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DEIXIS

IN
BANGLA
SABARNI DUTTA

1.0 Introduction
Deixis is reference by means of an expression whose interpretation requires

information about the context of utterance or speech event. The term deixis is borrowed

from the Greek word for pointing or indicating, and has as prototypical or focal exemplars
the use of demonstratives, first and second person pronouns, tense, specific time and
place adverbs and a variety of other grammatical features.

A deictic word or an indexical is a word which takes some element of its meaning

from the situation(i.e., the speaker, the addressee, the time and the place) of the utterance
in which it is used.

The traditional categories of deixis are person, place and time, which have been

complemented by Fillmore (1975) with discourse and social deixis.

Person deixis concerns the encoding of the role of participants in the speech event

in which the utterance in question is delivered: first person is the grammaticalisation of the
speakers reference to himself, second person is the encoding of the speakers reference to
one or more addressees, and third person is the encoding of reference to persons and

entities which are neither speakers nor addressees of the utterance in question.

Time deixis concerns the encoding of temporal points and spans relative to the

time at which the utterance was delivered. This time is called the coding time or CT, which

may be distinct from the time of its reception or receiving time (RT). In the canonical

situation of utterance, i.e., in a face-to-face interaction, the RT is identical to CT.

Place deixis concerns the encoding of spatial locations relative to the location of the
participants in the speech event at the coding time.
Discourse (or text) deixis concerns the encoding of reference to portions of the

unfolding discourse in which the utterance is located.

Social deixis concerns the encoding of social distinctions that are relative to

participant-roles, particularly aspects of the social relationship holding between the


speaker and addressee(s) or speaker and some referent.

Deictic expressions can be thought to be anchored to specific points in the


communicative event. Deictic expressions are typically egocentric, in which case the
unmarked anchorage points are assumed to be as follows:
i)

the central person is the speaker

ii) the central time is the time at which the speaker produces the utterance

iii) the central place is the speakers location at CT

iv) the discourse centre is that point which the speaker is currently at in the production
of his utterance

v) the social centre is the speakers social status and rank, to which the status or rank
of addressees or referents is relative.

This set of points is called the deictic centre. As speakers take turns in a

conversation, the deictic centre is moved from participant to participant. Sometimes,


deictic expressions are used in ways that shift this deictic centre to other participants. This
is termed deictic projection by Lyons (1977).

The aim of this paper is to examine the phenomena of person, time and place

deixis in Bangla. Bangla is a major Indo-European language of the Indian subcontinent

which, together with Oriya, Assamese, Maithili, Magahi and Bhojpuri, constitutes the

eastern group of languages within the Magadhan subfamily. It is spoken in the state of
West Bengal in eastern India and the adjoining republic of Bangladesh. Bangla has

diglossia. But the high, literary variety of the language known as Sadhu Bhasa is now on

the verge of being almost completely replaced by the low, colloquial variety known as

Colit Bhasa, even in formal and literary contexts.

The variety of Bangla I have chosen to describe is the low one, which is also called

Standard Colloquial Bangla. This is the variety that is spoken in South-eastern West Bengal,
including Kolkata.

2.0 Examples of Deictic Expressions in Bangla


2.1 Person Deixis
Person deixis in Bangla is expressed in its pronominal system, verb morphology

and kinship terms.

2.1.1 Pronominal System


Bangla pronouns are inflected for person(first, second, third), number(singular,

plural) and case(nominative, accusative/dative, genitive). They establish points on a

formality scale the second- and third-person pronouns have distinct forms for different
degrees of formality.

First-person pronouns encode reference to the speaker(s).

Table 1. First-person pronouns

Number

Case

Singular

Plural

Nom

ami

amra

Acc/Dat

amake/amae

amader

Gen

amar

amader

Second-person pronouns encode reference to the addressee(s). Three degrees of

formality are maintained in the second person intimate(Int), neutral(Neut), formal(For).


Table 2. Second-person pronouns

Case
Nom

Acc/Dat

Gen

Number

Formality

Singular

Plural

Int

tui

tora

Neut

tumi

tomra

For

apni

apnara

Int

toke

toder

Neut

tomake

tomader

For

apnake

apnader

Int

tor

toder

Neut

tomar

tomader

For

apnar

apnader

Third-person pronouns encode reference to persons or entities which are neither

speakers nor addressees of the utterance in question. Two degrees of formality are

maintained in the third person neutral(Neut), formal(For). The Demonstrative Determiners


are used for the neutral third-person pronouns. Bangla has three sets of third-person

pronouns/determiners proximal(close to speaker), distal(not close to speaker), anaphoric.


The first two sets (i.e., the proximal and distal) are deictic in nature. Chatterji(1945: 278281) suggests that the third set of pronouns is deictic, and those pronouns encode

reference to persons or entities which are neither speakers nor addressees of the utterance
in question and are not present in the speech event in which the utterance is delivered.

Bangla also makes a distinction between third-person pronouns referring to humans and
those referring to non-humans.

Table 3. Third-person [+human] pronouns

Case

Deictic

Formality

Proximal
Singular

Nom

Acc/Dat

Plural

Singular

Plural

Singular

Plural

Neut

era

ora

tara

For

ini

era

uni

ra

tini

tra

Neut

eke

eder

oke

oder

take

tader

For

eke

eder

ke

der

tke

tder

Neut

er

eder

or

oder

tar

tader

For

er

eder

der

tr

tder

inara

inader

inake
Gen

Anaphoric

Distal

inar

unara

unake

inader

unader

unar

unader

tinara

tinake

tinader

The third-person [-human] pronouns are formed by suffixing the singular classifier

ta/-ti and the plural classifier gulo/-guli to the third-person [+human] pronominal
roots.

Table 4. Third-person [-human] pronouns

Deictic

Case

Proximal
Singular

Anaphoric

Distal
Plural

Singular

Plural

Singular

Plural

Nom

eta

egulo

ota

ogulo

eta

egulo

Acc/Dat

eta

egulo

ota

ogulo

eta

egulo

Gen

etar

egulor

otar

ogulor

etar

egulor

Loc

etate

egulote

otate

ogulote

etate

egulote

2.1.2 Verb Morphology


Bangla finite verbs agree with the nominative subject for person and formality.
Therefore, these distinctions are encoded in verbal inflections.
For example, the verb /bla/ to say inflects in the Simple Present as shown in

Table 5.

Table 5. Inflectional paradigm of verb /bla/ in Simple Present

2nd Person

1st Person

Intimate

boli

boli

2nd/3rd Person

3rd Person

Formal

Neutral

Neutral

blo

blen

ble

2.1.2 Kinship terms


Bangla kinship terms are of two types. Terms of one type(shown in Table 6) are

used in address(as vocatives in second person usage) as well as reference(reference to

individuals in 3rd person role); terms of the other type(shown in Table 7) are used only in
reference. The referents of the terms in Table 7 are addressed by the speaker by their
given names.

Table 6. Kinship terms used in both address and reference

Term

Gloss

ma

mother

baba

father

takurda

paternal grandfather

thakurma

paternal grandmother

thakuma
tamma
dadu

maternal grandfather

dida

maternal grandmother

dada / didi

elder brother/sister

bor da/di

eldest brother/sister

me da/di

2nd eldest brother/sister

e da/di

3rd eldest brother/sister

n da/di

4th eldest brother/sister

raa da/di

5th eldest brother/sister

pul da/di

6th eldest brother/sister

or da/di

youngest eldest brother/sister

natbou

grandsons wife

bouma

sons wife

younger brothers wife

natamai

granddaughters husband

ta/etima

fathers elder brother/his wife

etu/etimuni
kaka/kakima

fathers younger brother/his wife

pii/pio

fathers sister/her husband

Term

Gloss

mama/mamima

mothers brother/his wife

mai/meo

mothers sister/her husband

boro ta/etima
" kaka/kakima

fathers eldest brother/his wife

"
"
"

pii/pio
mama/mamima
mai/meo

meo ta/etima
"
kaka/kakima
pii/pio

"
"
"

mama/mamima
mai/meo

eo ta/etima
kaka/kakima

"
"
"
"

pii/pio
mama/mamima
mai/meo

n ta/etima
" kaka/kakima

" pii/pio
" mama/mamima
" mai/meo
raa ta/etima
" kaka/kakima

"
"
"

pii/pio
mama/mamima
mai/meo

pul ta/etima
" kaka/kakima

" pii/pio
" mama/mamima
" mai/meo
oto ta/etima
" kaka/kakima

"
"
"

pii/pio
mama/mamima
mai/meo

fathers oldest younger brother/his wife


fathers oldest sister/her husband
mothers oldest brother/his wife

mothers oldest sister/her husband


fathers 2nd eldest brother/his wife

fathers 2nd oldest younger brother/his wife


fathers 2nd oldest sister/her husband
mothers 2nd oldest brother/his wife

mothers 2nd oldest sister/her husband

fathers 3rd eldest brother/his wife


fathers 3rd oldest younger brother/his wife
fathers 3rd oldest sister/her husband
mothers 3rd oldest brother/his wife

mothers 3rd oldest sister/her husband


fathers 4th eldest brother/his wife

fathers 4th oldest younger brother/his wife


fathers 4th oldest sister/her husband
mothers 4th oldest brother/his wife

mothers 4th oldest sister/her husband


fathers 5th eldest brother/his wife

fathers 5th oldest younger brother/his wife


fathers 5th oldest sister/her husband
mothers 5th oldest brother/his wife

mothers 5th oldest sister/her husband


fathers 6th eldest brother/his wife

fathers 6th oldest younger brother/his wife


fathers 6th oldest sister/her husband
mothers 6th oldest brother/his wife

mothers 6th oldest sister/her husband


fathers youngest elder brother/his wife

fathers youngest younger brother/his wife


fathers youngest sister/her husband
mothers youngest brother/his wife

mothers youngest sister/her husband

boudi

elder brothers wife

amaibabu

elder sisters husband

younger sisters husband

Table7. Kinship terms used only in reference

Term

Gloss

ele

son

me

daughter

bai

younger brother

bon

younger sister

amai

daughters husband

nati

grandson

natni

granddaughter

puti

great grandson

putni

great granddaughter

ttuto bai/bon

fathers elder brothers son/daughter

kurtuto bai/bon

fathers younger brothers son/daughter

pistuto bai/bon

fathers sisters son/daughter

mamato bai/bon

mothers brothers son/daughter

mastuto bai/bon

mothers sisters son/daughter

baipo/baii

brothers son/daughter

bagne/bagni

sisters son/daughter

Kinship terms for relatives by marriage (Table 8) can be used only in reference. The

referents are addressed by the terms used by the speakers spouse (exception /br/,/bou/
: see below)

Table 8. Kinship terms for relatives by marriage

Term

Gloss

br

husband

bou

wife

our

spouses father

auri

spouses mother

kurour

spouses fathers younger brother

tour

spouses fathers elder brother

pi auri/our

spouses fathers sister/her husband

ma auri/our

spouses mothers siter/her husband

baur

husbands elder brother

dor

husbands younger brother

husbands brothers wife

nnod

husbands sister

nndai

husbands sisters husband

ala/ali

wifes brother/sister

baera

wifes sisters husband

The speaker addresses his/her spouse with /ai/, as in:


(1)

ai, tumi ki apel kabe?

Spouse, will you eat (an) apple?


This term /ai/ is a call or summons, but not an address:
(2)

* amar me nei, ai.

I dont have time, spouse.


2.1.3 Deictic Projection
In Bangla, deictic projection or shifts in points of view for the purpose of vocative

selection is common. So, it is possible for a persons father to say to him/her:


(3)

ma baare ge

Ma has gone to the market.


Here, /ma/ refers to the addressees mother, and not to the speakers mother.

2.2 Time Deixis


Bangla, like many other languages, contains pure time deictic expressions, as well

as non-deictic ways of referring to time. In pure time deixis, there is no direct interaction
with non-deictic methods of time reckoning. Non-deictic or absolute methods use

absolute units of time such as the natural cycles of days, seasons and years, and units
derived from these, such as weeks and months.
2.2.1 Pure time deictic expressions
Pure time deixis is expressed in time adverbials and distinctions in tense in Bangla.
Table 9. Time adverbials

Term

Gloss

kon

the pragmatically given span including CT

tkon

the pragmatically given span removed from CT

koni

instant of time following CT

ek:uni

instant of time including CT

tok:uni

instant of time removed from CT

idani

span of time preceding and inclusive of CT

pre

span of time following and not inclusive of CT

Tenses encode a mixture of deictic time distinctions and aspectual distinctions. In Bangla,
the Past, Present and Future tenses interact with the Simple, Progressive, Perfective and
Habitual aspects. Table 10 gives the gloss of the tenses as used in Bangla.
Table 10.

Tense
Present

Gloss
Specifies that the state or event holds or is

occurring during a span of time including CT;

proximal to CT
Past

Specifies that the state or event held or occurred

during a span of time preceding CT; distal to CT

Future

Specifies that the state or event will hold or occur


during a span of time succeeding CT; distal to CT

2.2.2 Interaction of time deixis with absolute units of time


This sub-section deals with the interaction of time deixis with cultural

measurements of time in an absolute or non-deictic way.

Bangla has a symmetrical system for naming three days on either side today. The
words for them are given in Table 11 gives words from Bangla that are used as measures
relative to the CT.

Table 11. words used to measure diurnal spans relative to the CT.

Term

Gloss

the diurnal span(DS) including CT

kal

the DS adjacent to the DS that includes CT

poru

the DS that is one DS removed from the DS that

toru

the DS that is two DSs removed from the DS that

includes CT

includes CT

These measure words pre-empt the calendrical ways of referring to the relevant

days. So, the following, said on Monday, refers to the next Tuesday, and not to the

following day:
(4)

tomar ge mogolbar dka hbe


Ill see you on Tuesday

However, utterances such as (4) are interpreted differently by different speakers

(4) can refer to either the immediately following day or some remote Tuesday.

Table 12 shows complex time adverbials in Bangla which consist of a deictic

modifier and a non-deictic name or measure word. The measure word is represented by X
and Y. X ranges over the terms week, month, year; Y is a proper noun denoting a day of the
week or a month of the year.

Table 12. Complex time adverbials

Expression

Gloss

ei X

the unit X including CT

ager X

the unit X preceding the unit X including CT

agami X

the unit X succeeding the unit X including CT

ei Y

the unit Y which succeeds or precedes the unit of

ager Y

the unit Y which precedes the unit of the same

the same order that includes CT


order that includes CT

agami Y

the unit Y which succeeds the unit of the same


order that includes CT

Complex adverbials consisting of a non-deictic name that refers to a specific period

of the day are slightly more complicated Bangla requires different expressions for

referring to a period of the day when that span includes CT and a period of the day when
the span does not include CT, but is within the diurnal span containing CT.

Table 13 gives a list of Bangla terms used to refer to specific periods of the day.
Table 13

Term

Gloss

bor

dawn to sunrise

kal

sunrise to noon

dupur

noon to 3PM

bikel

3PM to sunset

onde

sunset to 9PM

rat/ratri

9PM to dawn

The expression eiX-e, where X ranges over the terms given in Table 13, is used to

refer to the span X when X includes CT.


(5)

eikal-e ami kla ke:i


this morning-LOC I banana eat-1p.-Pres.Perf.
I have eaten a banana this morning

CT = in the morning

The expressions a X-e and Xbla-e are used to refer to the span X when CT is

not included in X.
(6)

a kal-e ami kla ke:i


today morning-LOC I banana eat-1p.-Pres.Perf.
I have eaten a banana this morning

CT = not in the morning


(7)

kalbla-e ami kla ke:i

morningtime-LOC I banana eat-1p.-Pres.Perf.


I have eaten a banana this morning
CT = not in the morning

2.3 Place Deixis


Place or spatial deixis in Bangla is expressed by the use of demonstrative

determiners and motion verbs.

2.3.1 Demonstrative Determiners


Bangla has three demonstrative determiners:
i)

/e(i)/

ii) /o(i)/

iii) /e(i)/
Dasgupta (2003) terms them Proximal, Distal, and Sequent (respectively). According
to Dasgupta, Sequents are follow-up Demonstratives, not pointing to the external world,
but sending us back to a first reference to the entity in the sentence or the discourse.
The demonstrative determiners combined with /kan-e/ in place form place

adverbs in Bangla:
i)

Proximal:

e(i)kan-e

this place-LOC

in this place
ii)

Distal:

o(i)kan-e

that(deictic) place-LOC
in that place

ii)

Sequent:

e(i)kan-e

that(anaphoric) place-LOC
in that place

The Proximal and Distal adverbs are deictic, and the Sequent is anaphoric. The

distal-deictic and anaphoric adverbs can be used in correlative constructions (Bagchi


1994).

The interpretation of the deictic adverbs depends on their usage, as shown in Table

14.

Table 14

Adverb
e(i)kan-e

Usage
gestural

Gloss
the pragmatically given space, proximal to

the speakers location at CT and visible to

the speaker at CT, that includes the point or


location gesturally indicated
symbolic

the pragmatically given space that includes


the location of the speaker at CT

o(i)kan-e

gestural

the pragmatically given space, distal to the

speakers location at CT and visible to the


speaker at CT, that includes the point or
location gesturally indicated

symbolic

the pragmatically given space, distal to the


speakers location at CT, proximal to the

addressee at RT and necessarily visible to


the addressee at RT.

e(i)kan-e can only be used in anaphoric constructions (Bagchi 1994, Dasgupta

2003) - it is anaphoric in nature in that it needs an overt antecedent NP (Bagchi 1994).

However, it also involves a visibility feature which is deictic in nature - the place that the

adverb refers to is beyond the fields of vision of the speaker(s) and the addressee(s). If, in a
correlative construction, the place to be referred to by a correlative place adverbial (i.e.,

either o(i)kan-e or e(i)kan-e) is visible to either the speaker or the addressee (or both),
the speaker would use the form o(i)kan-e.

The demonstrative determiners combined the singular classifier ta/-ti and the

plural classifier gulo/-guli form demonstrative pronouns in Bangla (as seen in section
2.1.1)

Table 15. Bangla demonstrative pronouns

Pronoun
e(i)-ta / e(i)-gulo
o(i)-ta / o(i)-gulo

Gloss
the object(s) in a pragmatically given area close to

the speakers location at CT

the object(s) beyond the pragmatically given area


close to the speakers location at CT

2.3.2 Motion Verbs


Bangla has two motion verbs that have built-in deictic components - /aa/ to
come, and /awa/ to go. Use of the verb /aa/ signals motion towards the speakers
location, or addressees location, at either CT or reference time, or motion towards the

home-base maintained at CT by either speaker or addressee. Similarly, the verb /awa/


can be glossed as motion away from the speakers location, or addressees location, at
either CT or reference time, or motion away from the home-base maintained at CT by
either speaker or addressee.
Either of these two motion verbs can participate as a vector verb in a compound

verb, in which the primary verb is an action verb. The use of a motion verb in such

compound verbs imparts a sense of motion (towards or away from speaker or addressee)
to the meaning of the compound verb:
(8)

a.

mita ata-ta ni:e ge


Mita umbrella-TA carry gone

Mita has taken the umbrella


b.

mita ata-ta ni:e eee


Mita umbrella-TA carry come

Mita has brought the umbrella


(10)

a.

ri di:e ute ae

stairs by climb come

Come up the stairs


b.

ri di:e ute a
stairs by climb go

Go up the stairs

3.0 Conclusion
Deictic reference plays a particularly important role in language it is the most

obvious way in which the relationship between language and context is reflected in the
structures of language itself. The pervasiveness of deixis in natural languages can be

explained on the assumption that they have been developed for communication in face-toface interaction, which involves all the participants present in the same actual situation
when the utterance is delivered.

In the analysis of deixis in Bangla (indeed in all languages), it is difficult to separate

the five categories of deixis from one another all instances of deixis in the language
involve, to some extent, an overlapping of these categories. For example, personal

pronouns involve person, space and social deixis, demonstratives involve person and
space, motion verbs involve space and time, etc.

Some deictic expressions in Bangla can be used both deictically and anaphorically,

but non-deictic usages of deictic expressions are very rare. Bangla has three sets of thirdperson pronouns/determiners (demonstrative determiners), only two of which can be used
in correlative constructions (i.e., anaphorically). This distinction is not present in most

other Indo-Aryan languages. For example, Modern Standard Hindi uses its demonstratives

both deictically and anaphorically. The selection of Bangla demonstrative determiners by a


speaker to signal their intended referent has been investigated in this paper only in terms
of spatial and time deixis the Givenness Hierarchy (Gundel, Hedberg, Zacharski, 1993)
has not been taken into account for the description of the uses of the demonstratives.

4.0 References
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D-linking. In M. Butt, T. King & G. Ramchand (eds.), Theoretical perspectives

on word order in South Asian languages (pp. 13-30). Stanford, CA: CSLI

Publications.

2. Chacn, Dustin 2008. Bangla Referring Expressions.


http://ohhai.mn/cornell.pdf

3. Chatterjee, Suniti 1945. Bangla Byakaran. Calcutta: Calcutta University


Press.

4. Dasgupta, Probal 2003. Bangla. In G. Cardona & D. Jain (eds.), The Indo-

Aryan Languages (pp. 351-390). London: Routledge.


5. Hudson, Donald 1965. Teach Yourself Bengali. London: The English
Universities Press.

6. Levinson, Stephen 1983. Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press,


Cambridge

7. Levinson, Stephen 2004. Deixis. In L. Horn & G. Ward (eds.), The handbook

of Pragmatics (pp. 97-121). Blackwell Publishing.

8. Sengupta, Gautam 2000. Lexical Anaphors and Pronouns in Bangla. In B.

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languages: a principled typology (pp. 277-332). New York: Mouton de

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