun), and 'here' (an adverb of place). Both of these can be called deictic words because they indicate the speaker and where they are.

'I am here now' gives us who, where, and also when ('now').

Example B:

'I am going to the cinema' gives us the who ('I'), and the where ('the cinema'). We don't have an exact 'when' (the speaker does not say 'now' or 'tomorrow'), but we can gather from the use of the present continuous that they will be going in the (near) future.

Three types of deictic expressions

There are three traditional categories of deictic expressions:

  1. Personal (who): 'I, you, we, he, she, they'.

  2. Spatial or Local (where): 'here, there, that one there, this one here'.

  3. Temporal (when): 'now, then, tonight, last month'.

Personal diectics (diectic pronouns)

The personal deictics 'I/we' and 'you' typically refer to the person speaking and the person listening in a discourse. Third-person deictics 'he', 'she' and 'they' refer to those who are included in the conversation but are non-speaking.

Spatial deictics

Spatial deictic expressions refer to the 'where' of the speaker and / or participants; frequently used words are:

  • Demonstratives: "this / that and these / those".

  • Adverbs "here / there".

  • Prepositions "in / on".

Temporal deictics

Temporal deictic expressions tell us more about when the participants are speaking and include the use of:

  • Tense

  • Time adverbials "now, then, today, tomorrow."

  • Time expression, such as in the evening, at midnight, on time.

Deictic expressions examples

In the following examples, see if you can identify personal, spatial or temporal deictic expressions:

Example C:

'Are you going to join me?'

Example D:

'We arrived here last night, I think he will join us tomorrow.'

Example E:

'I'll be staying at this hotel until tomorrow.'

Deictic expressons - A table of deictic examples - StudySmarterTraditional deictic expressions in sentences.StudySmarter Original

'Are you going to join me?' has the personal deictics 'I', 'you,' and 'me'. It also has temporal deixis in the future tense form 'going to', which gives us 'when', i.e. in the (near) future.

'We arrived here last night, I think he will join us tomorrow ' contains:

  • Temporal deixis ('last night' and 'tomorrow')

  • Spatial ('here') and

  • Personal ('We', 'I', 'he', and 'us').

Example E ('I'll be staying at this hotel until tomorrow' ) also demonstrates a subcategory of spatial deixis, which is called Proximal Deixis.

Proximal Deixis

Proximal Deixis is an expression that indicates anything close to the speaker, and uses words like 'this', 'here', and 'now'. E.g. in 'This is my dog here', the speaker indicates their dog's proximity, or nearness, to them.

Deictic expressions - Visualization of Proximal Deixis - StudySmarterProximal deixis indicates anything close to the speaker.StudySmarter Original

Distal Deixis

The other subcategory is called Distal Deixis, and this indicates whatever is distant from the speaker, as in, 'It's that tree over there'.

Deictic expressions - Visualization of Distal Deixis - StudySmarterDistal deixis indicates whatever is distant from the speaker.StudySmarter Original

Further deictic terms:

Further to the above deictic categories of time, place and person, linguists such as Charles Fillmore, George Lakoff and Barbara Kryk have suggested the following:

These last three categories of deixis are called “marginal” categories. Let's look at them in more detail below.

Deictic Expressions - A table of Marginal & Traditional categories - StudySmarterDeictic expressions categories StudySmarter Originals

What are Marginal Deictic Expressions?

Marginal Deictic Expressions can be divided into 3 categories: social, discourse and emotional.

Social deixis

Social deixis is when we use a term of reference to indicate social or professional status.

In many languages there is a distinct change of form for second person pronouns, to indicate familiarity or politeness.

Example :

Jan is talking to his friend in German and when he wants to say 'you' will use 'du' (you). When he is talking to his professor or supervisor he will more likely address them with 'Sie' (formal-you). In French, the forms would be 'tu' (informal) and 'vous' (formal) and in Italian 'tu' and 'Lei'. Japanese contains seven different forms of address, according to status (i.e: equal status, higher status, junior status, senior colleagues, professionals/academics, children, babies).

This way of addressing people is called the T-V distinction and is virtually non-existent in modern English.

Formality and familiarity in English are expressed in other ways, such as using forms of address, terms of endearment, formal and informal language.

Note the difference between these two examples:

'May I offer you some tea, professor?' (a student or colleague addressing a lecturer).

'Tea, dear?' (a relative or friend addressing the same lecturer).

The use of the endearment 'dear' illustrates the level of closeness/familiarity. 'Professor' is an honorific used by those outside the familiar circle.

Honorifics are shared by many if not most languages and are used as terms of respect for people of social, professional, academic status.

Typical examples include Your Grace, Your Excellency, Mr President, Doctor, Maestro.

A personal aide might approach the president to say: 'Mr President, your car is here.' A colleague may remind a visiting lecturer: 'The conference will be starting in a few minutes, Doctor Lewes.'

A conductor's assistant who has news from the orchestra: 'Maestro, the first violinist has sprained her wrist.'

In other cultures such as Japanese, there may be several different grammatical functions to express registers such as politeness, respectfulness, humility and formality. In Japanese, there are three levels of politeness: plain, polite, and formal, and for each politeness level, there are two forms of respect: 'sonkeigo' or 'respect' language, and 'kenjōgo' or 'humble' language.

In the above examples 'May I offer you some tea, professor?' and 'Tea, dear?', the honorifics might vary based on the degree of formality or familiarity. The student addressing the professor might use the terms '-san', '-sensei' or '-kyouju' after the professor's family name. The wife/partner instead might use 'anata' (literally 'you') or first name plus -chan instead of -san.

Discourse Deixis

Discourse Deixis, or Text Deixis, happens when we use deictic expressions to refer to something we are talking about in the same utterance. Imagine you have just finished reading a great story. You might show it to your friend and say:

'This is an amazing book'.

  • 'This' refers to the book which you are telling your friend about.

Somebody mentions a film they saw earlier. You have also seen it, and you say 'That was a brilliant film.'

  • Because the film has already been mentioned in the same conversation, you can use 'that' to refer back to it, instead of using 'this'.

The following are samples of discourse deictic expressions: earlier, later, the preceding months, the following weeks, in the following paragraphs, during next month, in the next chapter.

The philosopher HP Lyons suggests an expression can be both deictic and anaphoric at the same time: 'I was born in London, and I have lived here / there all my life'.

'Here' and 'there' refer back to London, so they function as anaphora; either of these can also function as deictics to indicate whether or not the speaker is currently living there.

Discourse deixis can easily be confused with anaphora.

'Max is a great painter; he's won awards. '

Instead of repeating the name 'Max' in 'Max won awards', we use 'he' to refer back to Max. So the pronoun 'he' functions anaphorically. (Anaphora mostly includes personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns and pro-verbs like 'do').

Here's another example:

'Look at this painting; this is my favourite one.'

We see that 'this' refers to the painting and is therefore anaphoric.

NOTE.

Discourse deixis can refer to all expressions or phrases that 'point the way' or guide the reader through a text or conversation. When an expression refers back to something already mentioned, it is anaphoric.

The linguist Fillmore suggests deictic pointing can be indicated in different ways and distinguishes two types of use: gestural and symbolic.

Gestural and symbolic deixis

Gestural deixis means a gesture is involved to explain or clarify the utterance. If X just says 'I sprained my ankle' we don't know which ankle is meant. If X tells us 'I sprained this ankle' while pointing to their right ankle, we immediately understand which ankle is hurt because X has shown us by pointing. This is an example of gestural deixis.

Deictic expressions - Visualization of Gestural Deixis - StudySmarterGestural deixis includes gestures such as pointing.StudySmarter Originals

Deictic Expressions - Another example of gestural deixis - StudySmarterAnother case of gestural deixis A StudySmarter Original

In symbolic deixis, we don't need visual clues; it is enough to have a reference to a basic space or time. For example:

'I often go to that city'. We understand that in the idea of 'city' the speaker is referring to a specific city because they used 'that'.

Emotional deixis

Emotional deixis (also known as Empathetic Discourse) refers to the speaker's emotional connection to the subject of discourse, which may be close or distant. Typical words used in this context include:

  • this (close).

  • that (distant).

  • verbs associated with emotion: like, love, hate, dislike, adore, etc.

Max the artist says, 'This is my favourite painting.'

In this case, 'this' indicates emotional closeness to the speaker, Max.

But if Max finds a random badger roaming the kitchen and making a mess, he may feel less than happy, and his response is likely to be 'Get that badger out of the kitchen!'

So here, 'that' replaces 'this', demonstrating emotional distance (i.e. he wants the badger taken as far away as possible).

Deictic expressions - Visualization of Emotional Distance - StudySmarterEmotional distance is shown through referring to the badger as 'that.'StudySmarter Original

Fillmore points out that the emotional meaning of 'this' and 'that' can change.

A says: 'I love that place'.

The use of 'that' instead of 'this' can suggest emotional distance. Yet we can understand the emotional closeness of A because they used the word 'love.' Here the word 'that' loses its emotional function and becomes a deictic expression of location instead.

Deictic expressions - Key takeaways

  • A deictic expression indicates the location, time and/or situation of the speaker at the time of speaking.

  • Deictic expressions will typically include personal pronouns, demonstratives, verbs, and adverbs.

  • There are three traditional kinds of deictic expressions:
    • Staff (who)

    • Spatial or local (where)

    • Temporal (when)

  • Spatial / local deictics include proximal deixis (near the speaker) and distal deixis (far from the speaker).
  • There are three marginal categories of deictic expressions: i. Social ii. Discourse iii. Emotionally.

  • Fillmore also suggests two types of deictic pointing: gestural and symbolic.

Frequently Asked Questions about Deictic expressions

A deictic expression is any word or expression used to indicate the place, time and condition or situation of the speaker at the time of speaking. 

There are three traditional types of deictic expression: personal, temporal and spatial.

Deictic is an adjective used to describe a word or phrase that relates to location, time, or a person. For example, "The sentence 'I am here' uses the diectic terms 'I' and 'here' to show the who and the where."

A deictic expression is a word or phrase that refers to a person, location or time, in other words, the who, where and when in any given context.

'Deictic element' is another term for 'deictic expression' or 'deixis' and is used to refer to any words or phrases that relate to the who, where, or when of a sentence.

Final Deictic expressions Quiz

Question

What is a deictic expression?

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Answer

A deictic expression is any word or expression used to indicate the place, time, and condition or situation of the speaker at the time of speaking.


Show question

Question

Can you give an example of a deictic expression?


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Answer

‘I am here now’, ‘I am going to the cinema’, ‘I am flying there next week', etc.


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Question

True or False? A deictic expression only refers to the person speaking.


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Answer

False: a deictic expression refers to the place, time, and condition of the person at the time of speaking.

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Question

True or False? Deictic expressions only use personal pronouns and demonstratives.


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Answer

False: Deictic expressions include the use of pronouns, demonstratives, verbs, and adverbs.


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Question

True or False? Distal deixis refers to whatever is far away from the speaker.


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Answer

True.

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Question

 What is personal deixis and give some examples.

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Answer

 Personal deixis refer to the speaker; for example: 'I', 'me'.

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Question

Give an example sentence that uses a spatial deictic expression.


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Answer

‘I am leaving tomorrow’, ‘We arrived here last night', 'I think he will join us tomorrow', etc.


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Question

Choose the correct answer to the following.

Social Deixis ...

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Answer

Is when we use a term of reference to indicate social or professional status.

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Choose the correct answer:

Gestural deixis ...

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Answer

Involves pointing to clarify whatever

you are talking about.

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Choose the correct answer:

Marginal categories refer to ...

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Answer

Emotional deixis.

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A says: ‘I sprained this ankle,’ and points to his left ankle.

This is an example of 

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Answer

Gestural deixis.

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Question

What is a personal deictic expression?

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Answer

 A personal deictic expression refers to the 'who' in any given context.

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What is a spatial deictic expression?

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Answer

A spatial deictic expression refers to the 'where' in any given context.

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‘Get that badger out of the kitchen!’ is an example of


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Emotional deixis.


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What is Proximal Deixis and can you give an example?


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Proximal Deixis is a subcategory of Spatial deixis and indicates anything close to the speaker. Example: ‘This is my dog here’.


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Question

What is an example of a deictic expression?

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Answer

Deictic expressions include personal pronouns, demonstratives, verbs, and adverbs.

Example: 'I am here.'

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What is a temporal deictic expression?

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Answer

A temporal deictic expression refers to the 'when' in any given context.

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Question

What type of deictic expressions are: now, then and yesterday?

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Answer

Temporal

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Which of these words is not an example of a spatial deictic expression?

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Answer

Then

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Which type of deictic expression uses tense and time adverbials?

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Answer

Temporal

Show question

Question

What is social deixis?

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Answer

Social deixis is when we use a term of reference to indicate social or professional status.

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What is discourse deixis?

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Discourse deixis is when we use deictic expressions to refer to something we are talking about in the same utterance.

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What is text deixis another term for?

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Discourse deixis

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What is emotional deixis?

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Emotional deixis refers to the speaker's emotional connection to the subject of discourse, which may be close or distant. 

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What is gestural deixis?

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Answer

Gestural deixis means a gesture is involved to explain or clarify the utterance. 

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