Spatial Deixis

The concept of distance mentioned before in conjunction with the third person form is also relevant to spatial deixis, since it indicates the relative distance of people and things. Contemporary English makes use of the adverbs here (close to the speaker) and there (relatively distant from the speaker) for the basic distinction. In other languages , like e.g. in Brazilian Portuguese, you will find a four-part distinction: aqui (near the speaker), (near the addressee), ali (distant from the speaker) (more distant from the speaker). Note that even though the number of forms to describe closeness/distance differ in various languages (2-30), the speaker remains a basic point of reference for spatial deixis.

Exercise: Adverbs of location used deictically.

The adverbs come and go also retain a spatial deictic sense when they are used to mark movement toward the speaker or away from the speaker. Location from the speakerís perspective can be fixed mentally as well as physically. Speakers seem to be able to project themselves into other locations prior to being in these locations. When uttering the phrase

Iíll come later

speakers accomplish a mental movement to the addressee's location, which is sometimes called deictic projection. You frequently come across examples of deictic projection when you listen to recorded utterances on answer phones, such as Iím not here now. The speaker thus projected that now will apply to any time someone tries to call and not when the words were recorded.

If you have already dealt with semantics, you might wonder why deixis is mentioned again within the frame of pragmatics. To receive an answer, consider the following situation: A woman is sniffing the perfume of a man standing next to her, and remarks in a whisper to her friend: I don't like that. Since the man, respectively the perfume, is close to her, it would be appropriate to use this instead of that. Now think about what difference that makes?

Source of the picture:

The usage of that suggests distance. Usually, something that is physically close will be treated by the speaker as psychologically close; and something that is physically distant will also tend to be treated as psychologically distant (c.g. that man over there). In our example above, the woman shows psychological distance in referring to a physically close smell of perfume as if it was far away.

These psychological processes are also operating in our distinctions between proximal and distal expressions used to mark temporal deixis.

Categories: Glossary