Spatial coordinate systems in demonstrative meaning

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Exploring the semantic encoding of a group of crosslinguistically uncommon "spatial-coordinate demonstratives", this work establishes the existence of demonstratives whose function is to project angular search domains, thus invoking proper coordinate systems (or "frames of reference"). What is special about these distinctions is that they rely on a spatial asymmetry in relativizing a demonstrative referent (representing the Figure) to the deictic center (representing the Ground). A semantic typology of such demonstratives is constructed based on the nature of the asymmetries they employ. A major distinction is proposed between asymmetries outside the deictic Figure-Ground array (e.g., features of the larger environment) and those within it (e.g., facets of the speaker/addressee dyad). A unique system of the latter type, present in Jahai, an Aslian (Mon-Khmer) language spoken by groups of hunter-gatherers in the Malay Peninsula, is introduced and explored in detail using elicited data as well as natural conversational data captured on video. Although crosslinguistically unusual, spatial-coordinate demonstratives sit at the interface of issues central to current discourse in semantic-pragmatic theory: demonstrative function, deictic layout, and spatial frames of reference.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-142
JournalLinguistic Typology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Bibliographical note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015.
The record was previously connected to the following departments: Linguistics and Phonetics (015010003)

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • deixis
  • demonstratives
  • figure-ground
  • frame of reference
  • Jahai
  • semantic typology
  • space


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