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I. Introduction......1
II. Theoretical preliminaries......5
1. General presentation... 5
2. Deictic categories.......6
3. Deictic terms and teir usages.........8
III. Chapter 1: Context - the role it plays in making meaning..........11
1. Interpreting utterances - a comlex process........11
1.1. Assigning sense in context......11
1.2. Assigning reference in context..........12
1.3. Making presupposition....13
1.4. Deriving implicatures relying on context.............14
1.5. Drawing inferences.........15
2. Context - a static or a dynamic concept?...........16
2.1. Context as static...16
2.2. Context as dynamic........17
3. Normal and abnormal context.........22
4. Context of situation versus co-text...22
5. The principle of local interpretation..............24
6. The principle of analogy............25
IV. Chapter 2: Time diexis........26
1. Pure time deixis....... 26
2. Time deixis interacting with cultural measurements of time... 30
3. Time deixis interacting with calendrical reckoning of time ....32
4. Now and then - deictic elements or markers?...36
4.1. Now as a marker........ 37
4.2. Then as a marker.........41
5. Tense - a deictic category..............45
5.1. The notions of time and tense............45
5.2. The English tenses..........49
5.2.1. Present tense simple............49
5.2.2. Past tense simple53
5.2.3. Present perfect simple.........56
5.2.4. Past perfect simple.............59
5.2.5. Future time.......60
5.3. Similarities and differences between the English and Romanian tense systems........63
V. Chapter 3: Place deixis........76
1. Pure place deixis.... 76
2. Place deixis interacting with non-deictic terms for spatial organization...........77
3. Deictic motion verbs..79
VI. Conclusions......82






This paper is the product of a careful documentation in the field of deixis and of my intention to conduct an investigation of the properties of deixis in English and Romanian. To be more explicit, the issue I am going to outline in this work is firstly to see to what extent certain contextual parameters and pragamtic factors determine deixis in natural languages. Secondly, my work is intended as a contrastive analysis of time and place deixis in English and Romanian, trying to point out some of the similarities and differences between the uses of time and place indexical expressions in these two different languages.

The question which arises now is why deixis? Firstly, because this is an area at the borderline between grammar and pragmatics, which is rather insufficiently explored speaking solely from a descriptive-functional prespective. It is well-known that lots of philosophers and logicians have dealt with it quite extensively. The most significant works of a descriptive nature in this area are those of Fillmore (1971b, 1975), Lyons (1977b: Chapter 15) and Levinson (1983: Chapter 2). There has been of late a flurry of studies of children’s language incorporating some references to deixis. These studies involve either an examination of how spatial and temporal information come to be encoded in the child’s language, or how it is that the attention-calling function of deixis is incorporated in the child’s language use (Clark, 1978b; Tanz, 1980). As I have just mentioned, the relevant linguistic studies are still scanty but the situation is even more dramatic when it comes to constrastive analysis, where few articles have been written (e.g. Faerch’s account of deixis in Danish and English (1980), Barbara Kryk’s The Pragmatics of deixis in English and Polish (1985)).

Secondly, I have chosen this topic for a more practical reason. It must be pointed out that the problems posed by deixes both in English and Romanian may be of some pedagogical value in the area of language teaching as well as in translation work. By resorting to a contrastive approach of deixis and by illustrating the phenomenon with examples in both languages, I hope to suggest possible solutions to many of the issues which Romanian students and translators are confronted with when translating Romanian texts into English. To give an example, turning a sentence from direct speech into indirect speech seems to be the source of numerous mistakes made by Romanian learners of English. For instance, in English we have got “today” in direct speech and “that day” in indirect speech, “yesterday” in direct speech and “the day before” in indirect speech, “a year ago” in direct speech and “a year before” in indirect speech, “tomorrow” in direct speech and “the following day” in indirect speech, “here” in direct speech and “there” in indirect speech, etc. Consider the following examples.

(1) Tom: “Would you like to come for a drive tomorrow, Ann?” (direct speech)

Tom invited Ann to come for a drive the following day. (indirect speech)

(2) Nick: “It isn't so foggy as it was yesterday.” (direct speech)

Nick remarked that it wasn't so foggy that day as it had been the day before. (indirect speech)

(3) Mother: “Put it right here, please.” (direct speech)

Mother asked him to put it right there. (indirect speech)

At the theoretical level, the reason why I chose this topic was my intention to trace some of the features which English and Romanian time and place deixis have in common and, at the same time, to emphasize what differentiates them. Indeed, part of my work will have a theoretical character, helping the reader to get acquainted with various definitions and concepts which I need to work with in order to attain the aim of this work. It is impossible, in my opinion, to reach the contrastive level of analysis without first get acquainted with the terminology specific to this area. I must say that each chapter of this work will be approached both from a theoretical and applied pragmatic perspective, but a focus on the practical aspect will be noticed.

The occurrence of deictic terms such as “here”, “now”, “Sir”, etc. in every day interactions may sometimes lead to uncertainties. In order to lay emphasis on the functions and roles which deixis terms play in people understanding each other and on the way in which people manage to clear up possible uncertainties we need a functional-descriptive approach with a proper theoretical status because, as Jenny Thomas states (1995: 183-4), “it is time for pragmatics to come of age, to examine its aims, claims and methodologies and not to take over unthinkingly a descriptive apparatus developed for another discipline and a different purpose”. I will adopt a descriptive approach to the analysis of deixis because an approach of this sort may be quite a good way of describing how human beings use language to communicate, how addressers construct linguistic messages for addressees and how addressees work on linguistic messages in order to interpret them. From a functional perspective, I will be concerned with explaining aspects of linguistic structure by reference to non-linguistic causes and parameters.

I have already shown that what I am going to do throughout this work is discuss the topic of deixis which is generally admitted to also belong with in the domain of pragmatics. But let us first see what pragmatics is, what it is about. The philosopher Charles Morris (1938: 6) was the first to use the term “pagmatics” defining it as the study of “the relation of signs to interpreters” (cited by Levinson, 1983: 1). From this initial definition there have been many other different attempts to define the domain of pragmatics.

I wiill leave a long period with its more or less satisfactory definitions of pragmatics and go to a point in time when a group of pragmatists started to react against an approach to linguistics that was strongly biased towards meaning in abstract rather than meaning in use. Around 1980s there were two definitions of the term that kept on showing up in linguistic works and that were perfectly adequate as a new starting-point in the area: meaning in use and meaning in context. The definitions of more recent theorists in the field cover much of the work now undertaken under the heading of pragmatics.

Jenny Thomas points out that there are two perspectives from which pragmatics is looked at, each of them excluding the other one. Some pragmatists, who adopt a broadly social view of this science, put the focus of attention firmly on the speaker, on the producer of the message, failing to notice the fact that the process of interpreting utterances also involves moving between several levels of meaning, such as abstract meaning (the dictionary meanings of words or phrases), contextual/utterance meaning and speaker’s intention known as force. These theorists equate pragmatics with speaker meaning. There are others who equate it with utterance interpretation. The latter ones focus mostly on the hearer, on the receiver of the message, taking a broadly cognitive approach and paying no importance to the social constraints on utterance production.

In 1995, Jenny Thomas makes several amends to these two approaches to pragmatics and gives her own definition of the discipline. Firstly, she criticizes the view that the partisans of pragmatics as “speaker meaning” failed to make the distinction between two levels of speaker meaning, namely utterance meaning and force. And that happened for two main reasons. In the first place these pragmatists payed attention only to the second level – the force – and to the social factors which determined a speaker to formulate an utterance in a particular way. Putting it another way, they were concerned with the reasons a speaker has, with why a speaker resorts to an indirect and not to a direct form of request/criticism, etc., why he chooses to be more polite on a particular occasion than on some other one. In the second place, focusing on the speaker or the producer of talk and almost excluding the hearer or receiver of talk, these theorists were primarily concerned with the speaker’s intention, which was the strongest flaw of their approach, in Jenny Thomas’s opinin.

Jenny Thomas also points out that, although the utterance interpretation definition of pragmatics presented some disambiguation at level one focusing exclusively on the process of interpreation from the point of view of the hearer, this approach showed no interest in the social constraints on utterance production, which represents the weak point of the this perspective.

To put it some other way, the definitions of this discipline fall into two distinct categories. On the one hand, there are the speaker-oriented definitions that view the production of utterances according to certain constraints (social, psychological, etc) that determine the speaker’s linguistic choice. On the other hand, there are the hearer-oriented definitions that take into account the factors that constrain the hearer’s receiving and interpretaion of the utterances. It was pretty evident to Jenny Thomas that each type of definitions is unilateral, so the theorist thought that a better approach would be the one that combines the two perspectives.

In 1995, Jenny Thomas gives her own definition of pragmatics as “meaning in interaction”. As she claims, this science is about making meaning, about constructing it in interaction, since both the speaker and the hearer must do their parts in the negotiation of meaning, which is also a negotiation between the context of utterance (physical, social, linguistic) and the meaning potential of an utterance. Consider the following example taken from Jenny Thomas’s work (1995: 4).

(4) “Speakers A and B had spent a long time discussing the relative merits of different computers, using terms such as 286, 386, RS/6000. A third person, C, had been in the room throughtout this conversation, but had taken no part in it. Shortly afterwards B turned to C and said:

B: Do you know what fifteen fifteens are?

C: No, I don't know much about computer hardware.”

This is how the pragmatist comments on the above situation: “In this case, a simple question about elementary arithmetic gets interpreted as a complicated question about sophisticated new computers, because speaker C thought he was in a different domain of discourse – thus “fifteen fifteens” is assigned the meaning of the name of a computer instead of the meaning ‘the number fifteen’”.

Jenny Thomas’s definition is more satisfactory because it highlights the interaction between the speech participants (addresser/speaker/writer and addressee/hearer/reader) and their relationship with the message from both a social and cognitive perspective.

In Jenny Thomas’s view, pragmatics is dynamic because people’s dealing with language is not just a way to reflect upon a various series of social and contextual variables, but a means to make exchange of opinions, to change states of fact, shortly, to bring about some change. Speaking from a social point of view, pragmatics also appears as dynamic because it describes the manner in which a speaker belonging to a given community uses his/her linguistic resourses to change the way of the world or to maintain his/her status. Comparing pragmatics to sociolinguistics, the pragmatist (1995: 185) affirms that pragmatics “is mainly concerned with describing the linguistic correlates of relatively changeable features of the same individual (such as relative status, social role) and the way in which the speaker exploits his/her (socio)linguistic repertoire in order to achive a particular goal”.


1. Examples (1), (2) and (3) were invented by me.

2. For more information relative to the definiton of pragmatics, see Jenny Thomas’s work.