Unit 5 deixis and definiteness



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(1) here Yes / No

(2) Wednesday Yes / No

(3) place Yes / No

(4) today Yes / No

(5) you Yes / No
Feedback: (1) Yes (2) No (3) No (4) Yes (5) Yes. (The referent of you is the addressee(s) of the utterance in which it is used and is therefore dependent upon the particular context.)

Comment


So far, all of our examples of deictic terms have been referring expressions, like you, here, and today, or modifiers which can be used with referring expressions, like the demonstrative this. Such deictic terms help the hearer to identify the referent of a referring expression through its spatial or temporal relationship with the situation of utterance. There are also a few predicates which have a deictic ingredient.

Example: The verb come has a deictic ingredient, because it contains the notion ‘toward the

speaker’.

Practice

Look at the following utterances and decide whether the speaker gives any indication of his location (Yes), and if so, where he is (or isn’t):

(1) ‘Go to the hospital’

Yes / No .............................................................................................................

(2) ‘The astronauts are going back to Earth’

Yes / No .............................................................................................................

(3) ‘Please don’t bring food into the bathroom’

Yes / No .............................................................................................................

(4) ‘Can you take this plate into the kitchen for me?’

Yes / No .............................................................................................................
Feedback: (1) Yes: not at the hospital (2) Yes: not on Earth (3) Yes: in the bathroom (4) Yes: not in the

kitchen


Comment: Some examples involve a ‘psychological shifting’ of the speaker’s view-point for the

purpose of interpreting one of the deictic terms.


Practice

(1) If I say to you, ‘Come over there, please!’ while pointing to a far corner of the room (i.e. far from

both of us), could you reasonably infer that I intend to move to that corner of the room as well?

Yes / No

(2) In this instance, would it seem correct to say that the speaker is anticipating his future location

when he uses the word come (i.e. is come in this case ‘stretched’ to include ‘toward where the speaker will be’)? Yes / No

(3) If I say to you, over the telephone, ‘Can I come and see you some time?’ do I probably have in

mind a movement to the place where I am, or to the place where you are? ..........................................................................................................................

Feedback: (1) Yes (2) Yes (3) the place where you are

Comment


This psychological shifting of viewpoint just illustrated is an example of the flexibility with which deictic terms can be interpreted. In our definition of deixis, ‘time of utterance’ and ‘place of utterance’ must generally be taken very flexibly. Sometimes these are interpreted very broadly, and sometimes very narrowly and strictly.

In addition to deictic words (such as here, now, come, and bring), there are in English and other languages certain grammatical devices called tenses for indicating past, present, and future time, which must also be regarded as deictic, because past, present, and future times are defined by reference to the time of utterance.

Practice

(1) If Matthew said (truthfully) ‘Mummy, Rosemary hit me’, when did Rosemary hit Matthew,

before, at, or after the time of Matthew’s utterance? ..........................................................................................................................

(2) If Matthew (truthfully) says, ‘Mummy, Rosemary is writing on the living room wall’, when is

Rosemary committing this misdemeanour, before, at, or after the time of Matthew’s utterance? ..........................................................................................................................

(3) If I say (truthfully) ‘I’m going to write a letter to the President’, when do I write to the President?

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

(4) In each of the following utterances, what can you deduce about the date of the utterance?

(a) ‘I first met my wife in the year 1993’

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

(b) ‘The 1936 Olympic Games will be held in Berlin’

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

Feedback: (1) before the utterance (2) at the time of the utterance (Perhaps before and after as well,

but, strictly, Matthew isn’t saying anything about what happens before or after his utterance.) (3) after the time of my utterance (4) (a) This utterance can only truthfully be made in or after the year 1993. (b) This utterance must have been made in or before 1936.

Comment

Although tense is definitely deictic, as illustrated above, the issue is complicated by the fact that there are a variety of different ways of expressing past, present, and future time in English, and these different methods interact with other factors such as progressive and perfective aspect. We will not delve into these details here.

A generalization can be made about the behavior of all deictic terms in reported speech. In reported speech, deictic terms occurring in the original utterance (the utterance being reported) may be translated into other, possibly non-deictic, terms in order to preserve the original reference.

Example


John: ‘I’ll meet you here tomorrow.’

Margaret (reporting John’s utterance some time later): ‘John said he would meet me there the next day.’

In this example, five adjustments are made in the reported speech, namely: I → he, ‘ll ( will) → would, you → me, here → there, tomorrow → the next day

Practice

Use an utterance of your own to report each of the following utterances from a vantage point distant in time and space, changing all the deictic terms to preserve the correct relationships with the situation of the original utterance. Assume that John was speaking to you in each case.

(1) John: ‘I don’t live in this house any more’

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

(2) John: ‘I need your help right now’

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

(3) John: ‘Why wouldn’t you come to London with me yesterday?’

..........................................................................................................................
Feedback: (1) ‘John said that he didn’t live in that house any more’ (2) ‘John said that he needed my

help right then’ (3) ‘John asked why I wouldn’t go to London with him the day before’


Comment

These changes in reported speech arise by the very nature of deictic terms. Since deictic terms take (some of) their meaning from the situation of utterance, an utterance reporting an utterance in a different situation cannot always faithfully use the deictic terms of the original utterance.

The function of deixis in language can be better understood by asking the question, ‘Could there be a language without deixis, i.e. without any deictic expressions?’ Let us consider this question by means of some examples.

Practice

Imagine a language, called Zonglish, exactly like English in all respects, except that it contains no deictic terms at all, i.e. all English deictic terms have been eliminated from Zonglish.

(1) Is I would like a cup of tea a wellformed Zonglish sentence? Yes / No

(2) Given that a Zonglish speaker could not say ‘I would like a cup of tea’, would it be possible for

him to inform someone that he would like a cup of tea by saying, ‘The speaker would like a cup of tea’? Yes / No

(3) In a language like Zonglish, with no deictic terms, could one rely on one’s hearers interpreting

‘the speaker’ when uttered as referring to the utterer? Yes / No

(4) Given a speaker of Zonglish named Johan Brzown, and given that no other individual is named

Johan Brzown, could he inform someone that he wanted a cup of tea by uttering ‘Johan Brzown want a cup of tea’? Yes / No

(5) Ignoring the problem that tense is a deictic category, could Johan Brzown inform anyone of any fact about himself if his hearer does not happen to know his name? Yes / No

(6) Assuming that Johan Brzown carries a clearly visible badge announcing his name to all his

hearers, how could he make it clear to his hearer that he wants a cup of tea at the time of utterance, not earlier, and not later? ..........................................................................................................................

(7) If Johan Brzown wants a cup of tea at 5.30 pm on November 9th 2006, could he inform his

hearer of this by uttering, ‘Johan Brzown want a cup of tea at 5.30 pm on November 9th 2006’?

Yes / No

Feedback

(1) No (2) No, see answers to next questions for reasons. (3) No, if ‘the speaker’ were to be conventionally understood as referring to the utterer of the utterance in which it occurred, it would in effect be a deictic expression, and therefore outlawed in Zonglish. (4) Using the proper name Johan Brzown would get over the problem of referring to the speaker. Every speaker of Zonglish would have to use his own name instead of the personal pronoun I. But since tense is a deictic category, Johan Brzown still has the problem of informing his hearer that he wants the cup of tea at the time of utterance, not in the past, and not in the future. (5) No (6) By using some non-deictic description of the actual time of the utterance, like, for example, at 5.30 pm on November 9th 2006 (7) Yes, with this utterance, Johan Brzown would be able to get his message across.


Comment

The point about an example like this is to show that there are good reasons for all languages to have deictic terms. A language without such terms could not serve the communicative needs of its users anything like as well as a real human language. (Of course, all real human languages do have deictic terms.) Deictic expressions bring home very clearly that when we consider individual sentences from the point of view of their truth, we cannot in many cases consider them purely abstractly, i.e. simply as strings of words made available by the language system. The truth of a sentence containing a deictic expression can only be considered in relation to some hypothetical situation of utterance.


Practice

(1) Can you tell by itself whether the sentence You are standing on my toe is true or false? Yes / No (2) What would you need to know in order to be able to tell whether the sentence just mentioned is

true or false? ..........................................................................................................................

(3) Can one tell whether the sentence There are lions in Africa, not considered in relation to any

particular time, is true or false? Yes / No
Feedback

(1) No (2) You would need to know who said it to whom and whether the hearer was in fact standing on the speaker’s toe at the time of utterance. (3) No Comment The relationship of the truth of sentences to hypothetical times and situations of utterance is brought out most vividly by deictic terms. The is traditionally called the definite article, and a the indefinite article. But what exactly is definiteness? An answer can be given in terms of several notions already discussed, in particular the notion of referring expression, identifying the referent of a referring expression, and universe of discourse. A new notion is also needed, that of context.


Definition

The CONTEXT of an utterance is a small subpart of the universe of discourse shared by speaker and hearer, and includes facts about the topic of the conversation in which the utterance occurs, and also facts about the situation in which the conversation itself takes place.


Example

If I meet a stranger on a bus and we begin to talk about the weather (and not about anything else), then facts about the weather (e.g. that it is raining, that it is warmer than yesterday, etc.), facts about the bus (e.g. that it is crowded), and also obvious facts about the two speakers (e.g. their sex) are part of the context of utterances in this conversation. Facts not associated with the topic of the conversation or the situation on the bus (e.g. that England won the World Cup in 1966, or that kangaroos live in Australia) are not part of the context of this conversation, even though they may happen to be known to both speakers.


Comment

The exact context of any utterance can never be specified with complete certainty. The notion of context is very flexible (even somewhat vague). Note that facts about times and places very distant from the time and place of the utterance itself can be part of the context of that utterance, if the topic of conversation happens to be about these distant times and places. Thus, for example, facts about certain people in Egypt could well be part of the context of a conversation in Britain five years later.


Practice

According to the definition of context,

(1) Is the context of an utterance a part of the universe of discourse? Yes / No

(2) Is the immediate situation of an utterance a part of its context? Yes / No

(3) Draw a diagram with three circles and label the circles ‘universe of discourse’, ‘context of

utterance’, and ‘immediate situation of utterance’ in such a way as to indicate what is included in what.

Feedback: (1) Yes (2) Yes (3)
Comment

Now we relate the notion of context to the notion of definiteness. Rule If some entity (or entities) (i.e. person(s), object(s), place(s), etc.) is/are the ONLY entity (or entities) of its/their kind in the context of an utterance, then the definite article (the) is the appropriate article to use in referring to that entity (or those entities).


Practice

If I carry on a conversation with a friend about the time, five years earlier, when we first met in Egypt (and we are now holding the conversation in the garden of my house in Britain):

(1) Which of the following two utterances would be more appropriate? Circle your answer.

(a) ‘Do you remember when we met at the university?’

(b) ‘Do you remember when we met at a university?’ universe of discourse context of

utterance immediate situation of utterance

(2) Which of the following two utterances would be more appropriate?

(a) ‘Shall we go into a house now?’

(b) ‘Shall we go into the house now?’

(3) In the context we are considering, would it be appropriate to use the referring expression the




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