LSA 109: Deixis and indexicality

William F. Hanks | session 1 | MW 1:30 – 3:15, 2060 Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB)

This course explores recent research on referential deixis in natural languages. Deixis is among the most obvious ways that language structure is shaped by its relation to utterance context. Sometimes called "shifters" or "indexicals", deictics occur in all languages, and while they vary considerably in conventional meaning and pragmatics, they have certain basic features in common. The course will explore both what is universal in deixis and what varies across languages and across categories within single languages. Traditional descriptions of deixis have focused on egocentric spatial uses, but comparative research over the last decade has demonstrated that these account for only a small part of the range of variation between systems. The course will begin with basic theoretical approaches (including Jakobson, Friedrich and Silverstein) and proceed to more recent field-based analyses, which include gesture. Examples from Yucatec Maya will figure prominently, but the aim is to assess the current state of understanding in comparative terms, and to provide students with the conceptual tools necessary to analyse deictic phenomena in the field. Classes will be divided into lecture and data sessions. Students are encouraged to bring comparative data from their own research or elsewhere, and will be required to engage with the readings and present a short paper on a topic to be worked out with the instructor.

Reading: Selected materials available online.

Prerequisites: None, but prior work on indexicality, referring in ordinary conversation, or fieldwork will be helpful.

Areas of linguistics: Sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology; Syntax, semantics, and morphology; Languages of the Americas

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