Research Topic

Demonstratives, Deictic Pointing and the Conceptualization of Space

About this Research Topic

Demonstratives (i.e. spatial deictics such this/that and here/there in English) constitute a unique class of linguistic expressions that are foundational to communication, spatial orientation, discourse processing, and grammar. In contrast to most other closed-class items, demonstratives are ...

Demonstratives (i.e. spatial deictics such this/that and here/there in English) constitute a unique class of linguistic expressions that are foundational to communication, spatial orientation, discourse processing, and grammar. In contrast to most other closed-class items, demonstratives are universal and (historically) non-derived. They are closely related to gestural communication, notably to deictic pointing and are among the first and most frequent words in early child language closely coupled to children's early use of pointing gestures. They are also of central significance to the organization of discourse and provide a very frequent source for the diachronic development of a wide range of grammatical markers including definite articles, third-person pronouns, topic markers, copulas, and conjunctions.

Demonstratives have been studied extensively in linguistics and philosophy, but it is only recently that psychologists and cognitive scientists have begun to investigate demonstratives with experimental methods. Most of this research is concerned with the influence of semantic and pragmatic factors on speakers' choice between proximal and distal forms (e.g. this vs. that), but there is also some recent research on the development of demonstratives in L1 acquisition, on the various discourse functions of demonstratives, and on the role of joint attention in speakers' choice between demonstratives and other types of referring terms.

While this research has shed new light on the way demonstratives are used, learned and processed, there are many open questions and ongoing debates. This Research Topic will bring together research on demonstratives from different quarters of the language sciences. We are particularly interested in experimental research on the use and acquisition of demonstratives, but we also welcome corpus and modeling studies and theoretical and cross-linguistic contributions.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:
- the semantic/conceptual factors that influence speakers' choice between proximal and distal demonstratives (e.g. distance, possession, visibility, elevation, social distance),
- the relationship between the use of demonstratives and non-verbal means of deictic communication, notably pointing,
- aspects of social cognition that influence the use of demonstratives such as joint attention and common ground,
- the acquisition of demonstratives in typical and atypical populations,
- the alternation between demonstratives and other referring terms in discourse processing,
- demonstratives and spatial deixis in sign language,
- the neural correlates of demonstratives and deictic pointing,
- the use of demonstratives and deictic pointing in human-robot communication,
- short descriptions of demonstrative systems of lesser-known languages with unusual (semantic/pragmatic) properties,
- cross-linguistic aspects of the form, meaning, and use of demonstratives,
- the role of demonstratives in the (diachronic) evolution of grammar.


Keywords: Demonstratives, Spatial Deixis, Deictic Pointing, Joint Attention, Spatial Cognition, Frames of Reference, Discourse Processing, Language Acquisition, Language Universals, Grammaticalization, Grammar Evolution


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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16 February 2020 Manuscript

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Submission Deadlines

16 February 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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