English Language
Deictic centre

Deictic centre

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The Evolution of Deictic Terms and Their Meaning

The word "deictic" comes from the Greek term "deiktikós", which translates to "capable of proof". It is derived from the verb "deíknumi", meaning "I show".

The Significance of Deictic Centres in Communication

When a person says "I am standing here", they are using a deictic centre to refer to their current location. However, the exact location of "here" cannot be determined without context. Only the speaker and the person they are speaking to know the meaning based on the situation. This location may change multiple times, yet the speaker can still indicate their current location by saying "I am here".

The Role of Deictic Centres

A deictic centre serves as a reference point for the speaker's present location.

Similar to deixis, the physical location of "here" in this situation cannot be determined without context. The deictic centre may shift depending on other factors, such as the verb used and the context of the conversation.

For instance, imagine two people (A and B) are discussing holiday plans via text. A is in Italy and B is in Crete. If A writes "I am going to Crete next week", then Italy becomes A's deictic centre. However, if A says "I am coming to Crete next week", the deictic centre shifts to Crete.

It is worth noting that the deictic centre is also known as the "origo" or "origin", as it reveals the origins of time, place, and person within the utterance. For example, in the statement "I am here", the speaker ("I") and the place ("here") are the origins. If the origin of time needs to be specified, the word "now" can be added, as in "I am here now".

Other deictic terms, such as "come" and "go", "now" and "then", and "I" and "you", can also reveal origins of time, place, and person depending on the context.

For instance, let's say A is in a field talking on the phone with B, who is on their way to join A. A says "I am here" and B responds with "I am coming there now". In this situation, "there" becomes the origin of place, "I" becomes the origin of person, and "now" becomes the origin of time.

The Theory of Deictic Shift and Its Impact on Storytelling

The concept of deictic shift theory (DST) refers to the change of focus that occurs when following a story in any form of media. This phenomenon can be observed in the famous tale of Scheherazade, who must captivate a king with a new story every night to avoid execution at dawn. The king's focus shifts between different characters and narratives, such as Aladdin's lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor.

For instance, in the story of Aladdin, the hero discovers a magical lamp with a genie who grants him three wishes. As readers, our focus shifts several times; first, we are with Scheherazade and the king, then with the new character Aladdin, and finally to the genie when he shares his backstory. This is an example of deictic shift, which is also influenced by the "nested story" technique. This involves one story embedded within another, as seen in works such as Chaucer's Tales, Bronte's Wuthering Heights, and Homer's Odyssey. In modern literature and media, this technique can also be found in works like Shakespeare's Hamlet, Peter Ackroyd's The Fall of Troy, the Netflix series Russian Doll by Poehler and Lyonne, and Ragnarok by AS Byatt. The use of deictics such as "here", "there", and "then" allows the reader to imagine different deictic centres throughout the narrative, making it more engaging and interactive.

The Basics of Deictic Shift Theory

At the core of deictic shift theory (DST) lies the concept of deictic shifting. This phenomenon can be experienced by readers in various ways.

The first and most fundamental shift occurs as the reader immerses themselves in the story. The deictic center shifts from the present moment in the reader's environment to the present moment in the story.

Further shifts can also occur, such as when the deictic center moves from one narrator to another. This can be seen in novels like "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins, where the narrator changes eleven times, or "Pale Fire" by Nabokov, which involves three shifts. The reader shifts along with these changes, similar to meeting new people at a party.

When a story is narrated through letters, diary entries, emails, texts or video journal entries, a deictic shift occurs. This requires the reader to alter their perspective and follow the narrative of the letter-writer or diarist.

Dissecting the Deictic Center: Where, When, and Who

The Where: As the story progresses, the setting of the narrative will also change, resulting in a shift in the "where."

The use of "here" in a story is similar to its use in everyday conversation, but can also be implied within the story itself.

For example, consider this passage: "Night came, and with it all the terrors of the wild - a distant fox squealed, a nearby badger tramped its way home. Dave sat up in his tent, listening intently. The forest, far from being a haven of quiet, was now alive with nocturnal traffic."

In this case, the "here" is implied: we are with Dave in his tent, in the forest, at night. This setting becomes the "here" of the narrative world.

The When: In most narratives, the simple past tense is used to indicate the sequence of events. This allows readers to infer the "when" without explicit time references.

As readers, we shift again, taking on the perspective of the moment in time that corresponds to the story. For instance, in the passage above, "night came...Dave sat up...the forest was alive," none of these moments are happening in the present, but rather in the "now" of the fictional narrative. By immersing ourselves in this world, we adopt its timeline, where everything before the present moment is in the past and everything after is in the future.

The Who: In every narrative, there is a central "who," as well as other "whos" who are not focal. In the passage above, Dave is the focal "who," while the fox and badger are non-focal. The reader shares the deictic center with Dave, but not with the animals, as their perspective is not disclosed.

Now, let's add to the passage: "The others slept on; one of them snoring lightly."

The others, including the snorer, would also be considered non-focal "whos." The reader is not invited to enter their world, as the deictic center remains with Dave.

Examples of Deictic Center in Narrative

The deictic center in narrative serves two main purposes:

  • To connect the dots or "fill in the gaps"
  • To establish the scope of knowledge about ongoing events

This can be accomplished directly or through inference. For instance:

(Direct): "Jeff remembered it was Cody's birthday and ordered extra beer." This explicitly informs the reader that Jeff remembered his friend's birthday and bought more beer for the celebration.

Now, imagine the reader comes across this sentence:

(Inferred): "There was beer in the fridge, with more stacked beside, pizza on the table, and hardly space to stand; the stereo, under the management of Cody's DJ brother, did gentle background battle with the steady hum of conversation."

In this case, there is no direct mention of Jeff, but we can infer that he is either experiencing the party or is aware of it. We can also deduce that the beer in or beside the fridge is the same beer ordered by Jeff for Cody's birthday, which is now in progress.

The Role of the Deictic Field and Deictic Center

In the previous sentence, "Jeff remembered it was Cody's birthday and ordered extra beer," Jeff's name is mentioned, revealing two important details: it is Cody's birthday and Jeff has ordered extra beer. This suggests that a birthday party is planned. This is further confirmed when the paragraph begins with "There was beer in the fridge..." and we learn that Cody's brother is the party's DJ.

From this passage, we can also infer additional details about the party itself, such as the presence of music and the lack of seating due to the large number of people. It is likely that Jeff is present at the party, as he is the focal character at the beginning and we continue to follow from his perspective until told otherwise.

What is a Deictic Field?

A Deictic Field encompasses all deictic expressions related to a single deictic center. For example, imagine our unfortunate Dave, lost in the forest in the dead of night. He is the deictic center (i.e. "he sat up,… listening").

The Concept of Deictic Field

The Deictic Field encompasses all the spaces, objects, and events related to an individual's location. This term is used to refer to these elements using appropriate deictic expressions. For instance, if someone points to a passing fox and says "Look, over there," their statement would fall within the Deictic Field. This concept is highly relevant in the study of linguistics and communication.

The Deictic Field and Deictic Centre are closely connected but occupy distinct spaces. One can picture a cross within a sphere, with the speaker at the center of the cross (the deictic centre), while all related expressions are contained within the sphere. While the Deictic Field is linked to the Deictic Centre, it is not the same as the center itself.

Deictic Centre versus Deictic Shift Theory

The Deictic Centre always refers to the speaker's current location. As previously seen, when the speaker says "I am here," both "I" and "here" refer to the speaker. Even if the speaker moves to a different location, they can still use the same expression, and the Deictic Centre remains applicable. However, the Deictic Centre can shift depending on various factors, such as verb choice and context, especially in a conversation.

On the other hand, Deictic Shift Theory pertains to the reader or viewer and is often applied to narration. This theory describes how the focus of the reader or viewer changes depending on who is telling the story and how it is told. In some narratives, the focus moves from the initial characters to a new set of characters. In other cases, there may be multiple narrators, leading to a shift in the reader's focus. Unlike the Deictic Centre, which is linked to the speaker, the Deictic Shift is connected to the audience or observer.

Important Aspects of Deictic Centre

- The Deictic Centre refers to the speaker's current location at the time of speaking.
- The Deictic Centre remains applicable even if the speaker changes location.
- In some contexts, the Deictic Centre is also known as "origo" (origin).
- Depending on verb choice and context, the Deictic Centre can shift, particularly in conversation.
- Deictic Shift Theory refers to how the reader's focus changes when following a story.
- Deictic shifts often occur in embedded stories, where there are stories within stories.
- The shift can also happen in narratives with three or more characters telling the story from their perspective.
- In certain narratives, such as those told through letters, diary entries, emails, texts, or video journals, the focus shifts as the story progresses.

What is Meant by Deictic Centre?

The term "Deictic Centre" is used to indicate the speaker's current location.

What is a Deictic Expression?

"Deictic expression" is another term for "deixis." This term refers to words or phrases that indicate a location, person, or time.

Distinguishing between Deictic and Non-Deictic Expressions

In language, certain words and phrases are considered non-deictic. This means that they are not affected by different perspectives and remain fixed as factual statements. For example, the statement "The Statue of Liberty is located in New York City" is a non-deictic expression.

But what exactly are deictic expressions, and how are they different from non-deictic expressions?

The Three Types of Deictic Expressions

Deictic expressions can be classified into three types: personal, spatial, and temporal.

  • Personal: These are words or phrases that refer to a specific person or group, such as "I," "you," or "they." These expressions are dependent on the speaker and their perspective.
  • Spatial: Spatial deictic expressions indicate a location or direction, such as "here," "there," "this," or "that." These expressions change depending on the speaker's location.
  • Temporal: Temporal deictic expressions refer to time, such as "now," "then," "today," or "tomorrow." These expressions rely on the current time and may vary based on the context of the conversation.

Now that we have a better understanding of the different types of deictic expressions, let's take a closer look at the difference between deixis and deictic.

Deixis versus Deictic

Deixis is a noun used to describe the use of words or phrases that indicate a specific location, person, or time.

The Difference Between Deictic and Non-Deictic Expressions

Deictic and non-deictic are two types of expressions that can greatly impact our understanding of language. While non-deictic expressions remain consistent and factual, deictic expressions change based on the context in which they are used. Let's take a closer look at the difference between these two types of expressions.

The term "deictic" refers to words or phrases that rely on the surrounding context for their meaning. In simpler terms, deictic expressions are ones that can change depending on who is speaking, where they are speaking, and when they are speaking.

On the other hand, non-deictic expressions are those that have fixed and universal meanings that do not change based on the context. These types of expressions are often objective and can be understood by anyone, regardless of their location or time.

An example of a non-deictic expression is the word "tree." No matter who is saying it or where they are, the word always refers to a large plant with a trunk, branches, and leaves. However, a deictic expression such as "here" would have a different meaning depending on the location it is said.

Understanding the difference between deictic and non-deictic expressions is crucial in language comprehension. Being able to recognize these types of expressions can help us better understand the intended meaning in different contexts and avoid confusion. So the next time you come across a deictic expression, pay close attention to the surrounding context to fully grasp its meaning.

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