People engage in verbally mediated interactions under specific social conditions that both constrain and enable their abilities to relate to one another and to the world. These conditions are commonly treated in the literature under the rubric of context, a term that covers phenomena as varied as the immediate interpersonal setting, face-to-face interaction, the spatial, ideological, speech communities and discursive formations.
Deixis occupies a central place in the study of context because, as William Hanks puts it, “it is the single most obvious way in which the speech setting is embedded in language structure itself” (6). There are various definitions of the term deixis. For George Yule (99) deictic expressions generally are “bits of language which we can only understand in terms of speaker’s intended meaning”. Yule’s contention above is that the reference of such expressions cannot be determined without knowing the extra-linguistic context of the utterance (who uttered them, where? and when?). In a similar curve, Renkema sees deictic words as “words with a reference point that is speaker or writer-dependent and is determined by the speaker or writer’s position in space and time” (45).
Deictic expressions occur in all human languages and have a number of interesting features that set them apart from other communicative resources, verbal and nonverbal alike. For the purpose of this research, we are more concerned with the immediate linkage of deixis to elementary social relations of speaker, addressee, and the phenomenal context of utterance. To a large extent, these relations undergird our sense of co presence, of the givenness of objects, and of the immediacy of the spatial-temporal world in which speech takes place. In line with our contention above, Hanks asserts that “If language is basic to human sociality, deixis is basic to language in its capacity to constitute both subjects and objects” (16).