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Phatic tokens

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These are ways of showing status by orienting comments to oneself, to the other, or to the general or

prevailing situation (in England this is usually the weather).

• Self-oriented phatic tokens are personal to the speaker: “I’m not up to this” or “My feet are killing


• Other-oriented tokens are related to the hearer: “Do you work here?” or “You seem to know what

you’re doing”.

• A neutral token refers to the context or general state of affairs: “Cold, isn’t it?” or “Lovely flowers”.

A superior shows consideration in an other-oriented token, as when the Queen says to the factory worker: “It

must be jolly hard to make one of those”. The inferior might respond with a self-oriented token, like “Hard

work, this”. On the surface, there is an exchange of information. In reality there is a suggestion and

acceptance of a hierarchy of status. The factory worker would be unlikely to respond with, “Yes, but it’s not

half as hard as visiting all these places, making a speech at Christmas and dissolving Parliament.”


© Copyright: Andrew Moore, 2001



Note: this section is seriously hard. You have been warned.

According to Stephen Levinson:

“Deixis concerns the ways in which languages encode...features of the context of utterance ... and

thus also concerns ways in which the interpretation of utterances depends on the analysis of that

context of utterance.”

Deixis is an important field of language study in its own right – and very important for learners of second

languages. But it has some relevance to analysis of conversation and pragmatics. It is often and best

described as "verbal pointing", that is to say pointing by means of language. The linguistic forms of this

pointing are called deictic expressions, deictic markers or deictic words; they are also sometimes called

indexicals. Deictic expressions include such lexemes as:

• Personal or possessive pronouns ("I"/"you"/"mine"/"yours"),

• Demonstrative pronouns ("this"/"that"),

• (Spatial/temporal) adverbs ("here"/"there"/"now"),

• Other pro-forms ("so"/"do"),

• Personal or possessive adjectives ("my"/"your"),

• Demonstrative adjectives ("this"/"that"),

• Articles ("the").

Deixis refers to the world outside a text. Reference to the context surrounding an utterance is often referred

to as primary deixis, exophoric deixis or simply deixis alone. Primary deixis is used to point to a situation

outside a text (situational deixis) or to the speaker’s and hearer’s (shared) knowledge of the world

(knowledge deixis).

Contextual use of deictic expressions is known as secondary deixis, textual deixis or endophoric deixis. Such

expressions can refer either backwards or forwards to other elements in a text:

• Anaphoric deixis is backward pointing, and is the norm in English texts. Examples include

demonstrative pronouns, "such", "said", "similar", "(the) same".

• Cataphoric deixis is forward pointing. Examples include "the following", "certain", "some" ("the

speaker raised some objections..."), "this" ("Let me say this..."), "these", "several".

Deictic expressions fall into three categories:

• Personal deixis ("you", "us"),

• Spatial deixis ("here", "there") and

• Temporal deixis ("now", "then").

Deixis is clearly tied to the speaker's context, the most basic distinction being between "near the speaker"

(proximal) and "away from the speaker" (distal). Proximal deictic expressions include "this", "here" and

"now". Distal deictic expressions include "that", "there" and "then". Proximal expressions are generally

interpreted in relation to the speaker's location or deictic centre. For example "now" is taken to mean some

point or period in time that matches the time of the speaker's utterance. When we read, “Now Barabbas was

a thief” (John 18.40) we understand that “now” does not indicate that Barabbas was still an active thief

(impossible, since he was in custody) but refers instead to St. John’s telling of the narrative.


© Copyright: Andrew Moore, 2001


Personal deixis

English does not use personal deixis to indicate relative social status in the same way that other languages

do (such as those with TV pronoun systems). But the pronoun "we" has a potential for ambiguity, i.e.

between exclusive "we" (excludes the hearer) and the hearer including (inclusive) "we".

Spatial deixis

The use of proximal and distal expressions in spatial deixis is confused by deictic projection. This is the

speaker's ability to project himself or herself into a location at which he or she is not yet present. A familiar

example is the use of "here" on telephone answering machines ("I'm not here at the moment..."). While

writing e-mails, I often edit out the use of “here”, when I see that the reader will not necessarily understand

the intended meaning. (My “here” is this room in East Yorkshire, England, while yours may be this school in

Maryland, this flat in Moscow or this university in Melbourne.)

It is likely that the basis of spatial deixis is psychological distance (rather than physical distance). Usually

physical and (metaphorical) psychological distance will appear the same. But a speaker may wish to mark

something physically close as psychologically distant, as when you indicate an item of food on your plate

with "I don't like that".

Temporal deixis

Psychological distance can apply to temporal deixis as well. We can treat temporal events as things that

move towards us (into view) or away from us (out of view). For instance, we speak of "the coming year" or

"the approaching year". This may stem from our perception of things (like weather storms) which we see

approaching both spatially and in time. We treat the near or immediate future as being close to utterance

time by using the proximal deictic expression "this" alone, as in "this (that is the next) weekend" or “this

evening” (said earlier in the day).


© Copyright: Andrew Moore, 2001


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