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Perceptual and attentional meanings in the demonstratives of Ticuna

  • Amalia Skilton (UC Berkeley)
23 April 2018
Descriptive and Anthropological Linguistics Discussion Group
P.N. van Eyckhof 1
2311BV Leiden


Demonstratives – words, like 'this' and 'that,' which pick out their referents from context – open a window on the interplay of universals and diversity in semantic typology. Though every language has demonstratives (Diessel 1999), they are not all alike in form or meaning. One dimension of this diversity involves the role of space vis-à-vis attention and perception. Early authors (e.g. Fillmore 1973) assumed that the meaning of demonstratives concerned only the location of the referent in space. More recent studies, however, have argued that certain demonstratives instead encode the speaker’s mode of perception of the referent (Hanks 1990) or the referent’s attentional status (Özyürek 1999, a.o.).

Against this background, this talk explores the role of perception and attention in the demonstratives of Ticuna (isolate; Peru). First, drawing on experimental data, I argue that 3 of Ticuna’s 6 demonstratives convey perceptual information – whether the speaker sees the referent at the moment of speech. This perceptual meaning is encoded, not implicated, and concerns the sense of vision, not any more general epistemic category (cf. Enfield 2003:96). Second, turning to video data of face-to-face interaction, I examine a fourth demonstrative. In elicited data, this demonstrative appears to require that the referent is within arm’s reach for the speaker. But interactional data reveals another use: the demonstrative can also index referents which are under the speaker’s sustained attention, no matter their location in space.

These findings provide cross-linguistic evidence that perception and attention, as well as space, can be core components of demonstrative meaning (Peeters & Özyürek 2015).

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