Unit 5 deixis and definiteness



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UNIT 5 DEIXIS AND DEFINITENESS

Entry requirements

If you feel familiar with these ideas, take the entry test below. If not, review the appropriate units.

Entry test

(1) Is an utterance tied to a particular time and place? Yes / No

(2) Is a sentence tied to a particular time and place? Yes / No

(3) Circle the referring expressions in the following utterance:

Neil Armstrong was the first man on the Moon and became a hero’

(4) Who does ‘I’ refer to in the following utterance? ‘I will never speak to you again’

..........................................................................................................................

(5) When a speaker says to someone, ‘A man from Dundee stole my wallet’, would he usually be

assuming that the hearer will bring to mind a particular man from Dundee and be able to IDENTIFY

him by associating him with facts already known about him? Yes / No

(6) As question (5), but with the utterance, ‘The man from Dundee stole my wallet’. Yes / No

(7) Can a universe of discourse be partly fictitious? Yes / No

(8) If perfect communication is to take place between speaker and hearer on any topic,

is it necessary that they share the same universe of discourse? Yes / No

Feedback: (1) Yes (2) No (3) ‘Neil Armstrong’, ‘the first man on the moon’ (4) the speaker of the utterance (5) No, not usually (6) Yes (7) Yes (8) Yes If you got less than 7 out of 8 correct, review the relevant unit. Otherwise, continue to the introduction.

Introduction

Most words mean what they mean regardless of who uses them, and when and where they are used. Indeed this is exactly why words are so useful. Only if we assign a (fairly) constant interpretation to a word such as man, for example, can we have a coherent conversation about men. Nevertheless, all languages do contain small sets of words whose meanings vary systematically according to who uses them, and where and when they are used. These words are called deictic words: the general phenomenon of their occurrence is called deixis. The word deixis is from a Greek word meaning pointing.

Definition

A DEICTIC word is one which takes some element of its meaning from the context or situation (i.e. the speaker, the addressee, the time and the place) of the utterance in which it is used.

Example: The first person singular pronoun I is deictic. When Ben Heasley says ‘I’ve lost the

contract’, the word I here refers to Ben Heasley. When Penny Carter says ‘I’ll send you

another one’, the I here refers to Penny Carter.

Practice

(1) If Wyatt Earp meets Doc Holliday in Dodge City and says, ‘This town ain’t big enough for the both

of us’, what does this town refer to?

..........................................................................................................................

(2) If a television news reporter, speaking in Fresno, California, says, ‘This town was shaken by a

major earth tremor at 5 a.m. today’, what does this town refer to? ..........................................................................................................................

(3) In general, what clue to the identity of the referent of a referring expression is given by the

inclusion of the demonstrative word this? Formulate your reply carefully, mentioning the notion

‘utterance’. ..........................................................................................................................

(4) If, on November 3rd 2005, I say, ‘Everything seemed to go wrong yesterday’, what day am I

picking out by the word yesterday? ..........................................................................................................................

(5) If, on May 4th 2005, my daughter says to me, ‘Yesterday wasn’t my birthday’, what day is being

picked out by the word yesterday? ..........................................................................................................................

(6) To summarize in a general statement, what day does yesterday refer to?

..........................................................................................................................


Feedback: (1) Dodge City (2) Fresno, California (3) A referring expression modified by this refers to an entity (place, person, thing etc.) at or near the actual place of the utterance in which it is used. (4) November 2nd 2005 (5) May 3rd 2005 (6) Yesterday refers to the day before the day of the utterance in which it is used.

Comment: These exercises show that the words this and yesterday are deictic.

Practice

Are the following words deictic?




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