Sunday, December 29, 2019

Deictic Expression (Deixis) Definition and Examples

A deictic expression  or deixis  is a word or phrase (such as this, that, these, those, now, then, here) that points to the time, place, or situation in which a speaker is speaking. Deixis is expressed in English by way of personal pronouns, demonstratives, adverbs, and tense.  The terms etymology comes from the Greek, meaning pointing or show, and its pronounced DIKE-tik.   It sounds more complicated than it really is, for sure.  For example, if you would ask a visiting exchange student, Have you been in this country long? the words  this country  and  you  are the deictic expressions, as they refer to the country where the conversation happens and the person being addressed in the conversation, respectively. Types of Deictic Expressions Deictic expressions can be one of several types, referring to who, where, and when. Author Barry Blake explained in his book All About Language: Pronouns make up a system of  personal deixis. All languages have a pronoun for the speaker (the  first person) and one for the addressee (the  second person). [Unlike English, some] languages lack a   third person  singular pronoun, so the absence of a form for I or you is interpreted as referring to a third person....Words like  this  and  that  and  here  and  there  belong to a system of  spatial deixis. The  here/there  distinction is also found in pairs of verbs such as  come/go  and  bring/take....There is also  temporal deixis  found in words like  now, then, yesterday,  and  tomorrow, and in phrases such as  last month  and  next year. (Oxford University Press, 2008) Common Frame of Reference Needed Without a common frame of reference between the speakers, the deixis on its own would be too vague to be understood, as illustrated in this example from Edward Finegan in Language: Its Structure and Use. Consider the following sentence addressed to a waiter by a restaurant customer while pointing to items on a menu:  I want this dish, this dish, and this dish.  To interpret this  utterance, the waiter must have information about who  I  refers  to, about the time at which the utterance is produced, and about what the three  noun phrases  this dish  refer to. (5th ed. Thomson, 2008) When people are together in conversation, its easy to use deictics as a shorthand because of the common context between those present—though those present dont actually have to be in the same location at the same time, just understand the context. In the case of movies and literature, the viewer or reader has enough context to understand the deictic expressions that the characters use in their dialogue.   Take this famous line from 1942s Casablanca uttered by Humphrey Bogart, playing character Rick Blaine, and note the deictic parts (in italics):  Dont  you  sometimes wonder if its worth all  this? I mean what  youre fighting for. If you someone walks in the room and hears only this one line out of context, its difficult to understand; background is needed for the pronouns. Those viewers whove been watching the movie from the start, though, understand that Blaine is speaking with Victor Laszlo, the leader of a resistance movement and famous Jew who escaped the Nazis—as well as Ilsas husband, the woman Blaine is falling for in the flick. Entrenched viewers can follow along without further details because they have the context for the sentence spoken.

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