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Deixis

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English

Deixis derives from Ancient Greek - δεῖξις (deîxis, “pointing, indicating, reference”) and δείκνυμι (deíknumi, “I show”) and forms an important part of linguistics and pragmatics, serving to interpret speech in context.

What is Deixis?

Deixis refers to a word or phrase that shows the time, place or situation a speaker is in when talking.

Also known as deictic expressions (or deictics), they typically include pronouns and adverbs such as 'I', 'you', 'here', 'there', and tend to be used mostly where the context is known to both the speaker and the person spoken to.

Deixis Examples


"I wish you'd been here yesterday."

In this sentence the words 'I,' 'you', 'here', and 'yesterday' all function as deixis - they reference a speaker and an addressee, a location and a time. As we are outside of the context, we cannot know who 'I' is, where 'here' is, nor can we be entirely sure when 'yesterday' was; this information is known to the speaker instead and is therefore termed 'deictic'.

"Last week I flew over there for a quick visit."

In this sentence, 'last week', 'I' and 'there' are the deixis - referencing time, speaker and place.

We do not have enough context to completely understand the whole sentence, whereas the speaker and the addressee do; they don't need to repeat or state the precise context. Instead, they use words and phrases that refer to people, time and place and these function deictically.

Let's examine another sentence taken out of context:

'If you come over here I can show you where it happened, all that time ago.'

What questions do you find yourself asking as you look at the sentence?

Deixis a conversation without context StudySmarterWithout context, we cannot completely understand a sentence that relies on Deixis JW - StudySmarter Originals

Firstly, we don't know who is speaking, or to whom; we also don't know where 'here' is, or what happened. Our questions will tend to be 'where, who, what?' and probably also 'when?'. The speaker and his audience, however, have no such problem; they are in the context, they know the topic, so they use deictic expressions or words to reference (or 'show') what they are talking about.

There are several examples of deixis in the sentence we have just looked at, e.g: 'Here', 'you' and 'where'. These are deictic expressions of place, person and location.

Let's now recreate the earlier example, starting from context:

'If you come over here I can show you where it happened, all that time ago.'

A tour guide is showing his group around an old fort where a famous battle took place a few hundred years ago. He says to them: 'If you come over to this part of the castle, I can show you where the siege took place 500 years ago.'

Here we have context: we know the speaker is a tour guide; we know he is speaking to a group of tourists; we know where they are (the castle); we know what he is talking about (the siege) and when it took place (500 years ago).

Let's say we are now either the tour guide or the tourists. At this point, the tour guide starts to move over to one of the ramparts of the castle, and instead of repeating all the above information, the guide can simply say: 'If you come over here, I can show you where it happened all that time ago.' This avoids stating the obvious, it saves time repeating information already given, and both the guide and his audience understand immediately what he is referring to. At this point, a specific reference becomes a deictic reference, through the use of words such as 'here', 'it', and 'that'.

NOTE: The pronouns 'I' and 'you' retain the same form as before, but their function shifts - they are now also deictic expressions or words, and only those aware of the context will know to whom these pronouns refer.

Deixis  - A tour of a castle with a guide StudySmarter

Once we know the context, we will often automatically switch to deixis.
JW-StudySmarter Originals

Types of Deixis

Now that we have an idea how deixis works, let's look deeper into the various categories.

There are three traditional types of deixis:

  • Temporal - relating to time: the 'when'.

  • Spatial, or Local - relating to place: the 'where'.

  • Personal - relating to the speaker, or the person spoken to: the 'who'.

NOTE: the 1st and 2nd person pronouns (I, you, we) are typically active participants (in that they speak and hear speech); the third person pronouns (she, he, they) refer to inactive, ie non-speech or narrated participants.

Temporal, Spatial and Personal Deixis

Looking at our earlier examples again, we can now identify temporal, spatial and personal deixis:

I wish you'd been here yesterday

  • 'I' and 'you' are examples of personal deixis, (people)
  • 'Here' is an example of local deixis, (place)
  • And 'yesterday' is temporal deixis. (time)

Last week I flew over there for a quick visit.

  • 'Last week', which relates to when, is the temporal deixis,
  • 'I' refers to a person, and becomes the personal deixis,
  • 'There' refers to location, and is the local deixis.

See if you can identify the temporal, local and personal deixis in the following:

When he got there, he went straight to her.

We booked into this hotel last night; I think he's arriving tomorrow.

In the first, the speaker is referring to third party inactive participants: 'he' and 'her'. 'There' refers to location, so it becomes location-specific (and therefore 'local deixis').

In the second, note 'this' becomes the local deixis, while 'last night' and 'tomorrow' refer to time, so become 'temporal deixis'.

Other Categories of Deixis:

Proximal deixis

If you think of proximity, i.e closeness, it should become clear that proximal deixis refers to what is close to the speaker - think of 'this', 'here', 'now'.

Deixis - A man with his dog - StudySmarter

Proxima deixis, meaning: closer to the speaker
JW - StudySmarter Originals

Distal deixis

Distal deixis instead refers to what is distant, or away, from the speaker; usually, these would be: 'that', 'there', and 'then'.

Example : 'That one over there.'

Deixis - A figure pointing to a tree - StudySmarterDistal deixis, where the object is far from the speaker. JW - StudySmarter Originals

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 going to tell 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 ‘this’.

Both these cases are examples of discourse deixis.

Social deixis

Social deixis is when we use a term of address 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.

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).

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.

Deictic centre

Deictic centre indicates where the speaker is at the time of speaking. 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 realise this from context.

This location could 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’.

Deixis versus anaphora

Both Deixis and Anaphora are similar, in that they are used to reference people, objects, times etc, but in different ways. Anaphora has two functions or meanings - one is rhetorical, the other grammatical.

Grammatical anaphora

In its grammatical function, Anaphora serves as a means of avoiding clumsy repetition, usually through the use of a pronoun.

Titian was born in Cadore but later moved to Venice, where he set up his studio.

'He' refers back to Titian and so becomes anaphoric - we avoid repeating the name Titian and thereby create a smoother piece of text.

When Alice fell down the rabbit hole, she noticed a lot of books floating around her.

Again, we avoid repetition by using 'she' and 'her' to refer back to Alice, so in this case, both of these words function as anaphors.

By contrast, if we were with Titian in his studio, he could say to us 'I have set up a studio here,' and this would be an example of deixis: we would know where we were already (i.e. Venice), so it would be enough to use 'here' as spatial deixis.

Anaphora as rhetoric:

While Deixis refers, Anaphora repeats.

Anaphora, in its other form as a rhetorical device, relies instead on repetition to emphasize a point; it is used in poetry, speeches and prose, and can add dramatic value as well as pace and rhythm.

For instance, in the opening lines of Dickens' Bleak House, the word fog is repeated throughout a whole paragraph, to emphasize its presence, to give the London fog a personality of its own:

'Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House(1852)

Imagine if we had the fog speaking for itself, ie 'I am everywhere. I am up the river, where I flow ... I am down the river, where I roll ... I am on the marches, on the heights ... etc '.

Without context, we could only guess what or who is speaking; the 'I' becomes personal deixis, whereas 'up, down, on' function as spatial deixis.

What are the similarities and differences between Deixis and Anaphora?

  • Both Deixis and Anaphora can take the form of pronouns, nouns, adverbs.
  • Deixis references time, place and people in a context familiar to both the speaker and the person spoken to.
  • Anaphora refers back to a prior element in a discourse, ie Alice fell down the rabbit hole and lost her way.
  • We cannot fully understand a sentence reliant on Deictic expressions if we have no context.
  • While Deixis functions within a closed context, Anaphora can only function as part of a clear context, which it refers back to.

Deixis - key takeaways

  • Deixis is a form of reference where the topic or context is already familiar to both speakers and addressee.

  • We cannot understand the full meaning of a deictic reference without context.
  • Deixis is used by the speaker to refer to the place, situation or time in which they find themselves when talking.

  • Typically, Deixis can be categorized as temporal, local or personal.

  • Other categories of Deixis include distal, proximal, discourse, social and deictic centre.

Deixis

Deixis comes from the Ancient Greek δεῖξις (deîxis) which means:“pointing, indicating, reference”.

Deixis words can pronouns and ad.verbs: ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘here’, ‘there’

Deixis refers to a word or phrase that shows the time, place or situation a speaker is in when talking.

Deixis forms an important part of linguistics and pragmatics and serves to interpret speech context.

The three types of deixis are: temporal, spatial and personal..

Final Deixis Quiz

Question

By using deixis, the speaker :

  • Need not be aware of the context
  • Needs to be aware of who they are talking to
  • Can refer to a specific time and place

Show answer

Answer

  • Can refer to a specific time and place

Show question

Question

Question 2: Proximal deixis involves:

  • Referencing an object far away from the speaker
  • Referencing a time connected to the speaker
  • Referencing an object or person near to the speaker

Show answer

Answer

Referencing an object or person near to the speaker


Show question

Question

Give an example of deixis.


Show answer

Answer

‘It’s over there’, ‘Give me that one,’ ‘I’m here now’ etc.


Show question

Question

What are the three traditional categories of deixis?


Show answer

Answer

Temporal, spatial, and personal.

Show question

Question

A tour guide is showing a group around a historic monument. How can he rephrase the following, using deixis? 

‘If you come over to this part of the castle, I can show you where the siege took place 500 years ago.’

Show answer

Answer

‘If you come over here I can show you where it happened, all that time ago.’


Show question

Question

 Give an example of proximal deixis.


Show answer

Answer

‘This is my dog here,’ ‘This house here is mine,’ etc.


Show question

Question

Anaphora is used: 

  • to indicate specific people and places 
  • as a rhetorical device and as a reference
  • only in speeches

Show answer

Answer

Anaphora is used as a rhetorical device and as a reference


Show question

Question

Give an example of grammatical anaphora.

Show answer

Answer

Titian was born in Cadore but later moved to Venice, where he set up his studio.’

When Alice fell down the rabbit hole, she noticed a lot of books floating around her.’  etc

Show question

Question

Give examples of sentences with temporal, spatial and personal deixis.


Show answer

Answer

‘I wish you’d been here yesterday,’ ‘Last week I flew over there for a quick visit,’ etc.


Show question

Question

What other categories (i.e. non-traditional) of deixis can you think of?


Show answer

Answer

Social deixis, discourse deixis, deictic centre, proximal deixis, distal deixis.



Show question

Question

Give an example of distal deixis.

Show answer

Answer

'That one over there.’ etc.


Show question

Question

How are deixis and anaphora similar?


Show answer

Answer

Both Deixis and Anaphora can take the form of pronouns, nouns, and adverbs.

Both Deixis and Anaphora are similar, in that they are used to reference people, objects, and times.

Show question

Question

Anaphora has two functions, what are they?

Show answer

Answer

Grammatical and Rhetorical.

Show question

Question

What does ‘deictic centre’ refer to?


Show answer

Answer

Deictic centre refers to where the speaker is at the time of speaking.

Show question

Question

Discourse deixis refers to :

  • a speech given in another context
  • a topic familiar only to the speaker
  • a topic you have spoken about or will speak about

 


 


Show answer

Answer

a topic you have spoken about or will speak about

Show question

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