Sunday, March 22, 2009

Demonstratives: interpretation thereof

Until a few hours ago, I had assumed that the only difference in the interpretation of demonstrative systems had to do with whether systems employed two-way, or three-way, systems: two-way, like English here/there, this/that, etc vs. three-way like Japanese kore/sore/are etc (or non-standard varieties of English here/there/yon, this/that/thon). However, it turns out that there are interpretive differences between non-standard English and Japanese: whereas selection of this/that/thon is determined only with respect to the object relative to the speaker in NSE, the presence and position of the addressee is relevant as well. For example, in a situation where an unrecognized object is placed 1 metre from an addressee and 3 metres from the speaker, the Japanese speaker may ask:
Sore wa nan desu ka? "What is that?"
However, if the addressee were absent, the Japanese speaker might then ask herself:
Are wa nan desu ka? "What is that (distal)?"
No such contrast arises in NSE, or I suspect Spanish (este/eso/aquello): the more distal form is only used where the distance increases.
This raises the question: how do things work with này/đó/kia?

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