What is Deixis? How Language Points to the World around Us

Welcome to this post titled, ‘What is Deixis? How Language Points to the World around Us’. Language is a powerful tool that allows us to communicate and convey meaning. However, the way we use language goes beyond the mere arrangement of words and grammar. Within the realm of pragmatics, there is a fascinating phenomenon known as Deixis.

What is Deixis?

Deixis involves the use of linguistic elements to point to specific entities, times, places, and aspects of discourse. In other words, it deals with how language users employ words and expressions to refer to entities and phenomena in their immediate context. In this blog post, titled, ‘What is Deixis? How Language Points to the World around Us’, we will embark on a comprehensive exploration of deixis, its various types, subcategories, and how it influences our everyday communication.

Explaining Deixis

Deixis is derived from the Greek word which means “pointing”. Deixis is a pragmatic concept that involves the use of language to refer to things in the world around us. The interpretation of deixis heavily relies on the context in which it occurs. These contexts include: the physical environment, the speaker, the addressee and the discourse itself. Through deixis, language users can effectively direct attention, establish references, and navigate the complexities of communication.

Types of Deixis

In our exploration of the concept of deixis, we will consider the following types:

  • Person Deixis
  • Spatial Deixis
  • Temporal Deixis
  • Discourse Deixis

Let us look more closely into each of these types of Deixis…

Person Deixis

One of the fundamental types of deixis is person deixis. It revolves around linguistic elements that indicate the role of participants in a discourse. There are some personal pronouns such as ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, etc. ‘We’ and ‘they’ serve as markers for different participants.

Consider the following examples:

  • I will go to the store.
  • You should take care of yourself.
  • He is an excellent pianist.
  • She will arrive later today.
  • We won the game!
  • They are waiting for us.

In each of the examples above, the personal pronouns refer to specific individuals with essential information about who is involved in the conversation. The examples capture the speaker, the addressee and other individuals.

Spatial Deixis

The word spatial relates to “occupying or happening in space”. Spatial deixis involves linguistic elements that indicate locations and spatial relationships. It helps us understand the speaker’s perspective in relation to objects or places. Spatial deixis includes words such as here, there, this, that, those and these.

Consider the following examples:

  • Come here.
  • I saw her over there.
  • This book is mine.
  • These vases are exotic.
  • That house is beautiful.
  • Those trees over there are tall.

In these examples above, the spatial deixis words help the speaker to show specific spatial positions or to refer to objects that are close or distant in relation to the speaker.

Temporal Deixis

Temporal deixis pertains to linguistic elements that locate events or situations in time. The word temporal has to do with time. Temporal deixis allows us to understand when an action or an event takes place. Temporal deixis includes words like now, then, today, yesterday and tomorrow are key temporal deixis markers.

Let’s examine some examples:

  • I am busy now.
  • We met yesterday.
  • She will leave tomorrow.
  • He arrived earlier today.

In the examples we cited above, the temporal deixis words provide us with the information about the time of the events we refer to in the examples; that is, it helps the listener or the reader to understand the timeframe of the events being referred to.

Discourse Deixis

Discourse deixis involves linguistic elements used to refer to specific aspects within a conversation or a written text. It helps establish connections between different parts of the discourse. Words and phrases such as this, that, here, above, below, as mentioned before and as you can see, etc. are good examples of discourse deixis.

Let us see some examples to illustrate what we are discussing:

  • As mentioned before, the main point is that we need some palliatives.
  • This idea contradicts what was said earlier.
  • Check the table below for more information.
  • As you can see, the point is clear.
  • Reading the lines above, you will understand deixis.

In these examples, the deixis words serve as signpost or signal words, directing the reader’s attention back or forward to specific parts of the discourse.

Subcategories of Deixis

In addition to types of deixis, let us also see the subcategories or subdivisions of deixis. These include social deixis, gestural deixis and abstract deixis. Let us examine each of these subcategories more closely with examples…

Social Deixis

Social deixis encompasses linguistic elements that express social relationships between the speaker and the addressee. It includes honorifics, titles, pronouns, and verb forms that convey social status, respect or politeness.

Examples include:

  • Doctor, could you please take a look at this?
  • Would you like some tea, sir?
  • Could you pass me that book, please?
  • Prof, could you explain this concept more clearly?
  • Ma’am, you are highly welcome.

In these instances, the choice of words and the linguistic forms reflect the social dynamics or social forces at work between the individuals involved in the conversation.

Gestural Deixis

You can easily understand this from the word ‘gesture’. Gestural deixis involves non-verbal cues and gestures that accompany or replace linguistic expressions to indicate entities or spatial relationships. Pointing with a finger, nodding, or eye gaze can be used to supplement or replace deixis words in certain contexts. Gestural deixis adds another layer of communication, enabling us to convey meaning through physical cues.

Abstract Deixis

Abstract deixis refers to the use of language to refer to abstract concepts or ideas. It involves the use of deixis words in metaphoric or metonymic senses, where the words represent something beyond their literal meanings.

Let us consider the following examples:

  • Love is a battlefield.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword.
  • The crown represents the monarchy.
  • His laurels in life show his greatness.
  • It is like reliving Auschwitz when he goes through crises.

In these examples, we have employed deixis words metaphorically or metonymically, allowing us to convey complex abstract concepts through familiar language.

Deixis: A Crucial Aspect of Language

It is important to note that Deixis is a crucial aspect of language that enables us to navigate the intricacies of communication. By employing various types of deixis, such as person deixis, spatial deixis, temporal deixis, and discourse deixis, we can effectively refer to entities, times, places, and aspects of discourse. Additionally, subcategories like social deixis, gestural deixis, and abstract deixis further enhance our ability to convey meaning, establish social dynamics or connections within a linguistic interaction and engage in nuanced communication.

Deixis: A Key to Effective Communication

Understanding deixis empowers us to decode the subtle signals embedded in language, enhancing our overall comprehension and fluency. By being mindful of deixis in our own speech and being attentive to deixis in the words of others, we can engage in more effective and contextually appropriate communication. So, the next time you find yourself pointing to something with words or gestures or using pronouns and temporal markers, remember that you are engaging in deixis – the art of linguistically pointing to the world around you.


Thank you for reading through this comprehensive exploration of deixis which I know you will share with your friends. I am sure this post tagged, ‘What is Deixis? How Language Points to the World around Us’ has shed light on this intriguing aspect of pragmatics, enabling you to appreciate the intricacies of language and its role in communication. Remember, deixis is a fascinating aspect of pragmatics that illuminates how language users skilfully point to the world around them through their words and expressions.

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  • Jaymz Boanerges

    I am a teacher of English. I have a passion is to impart the knowledge of the English language to the teeming populace in Nigeria and beyond, especially students at all levels of education, so that they can acquire both linguistic competence and linguistic performance in the language, gaining mastery of and comprehending the nitty-gritty of the language.

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