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Konstanze Jungbluth (Tübingen)

Binary and ternary deictic systems in speech and writing. Evidence from the use of demonstratives in Spanish

It is surprising that the authors describing deixis (e.g. Fillmore 1971/1997, Rauh 1983, Himmelmann 1997) do not usually recognize the deep qualitative difference between the use of deixis made in direct oral discourse and the use made in written language. This paper emphasizes this difference, focusing on the variation belonging to different text traditions (genre conventions) and shows why three-dimensional deictic systems continue to be used especially in direct oral communication where speakers and hearers are personally involved developing conversation as a joint activity.1

1 Medium and conception differences between speaking and writing

Looking closer at the differences between spoken and written language in Spanish, we leave aside for the moment the big variety of diatopical and diastratical varieties which without any doubt are very important for the vast Spanish-speaking territory (see Oesterreicher 1995 for the architecture of language). When focusing on spoken and written language, the strict medium distinction is exclusive: each linguistic manifestation is either oral or written, there is no intermediate possible. However, if we think of the multi-faceted possibilities of talking and writing, there are a large number of different forms conceivable. The way they are composed and even their very practice are changing over time. Leaving these aspects aside for the moment, we look into this conceptional approach at oral and literate traditions (Söll 1974, Koch/Oesterreicher 1985, 1990), where there are intermediate positions in the way of graduates between the two extremes possible. In addition the participants actualizing the respective oral or literate discourse (Schlieben-Lange 1983) are free to decide whether they want to talk, to write or to listen, to read aloud or in silence etc. as part of their creative activity (Coseriu 1975:250-265). Of course social and above all institutional procedures restrict these decisions a great deal.

When we attempt to order the text traditions,2 including oral and literate forms we can characterize them as more or less formal, as belonging to a private or an official communicative situation, representing a monologue or a dialogue, typical of administrative, literary or every-day language. By using a conceptual approach we can summarize all these specific forms and a lot of other imaginable ones on a scale, which extends between the extremes of orality and literacy:3

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Please be conscious of the fact that spoken discourses are not always "oral". There are spoken text traditions belonging to the literal part of the continuum and vice versa. The genres on the literal part of the continuum are fairly well known, while some of the ones belonging to the oral part have not yet been studied at all.

While the above cited authors are focusing on the differences between orality and literacy at the universal level, I propose to re-interpret this continuum, collocating the linguistic manifestations , e.g. the texts and discourses along the same scale at the actual level. The underlying distinction between actual, historical and universal levels (Coseriu 1988a: 250-265, 1988b: 57-185) represent possible abstractions drawn from the real data, the only source to which we have direct access. This distinction situates the language as an activity actualizing generation by generation the traditional ways to talk and write at the historical level. Focusing on the contrasts between orality and literacy, the students of Coseriu felt it necessary to double this historical level by introducing a second abstraction representing the models which the speakers and hearers follow when creating a new text or discourse using the respective text tradition (Schlieben-Lange 1983, Koch 1997).


object of research





activity of speaking/talking (writing)

norms of speaking

rules of speaking and talking in general

elocutional knowledge


language, ex..German, English

language norms

language rules

idiomatic knowledge


text traditions
discourse models,

text norms

text rules (ex. referring to composition or adequacy)

expressive knowledge




(Coseriu 1977/31994, Schlieben-Lange 1990, 114-119, Oesterreicher 1997, diagram follows
Koch 1997:45, I added the column of knowledge, see also Coseriu 1988b:246-258)

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Continuing on the same lines with this framework, I re-interpret the continuum between orality (Mündlichkeit) and literacy (Schriftlichkeit) as a gradatum, recognizing the discrete steps separating the different text conventions, which the members of the respective text communities are ready to follow. Stehl (1988, 1996) insists on the gradual character of another linguistic scale, refusing continual transitions when looking at the different varieties between dialect and standard language in Italy. If we assume that the differentiations on the gradatum between orality and literacy are consistent with the practice of each group and serve to identify and distinguish each group, we have to emphasize the distinct character of each genre minimalizing at the same time their common ground. With regard to the literate part of the gradatum we are familiar with the genres. As for the oral part, we have to assume similar differentiations (Biber 1988, 1998, Diewald 1991, Schlieben-Lange 1983 with a historical perspective). There are a lot of names in everyday language denoting the respective genres, this fact supports our view (Antos 1996, Heinemann 2000). The text traditions are important in order to guide the reciprocal activity of speaking and understanding. Auer (1992) focusing on contextualization hierarchizes the respective activities in the following way:

(...) contextualization (...) comprises all activities by participants which make relevant, maintain, revise, cancel (...) any aspect of context which, in turn, is responsible for the interpretation of an utterance in its particular locus of occurrence. Such an aspect of context may be the larger activity participants are engaged in (the "speech genre"), the small-scale activity (or "speech act"), ... (Auer 1992:4, my emphasis).

We frame these instances of text traditions by verbal and non-verbal behaviour in order that the listener will know how to understand the speech:

(...) frames are constitutive of the interaction itself. In other words, framing is part of the chunking process by which we segment off what we see as belonging together and what must thus be looked at as submit within a broader whole. (Gumperz 1992:41)

Therefore the beginning and the end of the text traditions follow relatively fixed patterns. By this means the participants can orientate themselves and may even begin to negotiate about their roles in cases of interactive performed discourses.

The conceptual gradatum is realized as a highly differentiated sequence of text traditions between the extremes of orality and literacy.

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2 Text traditions and frequencies of Demonstratives

As in Latin there are three forms in Spanish which form the grammatical paradigm:






























The traditional interpretation of this paradigm, which is richer than the English paradigm of this and that, puts them in a line with the grammatical persons:









este, esta, esto

ese, esa, eso

aquel, aquella, aquello

(Alonso 1968:272)

This interpretation can be combined with the distance parameter:

For example, Spanish has a three-way distinction among demonstrative modifiers: este (near speaker), ese (near hearer) and aquel (away from both speaker and hearer) (Croft 1990:18–19.)

These two parameters, distance-oriented or person-oriented, are considered as being relevant for the use of three-term-systems in general.

Turning to languages with three deictic terms, one has to distinguish between systems in which the middle term refers to a location in medial distance relative to the deictic center, and systems in which the middle term denotes a referent close to the hearer. Anderson and Keenan (1985:282-286) refer to these two systems as distance-oriented and person-oriented systems, respectively (...). Spanish., for instance, has a distance-oriented system, consisting of the demonstratives este 'proximal', ese 'medial' and aquel 'distal' (Anderson and Keenan 1985:283-5), while Japanese has a person-oriented system, in which the middle terms (based on the deictic root so-) refer to a location near the hearer: sore 'that (near hearer)', soko 'there (near hearer)' etc. (Diessel 1999:39)

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It does not seem to me to be necessary to see the two parameters as being contradictory (see citation of Croft above). I admit that there are situations where the two perspectives do not coincide. It is the distance parameter which is more flexible and easier to be transferred to other 'spaces' (see below):

The present investigation (...) attempts to discuss the organization of the notional fields themselves. (...) Furthermore, it shows in some cases far-reaching resemblances in the psychological behaviour of different nations in applying similar expressions (e.g. demonstratives like this and that) in similar tranferred senses. (Collinson 1937/1966:14)

Another parameter generally taken into account is the visability or invisability of the objects referred to, but this does not seem to be important for European languages.

A complication is introduced in some American Indian languages by the use of a special form of inidater if the object indicated is absent from the field of perception. The European languages have no special indicater terms for that which lies beyond a barrier of vision (...) (Collinson 1937/1966:50)

It is not my intention to enter into this discussion. While these parameters are important, in my view speakers first of all follow the rules of the other historical level: certain text traditions prefer certain demonstratives in characteristic ways.

Let us therefore have a look at the way these demonstratives are used in various text traditions. Unlike in French, in Spanish the same demonstratives can be used either adjectivally or nominally. Studying the use of the demonstratives in order to find the rules the speakers follow, one has to realize that there are some kinds of uses we have to separate off. There is no free variation in the case of idiomatic patterns like por eso 'therefore', en este punto 'on this point', eso es 'that is to say' etc. Furthermore aquel is obligatory always when the function of the demonstrative is to announce a following restrictive relative clause. To announce a following statement or at least to communicate that you are about to go on, one usually uses the term este (cataphoric function). These observations can be understood as a sign for grammaticalization processes of the respective demonstratives forming a fixed part in a grammatical structure (Lehmann 1985). Demonstratives in general are very likely to be involved in these processes (Diessel 1999: 115-155).

A point which is more difficult to treat is the fact that some texts are to be considered as a conglomerate of various kind of text traditions. For example fiction is mainly to be characterized as narrative, but it includes direct speech, which obviously follows other rules than the surrounding narrative text. Thus these parts have to be kept separate. This careful, minutious examination makes it difficult to analyze big corpora automatically. The following observations are therefore not based on exact statistical analyses of large scale samples. This aspect is still left for further investigations. Examining various texts according to the above mentioned gradatum we get the following distribution:

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A comparative look at the corpus of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid representing the oral use of contemporary Spanish and at the frequency dictionary of Spanish words represetning the written use also shows this tendency.

Corpus Oral de Referencia del español Contemporáneo (UAM):4







FDSW fiction







FDSW essays







FDSW periodicals







Juilland, A./Chang-Rodríguez, E., Frecuency Dictionary of Spanish Words (1964)
lemmas: este on 21st place, ese on 42nd place and aquel on 64th place.

It is obvious that the frequency of the demonstratives is a lot higher in the oral use than in any of the literal uses.

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For example there exists an interdependency between the tenses of the verb and the demonstratives. One of the reasons is that some tenses of the past include the shifting of the origo,5 which is of special importance to all deictic elements. The typical tenses for narration in Spanish are the imperfecto (cantaba) and the pretérito (canté). They are used depending on aspectual difference. When transforming a phrase from the present to the past, the demonstratives have to be changed accordingly. This is the reason why aquel and ese are predominant on the right side. Este in narrative texts is either part of direct speech or is used in a text deictic function. In the later case it connects whole parts of texts, while even this function is mostly covered by ese.

Because of this important connexion between the tense of the verb and the demonstratives the isolation and/or definition of the respective text traditions has to be made with caution. It will be important to characterize certain obligatory parts more in detail which build up the text tradition under observation in order to find the rules behind the frequency distribution documented in the data.

Looking at the other extreme of the gradatum we observe, that people sharing situational perception and general knowledge have to interweave their utterances with the practical non-linguistic situation (see "praktischer Außer-Rede-Kontext" Coseriu 1955,1975: 282-284; "sympraktisches Umfeld" Bühler 1934:154-168). The natural context offers the speaker a lot more possibilities to encode his message interacting with the other participants as a human individual using a wide range of his physical, cognitive and emotional capacities, a point often ignored by linguists who assume deixis in natural situations and text deixis as similar. The involvement of the speaker and hearer (Biber 1988, 1998, Tannen 1989, Cheshire 1997) is essential and therefore has to be taken in account. Demonstratives are highly sensitive to this interactive dimension as we shall see below. These circumstances mean that

the use of deictics in the oral part of the gradatum is different to that in the literate part.

3 Face-to-face communication supports the persistence of a ternary deictic system

There seems to be a certain relationship between literacy and the structure of the deictic system.

Unwritten languages of small populations that are always spoken in face-to-face situations tend to have better developed deixis systems than languages with long established writing traditions (Keenan 1976:92, see also Weissenborn/Klein 1982:4)

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Focusing on deixis it may therefore be possible that some text traditions, presumably the oral ones, perform a multi-dimensional system while others, typically the written ones, select only two forms which are enough to fulfill the purposes of anaphoric use. Although there may be some forms used only in written discourse our findings and the findings of Melchers (1997) converge that oral data in natural context are very likely to exhibit all the different kind of demonstratives, not only the unmarked ones.

There are some precautions that must be heeded in establishing the textual-frequency criterion. (...) Generally, one attempts to use the "unmarked" text style, that is, conversation or oral narrative,6 rather than written genres. One reason for doing this is that studies (...) have indicated that the textual frequencies for certain "marked" categories increase in formal and written styles, and hence, they are not such reliable indicators of correlations between text frequency and other markedness criteria. (Actually, what this really indicates is that there is a correlation between informal, oral style and some, if not all, unmarked categories.) (Croft 1990:87)

Our claim includes that markedness has to be defined separately for each text tradition, because there are important reservations to an overall application. How are the text styles in Croft's terminology to be weighted (Croft 1990: 84-89)? Accordingly to their performance in certain societies? What will be the group of reference? Modern societies are highly differentiated and text traditions are continually developing, as are the social groups who at least partially define themselves by their use. Has a "good text-sample" (Croft 1990:87) even if it is "large and representative" (Croft 1990:87) not to be regarded as a mixture of different language practices thus creating a chaos for the linguist never to be untangled representing at the same time a situation which the users never are confronted with? The understanding of the utterances is guided by their embeddedness in the respective genres and there are different possibilities how to contextualize the communicative action in order that this reciprocal process will be felicitous.

(...) any living language has a range of rhetorical styles and generic modes of speaking, which means that categories that may be "obligatory" from a grammatical perspective may be relatively easy to circumvent in practice. Inversely, categories that are grammaticaly "optional" may be nearly obligatory due to routine ways of speaking. (Hanks 1996:238)

This assumption is strengthened by the data found in Spanish. Even languages with established writing traditions that at the level of their system have a tripartite inventory of demonstratives, for example Spanish or Portuguese, make in most of their writing very little use of them (Lavric 1997, de Kock 1988). The overwhelming dominance of the written texts seems to decrease or even obscure the original distinctions, because to the purposes of text deixis the actualization of two forms or even of only one form is sufficient.7

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If we start from the assumption that the deictic procedures are achieved and developed in natural contexts (three-dimensional space) than there are several possible transfers into other spaces and within the Spanish system allows them all. By tranferring the system of the three terms to the space of time we combine the present with este, the past with ese and the long ago with aquel. When talking about the future which is always a precarious concept the speakers tend to expand their origo into the future, but the other terms are possible as well, if the speaker wants to emphasize the respective space of time as being separate of the present.8

By transferring the terms to the space of the text, a reduction to a two-dimensional space is included. The text deictic functions are different from the functions in face-to-face-conversation. Above all there is a lot of work to be done in order to make the text cohesive. Ese is used to refer anaphorically to the previous phrase, it is often used with prepositions and there may be a noun after it. Este connects the parts of the text as a whole in the two directions: backwords, e.g. anaphorically and forewords, e.g. cataphorically. Este shows a bigger scope, it prefers the first place in the phrase.

When referring to two concepts mentioned before, the linearity of the text is reinterpreted in time. Aquel refers to the noun first mentioned, farer away from the origo which is the point in the text where the reader "is right now", while este refers to the term last mentioned, which is nearer to the point, he/she is at that moment. This use may be called iconic.

There are few cases where este is used inside of the phrase, normally in places where a personal pronoun can also be used. While both refer to a previous noun este implies an obligatory contrast: there has to be a second noun inside of the same phrase, in order that este can refer, as above, to the last mentioned noun, the noun nearer to its occurrence, thus avoiding ambiguity.

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Maria9 ganó porque ella/*esta había jugado mejor.
Maria won because she had played better. (Eguren 1999: 944)

Most if not all of these functions are only relevant in the space of the text. There may be some monologous text traditions which are performed orally where these uses also occur as well, but ordinary conversations with their dialogical composition do not use these functions. The only function which is quite common in oral discourse is the anaphoric use of ese, which not only serves to connect the actual turn to concepts mentioned by the hearer but also to refer to concepts articulated by the speaker himself/herself. This function is predominant for ese in conversation, where este and aquel perform the function of situating (see below).

It is in face-to-face communication where the frequency of demonstratives increases and this is the place where all the different demonstratives are used (for the Czech: Berger 1993, for some Scottish and North-English dialects Melchers 1997, for English Krenn 1985, Lenz 1997, Cheshire 1997, for Spanish Hottenroth 1982, de Kock 1988, Lavric forthcoming, Jungbluth forthcoming, for the Brazil-Portuguese Câmara Jr. 1971, Castilho 1993, Jungbluth 1998, Jungbluth forthcoming). The importance of the speaker's responsability for his/her utterances and the necessity of communicating at each moment the attitude towards the mentioned facts, situations, people etc. obviously force the use of a highly differentiated system, when it is available.

Among salient differences between speech and writing as subtly analyzed in Biber (1988), demonstratives are highlighted and typically associated with informal, unplanned types of discourse, such as conversational interaction. A powerful element in such interaction is the concept of "involvement", "an internal, even emotional connection individuals feel which binds them to other people as well as to places, things, activities, ideas, memories and words". (Tannen 1989, see Melchers 1997:90-91)

In this kind of speech event the most important factor is the subjective relation between the speaker and hearer and the objects. The distance parameter is re-interpreted in terms of emotion. Este – nearness – is used to show affection and inclination, ese – distance – connotates often peyorative or contemptouos affects, aquel does not gain any further implications in this sub-space, which we might call social space.

It is not important to separate the different meanings, it is the very function of the demonstratives to allow the convergance of the different referring processes, thus facilitating the task of the speaker. In oral discourse there is still the possibility of narrowing the meaning by intonation, pauses, gestures and other co-performed systems should the speaker want to avoid ambiguity. As referring is a collaborative activity,10 the speaker can further determine if the hearer/s let him/her know that they need more indications in order to understand. All the participants intend to minimize effort, the speaker as well as the hearer:

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(...) like the speaker, the listener wants to minimize collaborative effort - to avoid extra steps in the acceptance process - and that, too, puts pressure on her to accept. (Clark/Wilkes-Gibbs 1986: 34).

The demonstratives work very well in this way because they can assume different kinds of references. The principle "one form - one function" is not important in this domain, where the reciprocal efforts of talking and listening dominate. With respect to the multifunctional uses of English never and that, not by chance a demonstrative, too, Jenny Cheshire observes:

(...) standardization involves codification, and codification favours the principle of one form, one function. Grammarians codifying English have disregarded the function of creating interpersonal involvement, which is characteristic of informal face-to-face communication rather than of explicit prose, and have tried instead to identify a single meaning for both never (time reference to a continous period) and that (demonstrating or referring). This has interrupted the evolution of never as an all-purpose negator, and has outlawed that in contexts where it can create interpersonal involvement by referring to attitudes, beliefs or shared knowledge.

(...) the more involved uses of both never and that require hearers11 to draw conversational inferences in order to interpret the utterances in which they occur. This cognitive work may make the forms salient when they occur in these contexts, and thus susceptible of becoming a marker of social groups with which self-consciously 'educated' speakers do not wish to be identified. The result is that 'polite' society no longer uses a form in the contexts that are particulary associated with the demands of face-to-face communication, while the rest of society continues to use the form in its full range of contexts. (Cheshire 1997: 79-80)

The importance of the shared knowledge will be addressed in the next paragraph. Studying Northern English and Scottish dialects Gunnel Melchers (1997) concludes that the arcaic English yon is still used, especially in face-to-face communication by offering the speaker the possibility to utter euphemistic, depreciatory or contemptouos connotation (Melchers 1997:85). At the same time "yon is much more of a 'loaded' word, an indexical or marker of identity. It is used as a covert prestige form and quickly acquired by incomers who want to identify with Shetlanders (...)" (Melchers 1997: 89). These findings of another three-term-system (this - that - yon) support the idea that

Face-to-face communication supports the persistence of a ternary deictic system.

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4. Shared knowledge, presumed attitudes, subjective relation

Topics are important in face-to-face interaction, the development of shared estimation about the people, things, activities, ideas etc. talked about seems to be just as important. This negotiation between the interlocutors is a socially often difficult activity, because it aims to establish a common view while tending to neglect the individual perspectives of the persons involved. These activities are essential for all kind of social groups developing and guaranteeing their social identity. People define themselves as belonging to certain groups, a fact which comes along with sharing the habitus of the respective figuration (Elias 1939/1976, Bourdieu 1972/1976). Performing the risky task of establishing or perhaps even changing the commonly shared perspective the speaker has to manage to incorporate the different views in his speech.

In informal conversation it is often more important to communicate a common understanding and a shared perspective on the topic of conversation than to communicate precise information about the topic. (Cheshire 1997:79)

A very important factor the speaker has to deal with is the presumed attitude of the hearer: Focusing on the puzzling use of English that Jenny Cheshire12 observes this function for the English demonstrative as well:

It is worth stressing that (...) that appears to refer to an assumed view that the speaker believes the addressee to have, but it is a view that the speaker does not explicitly state. (Cheshire 1997:78)

The speaker leaves the possibility to the hearer/s to communicate that they need further explanations. But first he/she assumes that there is enough understanding to continue.

In our proposal the participants aren't trying to assure perfect understanding of each utterance but only understanding "to a criterion sufficient for current purposes." (Clark/Wilkes-Gibbs 1986: 34)

Referrences to shared knowledge are particulary precarious, because the speaker can seldom be sure about a common ground. It is the reaction of the hearer, which shows him/her, if the assumptions are ratified or not.

Durch die Divergenz zwischen Kontextverweiskraft und tatsächlichem sprachlichem Kontext erhält die demonstrative Artikelform ihre indexikalitätsmarkierende Kraft. Indem er ein dies- verwendet, spielt der Sprecher auf ein möglicherweise vorhandenes, aber nicht tatsächlich erwähntes gemeinsames Vorwissen an und gibt ihm dadurch kontextuelle Relevanz: d.h. er produziert immer dann, wenn die problematisierte Referenzierung durch die Bestätigung des Rezipienten als gelungen ausgewiesen worden ist, gesichertes gemeinsames Wissen, einen Teil des 'universe of discourse', d.h. Kontext. (Auer 1981:309)

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Auer observes that the use of the demonstrative instead of the definite article offers the possibility to actualize shared knowledge. This strategy is quite economical compared to an explicit description, which may be redundant. Furthermore it helps not loosing the turn as would have been the case by asking directly. When the hearer ratifies the strategy common ground, e.g. shared context will be created strengthening the reciprocal involvement of the participants. At the same time this procedure excludes listeners who are not welcome by creating an intimate space typical for discourses belonging to the oral extreme of the scale between orality and literacy.

The speaker has to encode the message accordingly in order to steer the inferences, the hearer is assumed to make. Languages offer different means to manage this problem. Face-to-face communication shows a certain preference for compositional signs, where the linguistic message is further determined by intonation (Caspers 1999) or by gestural signs (Engle 1998, Wilkins 1999, Wilkins forthcoming, Jungbluth forthcoming).The following examples of my own corpus show some possible combinations. It may be that further research will show that these means are inherent in a lot of languages, but surely they are conventionalised to quite different degrees according to prevailing cultural practices.


(w, 3040)

"Quieres de este o
(2 sec.) de este?"

Do you want of this or of that?

In this case the mother was accompanying her utterances with gestures of indication thus facilitating understanding.



Vendedora EcoFiesta:
(w, 2030)

"Este es jamón, ese dolcena."
This is gammon, that is ham.

She indicates with a fork the respective types of ham.


Languages with multi-termed deictic systems offer their users a rich linguistic instrument to encode their proposals about common knowledge, shared attitudes or presumed attitudes of the interlocutor(s) etc. Speakers of some Northern English and Scottish dialects still use yon in addition to this and that, because this rich linguistic instrument serves their needs of expression (Melchers 1997). So do Spanish speakers. Using este they refer to something belonging to themselves or touched by them or simply related to them in a subjective view. Ese can either denote that the thing talked about belongs to the hearer or that the speaker refuses any possible relation, often with pejorative connotation. Aquel is quite rare, often used in combination with time gone: aquel ayer 'that past', en aquella época 'in that time'. The choice may be constrained since the hearer expects a certain term according to text conventions. When the speaker utters an unexpected form, that is a marked form, the hearer feels himself forced to look for probable inferences in order to understand the message in the way intended by the speaker.

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Given this even very unusual occurences can be decoded:

Baroja: "Pero ¿y el Vesubio? – pregunté yo de pronto, - ¿dónde está?-
"But the Vesuvius" did I ask suddenly, "where is it?"
Alguno de estos montes cubiertos por las nubes debe ser"
"It has to be one of these/those mountains behind the clouds."

Azorín: "Esos montes son los montes de Villarrubia."
These/Those mountains are the mountains of Villarrubia.

Galdós: "Todo eso que ves, Patricia, es lo que llamamos el universo."
All that what you see, Patricia, do we call the universe.

(...) Aceptemos la preeminencia de los ejes deícticos persona y tiempo sobre el espacio. Entonces, resulta obvio que, en el ejemplo de Baroja, quien habla llama estos a montes invisibles porque enuncia cierta opinión y supone que la comparten o deben compartir los demás. Es como si dijese: "nosotros creemos que uno de estos montes debe ser el Vesubio".(...) En cambio, en los ejemplos de Azorín y de Galdós, el yo dice al tú algo que éste no sabe. (Huerta 1967:229)13

When we accept that there is a major weight of the personal and temporal dimensions over the spatial one, then it seems obvious that in the example of Baroja the person calling estos the mountains which are invisible utters a certain opinion and assumes that the others agree or forces them to agree with him. This is as if he would have said: "we think that one of these mountains has to be the Vesuvius", on the other hand, looking at the examples of Azorín and Galdós the I says something to the you which the latter does not know.

The interpretation of este instead of expected aquel forces the hearer(s) to infer what the speaker assumes. He thinks that the uttered opinion is shared by his/her audience. The phrase can therefore be reformulated in the following manner: we all think that one of these mountains has to be Vesuvius.

In Spanish the deictic force may be even increased by putting the demonstrative after the noun thus separating the identification process from the deictical process (see Lavric 1995) by leaving the former for the definite article which precedes the noun.

El valor deíctico de los demonstrativos queda, pues, reforzado debido a la independiente realización fonética de los dos rasgos semánticos básicos que definen a los demostrativos. Este hecho tiene dos consecuencias importantes. En primer lugar, nos encontramos ante una construcción muy expresiva, propia de la lengua hablada coloquial, una construcción que resulta particularmente apropiada para expresar las connotaciones semánticas relacionadas con los tres grados de distancia relativa que los demostrativos establecen con respecto al centro deíctico. Quedan así resaltados matices semánticos como, por ejemplo, los que se derivan del uso de este en lugar de ese o aquel para indicar una mayor implicación en la situación por parte del hablante, (35a), o del empleo de ese en lugar de este con matiz despectivo, (35b), o de la utilización de aquel para evocar lejanía en el tiempo (35c) (...):

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(35) a. ¿Quien es el escritor este del que me hablabas ayer?
Who is the writer you talked to me about yesterday?
b. No me vuelvas a contar la película esa de marras.
Please don't drag that film up again.
c. Siempre recordaré los montes aquellos de mi infancia.
I shall always remember those mountains of my childhood. (Eguren 1999:951).

The deictic value of the demonstratives remains, therefore strengthened due to the independent realization of the two basic semantic features which define the demonstratives. This fact has two important consequences. First we have a very expressive construction, typical of colloquial oral style. This construction is especially appropriate to express the semantical connotations belonging to the three degrees of relative distance which the demonstratives establish around the deictic centre. In this way semantical values are emphasized, for example, those which derive of the use of este instead of ese or aquel in order to indicate a major implicacion in the situation on the part of the speaker (35a) or the use of ese instead of este with a contemptuous connotation (35b) or the use of aquel in order to evoke a distant past (35c).

It is important to note that the possibilities offered by the Spanish syntax to place the demonstrative after the noun strengthens the expressive force of the demonstratives, but the tranfers to the social space and the space of time is an overall possibility inherent of the system whatever the position of the demonstrative may be.

Ternary systems offer their users an important means to encode their proposals about common knowledge, shared attitudes or presumed attitudes of the interlocutor(s).

5. Continuity of the ternary system in Spanish

We have seen that the forms este, ese and aquel are distributed unequally in the different text traditions. This relation can even work as a signal for certain genres. In contrast to the occurrences in literal texts, where there is no co-presence of the three forms found (de Kock 1988, Lavric 1998) oral discourses taped in the province of Toledo in the heart of Castilia give evidence about the use of all three forms.

Esta contribución sobre los demostrativos prenominales españoles se propone ante todo destruir un mito: el mito, bien establecido y muy repetido en la hispanística, que pone en relación los tres demostrativos españoles con las tres personas gramaticales.(...) (Lavric 1998:405)

Salvo en algunos ejemplos en los que aquel se opone a este, este, ese y aquel no aparecen de costumbre agrupados, relacionados o confrontados en ninguna unidad sintáctica o semántica, sino que surgen dispersos, es decir, independientes unos de otros. (de Kock 1988:423.) (...)

PhiN 15/2001: 16

¡Qué maravilloso destructor de mitos! (Lavric 1998:406)

This paper about the Spanish prenominal demonstratives has the aim to destroy a myth. A myth, well established and often repeated in hispanistics which parallels the three demonstratives with the three gramatical persons.

Only in some examples where aquel contrasts with este, is it not usual that the three forms este, ese and aquel occur in the same group, or relation whatever or contrast within a sintactical or semantical part of speech. On the contrary they are dispersed, that is to say independent of one another.

What a marvellous destroyer of myths!

del Alfarero:

(w, 6070)

Hay muchas cosas. Eso son besugueras. Las guardamos para que no se cojen polvo, ni se manchen. Tenemos esto (4 sec.) y eso (5 sec.) y aquello (4 sec), porque nos da lástima que se pierdan que se rompan.

There are a lot of things. These are fish pans. We keep them in order that they do not get dusty or dirty. We have these and those and those over there, because we would regret loosing or breaking them.

Accompanying the talk the potter woman supports the respective reference by gesture thus taking some of the load off the hearer.








(m, 2030)

Esto es una refresadora. Eso es una cierra. Aquello es una escuadradora.

This is a truing. That is a saw. That over there is a cutter.

The understanding of the hearers is supported by eye-gestures and - common ground presupposed - by the semantic value of the nouns.





The two examples show that at least in Castilia there can native speakers be observed using all three demonstratives. But this is not very frequent. Of course este is to be expected quite frequently in oral discourses, especially in those where orality in medium and conception meet. Aquel on the other extreme is by far the rarest form. If it is used at all in oral discourse it refers to the space behind the speaker or behind the addressee, thus excluding this space from the shared space of conversation (see Jungbluth forthcoming). This observation can be seen as strengthening the interpretation made by Benveniste who distinguishes between the space of the first and the second person in contrast to the one of the third person, called Non-Personne (Benveniste 1966: 226ff).

PhiN 15/2001: 17

(m, 3040)

¡Dame de las manzanas, (5 sec.) aquellas!

Give me some of the apples (5 sec.), those there!

The customer is looking at the apples, which are situated behind the back of the market woman.



de la fábrica
El Cristo del Rey

(m, 4050)

Lo hacemos en aquel recipiente.

We make it in that receptacle.

A gesture with the head accompanies the words of the manufacturer. The receptacle is situated behind him, but the people visiting the place are looking at it.





In most of the face-to-face-communications in Spanish the use of the demonstratives is limitated to este and ese. There are only a few data which show the use of aquel. Most of them exemplify the use in the space of time denoting a distant past. The examples cited above are therefore especially valuable. While in the first example the apples are behind the addressee, the receptacle holding the milk in the second example is behind the speaker. This last case is difficult to find, because there are only very special circumstances which force the speaker to talk about things he cannot see. He/She only can talk about them in cases where their existence is well-known to him/her and normally the audience has visual access to them. But the examples remain quite isolated and the findings need to be prooved further.

There is little probability that the ternary system of demonstratives in Spanish will be reduced to a binary one. First the focus on the distribution along the gradatum between orality and literacy shows that the oral text traditions or genres make different choice - most frequently este, quite frequent ese, which serves for cohesion above all, very rarely aquel - than the literate ones - all demonstratives are relatively rare: some este doing cohesive work, some ese used often anaphorically with reference to a shortly before mentioned noun or concept, less aquel. The demonstratives in general are a lot more frequent in oral text traditions, especially when they are performed in face-to-face interaction. Secondly there are certain combinations where the respective demonstrative is obligatory or quasi obligatory.14 Announcing a restrictive relative clause aquel is in modern Spanish15 obligatory, in cataforic function este is very likely to be used. There are a lot of idioms, most of them build with ese. But in order to contrast in text deictic function between the former and the latter este and aquel form a fixed pair only used in written text traditions.

PhiN 15/2001: 18

It may be that the obsession to look for binary oppositions or to think that at the end every contrast has to be limited to a bipolar static model is misleading. A ternary model, which by nature is a dynamic one, represents more adequately the observations. There is no reason to believe that the vast, multicultural, multinational Spanish speaking territory will end up choosing two and the same forms out of the three. People talking and writing use the various forms in different ways, thus continuing with their habitus (Merleau-Ponty 1945, Bourdieu 1972/1976), but at the same time changing it slightly in order to differentiate themselves from the older or otherwise specified social groups.

Not only do speakers actualize frames in the course of understanding talk, they reinforce, potentially change, and produce them as well (Hanks 1996:239).16

While speaking and writing are by their nature creative activities, not only frames but also smaller details of linguistic practices embedded in broader forms of interaction are changed over time. In the case of the demonstratives where neither of the forms is stigmatized they are likely to be changed unconsciously. More studies with a broader sample taken from different places in Spain and in other Spanish speaking countries will throw further light on this interesting question, provided the text traditions which guide the understanding are respected.


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1 I would like to thank Sam Featherston and David Duffy for discussing this paper with me and having a look at the English version of the text and I also thank Michael Betsch for the technical support. I had the opportunity to present the paper at the ESSLLI-workshop about deixis in summer 1999 at Utrecht, where I received valuable comments. I am grateful to the reviewers at the PhiN, who suggested further improvements. Of course all the remaining faults are of my own responsability.

2 I prefer the term text tradition including oral and literate forms, though people of other scientific schools may prefer speech genre, discourse tradition, text type, genre in general etc. The important thing is that we are talking about certain habitual linguistic practices which are socially transmitted from one generation to the next and learned either by imitation and/or by instruction. Their very form and the different kind of recognized and practiced text traditions are themselves characterizing the observed figuration (Elias 1939/1976, Bourdieu 1972/1976).

3 As a text tradition face-to-face-conversation may be refined even further, because it covers over different kind of conversations: gossip, narrations, instructions etc. However for the purposes of this paper the chosen term is sufficient.

4 These data are based on 500 000 words (half part of the whole corpus available), which were downloaded in September 1999 (see Marcos-Marín, F.A. et al, not dated). The numbers are split into 100 000 words in order to adhere to the numbers of the FDSW.

5 I would like to thank Hiltrud Lautenbach and Paul Gévaudan for this observation.

6 These two types of text (text traditions in our terminology) are not at all the same. In Spanish the use of demonstratives is significantly different between participants discussing a joint activity and narration.

7 Not only the selection of the forms varies from text tradition to text tradition (see above), but sometimes there is even a certain choice left to perform the discourse in an individual way: "In den wirklichen Kernbereich der Textphorik gelangen wir mit der 'echten' Anapher ('anaphore fidèle'). (...) In der Regel wird (das dreigliedrige Paradigma) durch ein idiosynkratisch ausgewähltes zwei- oder sogar eingliedriges Paradigma ersetzt." (Lavric 1997:525). "My own work on Yucatec Maya deixis indicates that there are indeed a number of parameters on which the entire system is regular, but there are others on which different (subsets of) categories appear idiosyncratic." (Hanks 1996:242-243).

PhiN 15/2001: 24

8 Examples see Bruyn 1993:175. He lists an occurrence which shows that aquel can even be used for a far future, but this use is not always licensed by native speakers. It may be that some variants do accept while others not. There is further investigation necessary on this point. The data are very rare, because there are only very few situations where one is forced to talk about a future far away.

9 I changed the names in order that the reader can interfer always the same situation.

10 Clark, Herbert H. / Wilkes-Gibbs, Deanna (1986) Refering as a collaborative process, in: Cognition, 22, 1-39.

11 Original 'speakers' but they do not draw inferences. I corrected therefore in 'hearers'.

12 The title of one of her papers is expressive: That jacksprat! Cheshire 1996.

13 In terms of Clark the use of este instead of aquel would have to be considered as unmarked. In this case no further explication should be necessary. This qualification is unsatisfying, because it does not explain why linguists are looking for the kind of interpretations offered by Huerta.

14 I think these observations have to be considered as different points in a process of grammaticalization.

15 In Old Spanish this function was done by the article.

16 See Coseriu 1975, 1988:252-258), who emphasizes that speaking has to be considered as a creative activity (energeia).