Cross-linguistic differences in demonstrative systems: Comparing spatial and non-spatial influences on demonstrative use in Ticuna and Dutch
Horan Skilton, A., & Peeters, D.
Cross-linguistic differences in demonstrative systems: Comparing spatial and non-spatial influences on demonstrative use in Ticuna and Dutch. Journal of Pragmatics, 180
, 248-265. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2021.05.001.
In all spoken languages, speakers use demonstratives – words like this and that – to refer to entities in their immediate environment. But which factors determine whether they use one demonstrative (this) or another (that)? Here we report the results of an experiment examining the effects of referent visibility, referent distance, and addressee location on the production of demonstratives by speakers of Ticuna (isolate; Brazil, Colombia, Peru), an Amazonian language with four demonstratives, and speakers of Dutch (Indo-European; Netherlands, Belgium), which has two demonstratives. We found that Ticuna speakers’ use of demonstratives displayed effects of addressee location and referent distance, but not referent visibility. By contrast, under comparable conditions, Dutch speakers displayed sensitivity only to referent distance. Interestingly, we also observed that Ticuna speakers consistently used demonstratives in all referential utterances in our experimental paradigm, while Dutch speakers strongly preferred to use definite articles. Taken together, these findings shed light on the significant diversity found in demonstrative systems across languages. Additionally, they invite researchers studying exophoric demonstratives to broaden their horizons by cross-linguistically investigating the factors involved in speakers’ choice of demonstratives over other types of referring expressions, especially articles.