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Spatial and non-spatial deixis in Cushillococha Ticuna

  • Author(s): Skilton, Amalia
  • Advisor(s): Michael, Lev D
  • et al.

This dissertation is a study of the 6-term demonstrative system of Ticuna, a language isolate spoken by 60,000 people in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil.

Much research on demonstratives has claimed that they encode only the distance of the demonstrative referent from the discourse participants. By contrast, I argue that no demonstrative of Ticuna conveys any information about distance. Instead, I show, the demonstratives of Ticuna provide listeners with two kinds of information:

- Perceptual information: Demonstratives encode whether the speaker sees the demonstrative referent.

- Spatial information: Demonstratives encode where the referent is located relative to the peripersonal space (reaching space) of the discourse participants. Location relative to peripersonal space is crucially different from distance.

Within the body of the dissertation, Chapters 1 through 3 set the stage for these arguments. Chapter 1 introduces the Ticuna ethnic group, their language, and the language's demonstrative system. Chapter 2 describes the methods used in the study, which range from experimental tasks to recordings of everyday conversation. Chapter 3 lays out the conceptual framework for demonstrative meaning used in the study. This framework draws on research in psychology and anthropology as well as linguistics, recognizing the contribution of multiple disciplines to the study of deixis.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 are the core of the dissertation. In Chapter 4, I demonstrate, from experimental and elicitation data, that 3 of the 5 exophoric demonstratives of Ticuna encode information about the speaker's mode of perception of the referent. Their perceptual deictic content specifically concerns whether the speaker sees the demonstrative referent at the moment of speech. This meaning relates to the sense of vision -- not to more abstract categories like epistemic modality, identifiability, or general direct evidentiality (pace Levinson 2004a, 2018a).

In Chapter 5, I examine the apparent speaker-proximal and addressee-proximal demonstratives of Ticuna. From experimental data, I argue that these demonstratives encode spatial information, but not distance. Instead, their spatial deictic content concerns the location of the demonstrative referent relative to the speaker or addressee's peripersonal space. The peripersonal space (Kemmerer 1999) is defined as the space which a person can reach (i.e. perceive via the sense of touch) without moving relative to a ground. Since the peripersonal space is a perceptuo-spatial construct, not a sheerly spatial one, even the 'spatial' content of demonstratives is grounded in perception.

Chapter 5 also engages at length with data from maximally informal conversation. In this data, I observe that the speaker- and addressee-proximal demonstratives can also convey non-spatial information about the referent: that the speaker is calling new joint attention to the referent (for the speaker-proximal), that the referent is owned by the addressee (for the addressee-proximal), or that the origo (speaker or addressee) is moving toward the referent (for both proximals). I argue that all of these non-spatial uses of proximals arise from the items' spatial deictic content, via conventional forms of deferred reference and deictic transposition.

In Chapter 6, I analyze the language's apparent medial and distal demonstratives, again drawing on both experimental and conversational data. I show that the apparent medial demonstrative of Ticuna is actually a sociocentric proximal, with the sense of 'sociocentric' developed by Hanks (1990). It encodes that the referent is within a perimeter jointly defined by the locations of speaker and addressee. The distal demonstrative, on the other hand, is a true egocentric distal, encoding only that the referent is outside of the speaker's peripersonal space.

Chapter 7, defending my analysis of deixis against theories that assimilate deixis to anaphora, argues that the deictic and anaphoric systems of Ticuna are minimally related. I show that the demonstrative system of Ticuna exhibits a complete lexical split between exophoric (deictic) and non-exophoric (anaphoric and recognitional) demonstratives. The two classes of demonstratives are distinct in meaning as well as form. Exophoric demonstratives have the rich spatial and perceptual deictic content described in Chapters 4 through 6; non-exophoric demonstratives, by contrast, convey nothing about the referent except its discourse or world familiarity. Chapter 8 summarizes and concludes.

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