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The role of contextual factors in the use of demonstratives: Differences between Turkish and Dutch


Peeters,  David
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics;
International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Peeters, D., & Ozyurek, A. (2012). The role of contextual factors in the use of demonstratives: Differences between Turkish and Dutch. Talk presented at the 6th Lodz Symposium: New Developments in Linguistic Pragmatics. Lodz, Poland. 2012-05-26 - 2012-05-28.

An important feature of language is that it enables human beings to refer to entities, actions and events in the external world. In everyday interaction, one can refer to concrete entities in the extra-linguistic physical environment of a conversation by using demonstratives such as this and that. Traditionally, the choice of which demonstrative to use has been explained in terms of the distance of the referent [1]. In contrast, recent observational studies in different languages have suggested that factors such as joint attention also play an important role in demonstrative choice [2][3]. These claims have never been tested in a controlled setting and across different languages. There-fore, we tested demonstrative choice in a controlled elicitation task in two languages that previously have only been studied observational-ly: Turkish and Dutch. In our study, twenty-nine Turkish and twenty-four Dutch partic-ipants were presented with pictures including a speaker, an address-ee and an object (the referent). They were asked which demonstra-tive they would use in the depicted situations. Besides the distance of the referent, we manipulated the addressee’s focus of visual atten-tion, the presence of a pointing gesture, and the sentence type. A re-peated measures analysis of variance showed that, in addition to the distance of the referent, the focus of attention of the addressee on the referent and the type of sentence in which a demonstrative was used, influenced demonstrative choice in Turkish. In Dutch, only the dis-tance of the referent and the sentence type influenced demonstrative choice. Our cross-linguistic findings show that in different languages, people take into account both similar and different aspects of triadic situations to select a demonstrative. These findings reject descrip-tions of demonstrative systems that explain demonstrative choice in terms of one single variable, such as distance. The controlled study of referring acts in triadic situations is a valuable extension to observa-tional research, in that it gives us the possibility to look more specifi-cally into the interplay between language, attention, and other con-textual factors influencing how people refer to entities in the world References: [1] Levinson, S. C. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [2] Diessel, H. (2006). Demonstratives, joint attention and the emergence of grammar. Cognitive Linguistics 17:4. 463–89. [3] Küntay, A. C. & Özyürek, A. (2006). Learning to use demonstratives in conversation: what do language specific strategies in Turkish reveal? Journal of Child Language 33. 303–320.