linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Ling ...
, deixis (, ) is the use of general words and phrases to refer to a specific time, place, or person in context, e.g., the words ''tomorrow'', ''there'', and ''they''. Words are deictic if their semantic meaning is fixed but their denoted meaning varies depending on time and/or place. Words or phrases that require contextual information to be fully understood—for example, English
pronouns In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun ( abbreviated ) is a word or a group of words that one may substitute for a noun or noun phrase. Pronouns have traditionally been regarded as one of the parts of speech, but some modern theorists would not ...
—are deictic. Deixis is closely related to anaphora. Although this article deals primarily with deixis in spoken language, the concept is sometimes applied to written language, gestures, and communication media as well. In linguistic anthropology, deixis is treated as a particular subclass of the more general
semiotic Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the systematic study of sign processes (semiosis) and meaning making. Semiosis is any activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, where a sign is defined as anything that communicates something, ...
phenomenon of indexicality, a sign "pointing to" some aspect of its context of occurrence. Although this article draws examples primarily from English, deixis is believed to be a feature (to some degree) of all natural languages.Lyons, John (1977) "Deixis, space and time" in ''Semantics'', Vol. 2, pp. 636–724. Cambridge University Press. The term's origin is grc, δεῖξις, deixis, display, demonstration, or reference, the meaning ''point of reference'' in contemporary linguistics having been taken over from Chrysippus.


Traditional categories

Charles J. Fillmore used the term "major grammaticalized types" to refer to the most common categories of contextual information: person, place, and time.Fillmore, Charles J (1971) ''Lectures on Deixis''. CSLI Publications (reprinted 1997). Similar categorizations can be found elsewhere.

Personal deixis

Personal deixis, or person deixis, concerns itself with the
grammatical person In linguistics, grammatical person is the grammatical distinction between deictic references to participant(s) in an event; typically the distinction is between the speaker ( first person), the addressee ( second person), and others ( third pe ...
s involved in an utterance: (1) those directly involved (e.g. the speaker, the addressee), (2) those not directly involved (e.g. those who hear the utterance but who are not being directly addressed), and (3) those mentioned in the utterance.Levinson, Stephen C. "Deixis" in Pragmatics. pp. 54–96. In English, the distinctions are generally indicated by pronouns (personal deictical terms are in ''italics''): :''I'' am going to the movies. :Would ''you'' like to have dinner? :''They'' tried to hurt ''me'', but ''she'' came to the rescue. In many languages with gendered pronouns, the third-person masculine pronouns (''he/his/him'' in English) are used as a default when referring to a person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant: :To each ''his'' own. In contrast, English for some time used the neuter gender for cases of unspecified gender in the singular (with the use of the plural starting in around the fourteenth century), but many grammarians drew on
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
to come to the preference for "he" in such cases. However, it remains common to use the third-person plural (''they/their/them/theirs'') even when the antecedent is singular (a phenomenon known as '' singular they''): :To each ''their'' own. In languages that distinguish between masculine and feminine plural pronouns, such as French or
Serbo-Croatian Serbo-Croatian () – also called Serbo-Croat (), Serbo-Croat-Bosnian (SCB), Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BCS), and Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian (BCMS) – is a South Slavic language and the primary language of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia a ...
, the masculine is again often used as default. "''Ils vont à la bibliothèque''", "''Oni idu u biblioteku''" (''They go to the library'') may refer either to a group of masculine nouns or a group of both masculine and feminine nouns. "''Elles vont...''", "''One idu...''" would be used only for a group of feminine nouns. In many such languages, the gender (as a grammatical category) of a noun is only tangentially related to the gender of the thing the noun represents. For example, in French, the generic ''personne'', meaning a person (of either sex), is always a feminine noun, so if the subject of discourse is "les personnes" (the people), the use of "elles" is obligatory, even if the people being considered are all men.

Spatial deixis

Spatial deixis, or place deixis, concerns itself with the spatial locations relevant to an utterance. Similarly to personal deixis, the locations may be either those of the speaker and addressee or those of persons or objects being referred to. The most salient English examples are the adverbs ''here'' and ''there,'' and the demonstratives ''this'', ''these'', ''that'', and ''those,'' although those are far from exclusive. Some example sentences (spatial deictical terms are in ''italics''): :I enjoy living in ''this'' city. :''Here'' is where we will place the statue. :She was sitting over ''there''. Unless otherwise specified, spatial deictical terms are generally understood to be relative to the location of the speaker, as in: :The shop is ''across the street''. where "across the street" is understood to mean "across the street from where I he speakeram right now." Although "here" and "there" are often used to refer to locations near to and far from the speaker, respectively, as in: :''Here'' is a good spot; it is too sunny over ''there''. "there" can also refer to the location of the addressee, if they are not in the same location as the speaker, as in: :How is the weather ''there''? * Deictic projection: In some contexts, spatial deixis is used metaphorically rather than physically, i.e. the speaker is not speaking as the deictic center. For example: I am ''coming'' home now. The above utterance would generally denote the speaker's ''going'' home from their own point of reference, yet it appears to be perfectly normal for one to project his physical presence to his home rather than away from home. Here is another example: I am not ''here''; please leave a message. Despite its common usage to address people who call when no one answers the phone, the ''here'' here is semantically contradictory to the speaker's absence. Nevertheless, this is considered normal for most people as speakers have to project themselves as answering the phone when in fact they are not physically present. Languages usually show at least a two-way referential distinction in their deictic system: proximal, i.e. near or closer to the speaker; and distal, i.e. far from the speaker and/or closer to the addressee. English exemplifies this with such pairs as ''this'' and ''that'', ''here'' and ''there'', etc. In other languages, the distinction is three-way or higher: proximal, i.e. near the speaker; medial, i.e. near the addressee; and distal, i.e. far from both. This is the case in a few
Romance language The Romance languages, sometimes referred to as Latin languages or Neo-Latin languages, are the various modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin. They are the only extant subgroup of the Italic languages in the Indo-European language ...
sIn Classical Latin, the medial and distal forms are usually used as pejorative and laudative respectively. and in
Serbo-Croatian Serbo-Croatian () – also called Serbo-Croat (), Serbo-Croat-Bosnian (SCB), Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BCS), and Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian (BCMS) – is a South Slavic language and the primary language of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia a ...
Korean Korean may refer to: People and culture * Koreans, ethnic group originating in the Korean Peninsula * Korean cuisine * Korean culture * Korean language **Korean alphabet, known as Hangul or Chosŏn'gŭl **Korean dialects and the Jeju language * ...
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan, an island country in East Asia * Japanese language, spoken mainly in Japan * Japanese people, the ethnic group that identifies with Japan through ancestry or culture ** Japanese dia ...
, Thai, Filipino, Macedonian,
Yaqui The Yaqui, Hiaki, or Yoeme, are a Native Americans in the United States, Native American people of the southwest, who speak a Uto-Aztecan language. Their homelands include the Río Yaqui valley in Sonora, Mexico, and the area below the Gila Rive ...
, and Turkish. The archaic English forms ''yon'' and ''yonder'' (still preserved in some regional dialects) once represented a distal category that has now been subsumed by the formerly medial "there".Lyons, Christopher. ''Definiteness''. Cambridge University Press, 1999. p. 111. In the Sinhala language, there is a four-way deixis system for both person and place; near the speaker /me_ː/, near the addressee /o_ː/, close to a third person, visible /arə_ː/ and far from all, not visible /e_ː/. The
Malagasy language Malagasy (; ) is an Austronesian language and the national language of Madagascar. Malagasy is the westernmost Malayo-Polynesian language, brought to Madagascar by the settlement of Austronesian peoples from the Sunda islands around the 5th c ...
has seven degrees of distance combined with two degrees of visibility, while many Inuit languages have even more complex systems.

Temporal deixis

Temporal deixis, or time deixis, concerns itself with the various times involved in and referred to in an utterance. This includes time adverbs like "now", "then", and "soon", as well as different verbal
tenses In grammar, tense is a category that expresses time reference. Tenses are usually manifested by the use of specific forms of verbs, particularly in their conjugation patterns. The main tenses found in many languages include the past, present ...
. A further example is the word ''tomorrow'', which denotes the next consecutive day after any day it is used. "Tomorrow," when spoken on a day last year, denoted a different day from "tomorrow" when spoken next week. Time adverbs can be relative to the time when an utterance is made (what Fillmore calls the "encoding time", or ET) or the time when the utterance is heard (Fillmore's "decoding time", or DT). Although these are frequently the same time, they can differ, as in the case of prerecorded broadcasts or correspondence. For example, if one were to write (temporal deictical terms are in ''italics''): :It is raining ''now'', but I hope ''when'' you read this it will be sunny. the ET and DT would be different, with "now" referring to the moment the sentence is written and "when" referring to the moment the sentence is read. Tenses are generally separated into absolute (deictic) and relative tenses. So, for example, simple English past tense is absolute, such as in: :He ''went''. whereas the
pluperfect The pluperfect (shortening of plusquamperfect), usually called past perfect in English, is a type of verb form, generally treated as a grammatical tense in certain languages, relating to an action that occurred prior to an aforementioned time ...
is relative to some other deictically specified time, as in: :He ''had gone''.

Other categories

Though the traditional categories of deixis are perhaps the most obvious, there are other types of deixis that are similarly pervasive in language use. These categories of deixis were first discussed by Fillmore and Lyons, and were echoed in works of others.

Discourse deixis

Discourse deixis, also referred to as text deixis, refers to the use of expressions within an utterance to refer to parts of the discourse that contain the utterance—including the utterance itself. For example, in: :''This'' is a great story. "this" refers to an upcoming portion of the discourse; and in: :''That'' was an amazing account. "that" refers to a prior portion of the discourse. Distinction must be made between discourse deixis and anaphora, which is when an expression makes reference to the same referent as a prior term, as in: :Matthew is an incredible athlete; ''he'' came in first in the race. In this case, "he" is not deictical because, within the above sentence, its denotative meaning of ''Matthew'' is maintained regardless of the speaker, where or when the sentence is used, etc. Lyons points out that it is possible for an expression to be both deictic and anaphoric at the same time. In his example: :I was born in London, and I have lived ''here/there'' all my life. "here" or "there" function anaphorically in their reference to London, and deictically in that the choice between "here" or "there" indicates whether the speaker is or is not currently in London. The rule of thumb to distinguish the two phenomena is as follows: when an expression refers to another linguistic expression or a piece of discourse, it is discourse deictic. When that expression refers to the same item as a prior linguistic expression, it is anaphoric. Switch reference is a type of discourse deixis, and a grammatical feature found in some languages, which indicates whether the argument of one clause is the same as the argument of the previous clause. In some languages, this is done through same subject markers and different subject markers. In the translated example "John punched Tom, and left- ame subject marker" it is John who left, and in "John punched Tom, and left- ifferent subject marker" it is Tom who left. Discourse deixis has been observed in internet language, particularly with the use of iconic language forms resembling arrows.

Social deixis

Social deixis concerns the social information that is encoded within various expressions, such as relative social status and familiarity. Two major forms of it are the so-called T–V distinctions and honorifics. * T–V distinction T–V distinctions, named for the Latin "tu" and "vos" (singular and plural versions of "you"), is the name given to the phenomenon when a language has at least two different second-person pronouns. The varying usage of these pronouns indicates something about formality, familiarity, and/or solidarity between the interactants. So, for example, the T form might be used when speaking to a friend or social equal, whereas the V form would be used speaking to a stranger or social superior. This phenomenon is common in European languages.Foley, William. 1997. ''Anthropological linguistics: An introduction''. Blackwell Publishing. * Honorifics Honorifics are a much more complex form of social deixis than T–V distinctions, though they encode similar types of social information. They can involve words being marked with various morphemes as well as nearly entirely different
lexicon A lexicon is the vocabulary of a language or branch of knowledge (such as nautical or medical). In linguistics, a lexicon is a language's inventory of lexemes. The word ''lexicon'' derives from Greek word (), neuter of () meaning 'of or for w ...
s being used based on the social status of the interactants. This type of social deixis is found in a variety of languages, but is especially common in South and East Asia. Persian also makes wide use of honorifics.


= Technological deixis is a reference to the forms and purposes literacy takes as technology changes the nature of literacy in general (e.g., how one reads a webpage, navigates new software, etc.), how those literacies might be expressed, and the speed and efficiency with which those literacies might change (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, and Cammack, 2004; http://www.readingonline.org/electronic/elec_index.asp?HREF=/electronic/RT/3-01_Column/index.html).

Anaphoric reference

Generally speaking, ''anaphora'' refers to the way in which a word or phrase relates to other text: * An exophoric reference refers to language outside of the text in which the reference is found. ** A homophoric reference is a generic phrase that obtains a specific meaning through knowledge of its context. For example, the meaning of the phrase ''"the Queen"'' may be determined by the country in which it is spoken. Because there may be many Queens throughout the world when the sentence is used, the location of the speakerOr his nationality, or the language or country he's talking about, etc.: e.g. in the set phrase ''the Queen's English'' = "standard" British English, "the language variety the Queen of the United Kingdom speaks", or at least is supposed to speak, regardless of where the speaker is located. Similarly, in the mouth of a Briton, or in a text about the UK, ''the Queen'' would by default be assumed to mean the Queen of the United Kingdom. provides the extra information that allows an individual Queen to be identified. * An endophoric reference refers to something inside of the text in which the reference is found. ** An anaphoric reference, when opposed to cataphora, refers to something within a text that has been previously identified. For example, in "Susan dropped the plate. ''It'' shattered loudly," the word ''it'' refers to the phrase, "the plate". ** A cataphoric reference refers to something within a text that has not yet been identified. For example, in "Since ''he'' was very cold, David promptly put on his coat," the identity of ''he'' is unknown until the individual is also referred to as "David".

Deictic center

A deictic center, sometimes referred to as an origo, is a set of theoretical points that a deictic expression is 'anchored' to, such that the evaluation of the meaning of the expression leads one to the relevant point. As deictic expressions are frequently egocentric, the center often consists of the speaker at the time and place of the utterance and, additionally, the place in the discourse and relevant social factors. However, deictic expressions can also be used in such a way that the deictic center is transferred to other participants in the exchange or to persons / places / etc. being described in a narrative. So, for example, in the sentence; :I am standing here now. the deictic center is simply the person at the time and place of speaking. But say two people are talking on the phone long-distance, from London to New York. The Londoner can say; :We are going to London next week. in which case the deictic center is in London, or they can equally validly say; :We are coming to New York next week. in which case the deictic center is in New York. Similarly, when telling a story about someone, the deictic center is likely to switch to him, her or they (third-person pronouns). So then in the sentence; :He then ran twenty feet to the left. it is understood that the center is with the person being spoken of, and thus, "to the left" refers not to the speaker's left, but to the object of the story's left, that is, the person referred to as 'he' at the time immediately before he ran twenty feet.


It is helpful to distinguish between two usages of deixis, gestural and symbolic, as well as non-deictic usages of frequently deictic words. Gestural deixis refers, broadly, to deictic expressions whose understanding requires some sort of audio-visual information. A simple example is when an object is pointed at and referred to as "this" or "that". However, the category can include other types of information than pointing, such as direction of gaze, tone of voice, and so on. Symbolic usage, by contrast, requires generally only basic spatio-temporal knowledge of the utterance. So, for example :I broke ''this'' finger. requires being able to see which finger is being held up, whereas :I love ''this'' city. requires only knowledge of the current location. In a similar vein, :I went to ''this'' city one time ... is a non-deictic usage of "this", which does not identify anywhere specifically. Rather, it is used as an
indefinite article An article is any member of a class of dedicated words that are used with noun phrases to mark the identifiability of the referents of the noun phrases. The category of articles constitutes a part of speech. In English, both "the" and "a(n)" ...
, much the way "a" could be used in its place.

Deixis and indexicality

The terms deixis and indexicality are frequently used almost interchangeably, and both deal with essentially the same idea of contextually-dependent references. However, the two terms have different histories and traditions. In the past, deixis was associated specifically with spatiotemporal reference, and indexicality was used more broadly. More importantly, each is associated with a different field of study. Deixis is associated with linguistics, and indexicality is associated with philosophy as well as pragmatics.Salmani Nodoushan, M. A. (2018). "Which view of indirect reports do Persian data corroborate?" ''International Review of Pragmatics'', 10(1), 76–100.

See also

* Anaphora * Deictic field and narration *
Demonstrative Demonstratives (abbreviated ) are words, such as ''this'' and ''that'', used to indicate which entities are being referred to and to distinguish those entities from others. They are typically deictic; their meaning depending on a particular fram ...
Generic antecedents Generic antecedents are representatives of classes, referred to in ordinary language by another word (most often a pronoun), in a situation in which gender is typically unknown or irrelevant. These mostly arise in generalizations and are parti ...
* Metaphysics of presence *
Observation Observation is the active acquisition of information from a primary source. In living beings, observation employs the senses. In science, observation can also involve the perception and recording of data via the use of scientific instruments. ...
Present The present (or here'' and ''now) is the time that is associated with the events perceived directly and in the first time, not as a recollection (perceived more than once) or a speculation (predicted, hypothesis, uncertain). It is a period o ...
Pro-form In linguistics, a pro-form is a type of function word or expression that stands in for (expresses the same content as) another word, phrase, clause or sentence where the meaning is recoverable from the context. They are used either to avoid ...
Self The self is an individual as the object of that individual’s own reflective consciousness. Since the ''self'' is a reference by a subject to the same subject, this reference is necessarily subjective. The sense of having a self—or ''selfhoo ...



Further reading

* Anderson, Stephen R.; & Keenan, Edward L. (1985). Deixis. In T. Shopen (Ed.), ''Language typology and syntactic description: Grammatical categories and the lexicon'' (Vol. 3, pp. 259–308). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. * Fillmore, Charles J. (1966). Deictic categories in the semantics of 'come'. ''Foundations of Language'', ''2'', 219–227. * Fillmore, Charles J. (1982). Towards a descriptive framework for spatial deixis. In R. J. Jarvell & W. Klein (Eds.), ''Speech, place and action: Studies in deixis and related topics'' (pp. 31–59). London: Wiley. * Gaynesford, M. de ''I: The Meaning of the First Person Term'', Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006. * George Grigore, La deixis spatial dans l'arabe parlé à Bagdad, Estudios de dialectologia arabe n.7, Zaragoza, pp 77–9
George Grigore. 2012. „La deixis spatiale dans l’arabe parlé à Bagdad”, Alexandrine Barontini, Christophe Pereira, Ángeles Vicente, Karima Ziamari (ed.), Estudios de dialectología árabe (n.7): Hommage offert à Dominique Caubet . Universidad de Zaragoza. pp: 77-90
* Traut, Gregory P. and Kazzazi, Kerstin. 1996. ''Dictionary of Language and Linguistics''. Routledge. London and New York.

External links

{{wiktionary, deixis
Demonstratives & Indexicals
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What is deixis?
Pragmatics Semantics