Colorado Research in Linguistics
Colorado Research in Linguistics -- ISSN 1937-7029

Volume 23-1, 2012

Embodiment of Demonstrative Practice in Arapaho

Richard Sandoval

Abstract for paper presentation at the third Conference on Culture, Language, and Social Practice (CLASP)


Most accounts of demonstratives (e.g. ‘this’) posit a disembodied semantic distinction (e.g. proximal) that assumedly enables speakers to utilize other features of interaction to make reference (e.g. “could you get that?”, said looking at a book). Hanks (Referential Practice, 1990), however, argues that the embodiment of interaction is rather integral to demonstrative semantics. Through an analysis of Arapaho, I find that the embodied nature of demonstratives may exist at the formal level too.

Following the “interactional space” analysis of demonstratives by Enfield (2003 Language 79 (1):82-117), I use Cowell’s video-based ELDP Arapaho Language Conversational Database to analyze Arapaho demonstratives by relating them to body movements, interactional-participation spaces, discourses, and other contextual factors. Using this approach, I build on Cowell with Moss Sr. (The Arapaho Language, 2008), an account based on monologue transcripts; I argue that Arapaho demonstratives not only reflect an embodied interactional space but also integrate with gestural points to reflect statuses of interactional participation.

I examine the demonstratives nehe’ and neh’eeno as used for person reference. As discourse-foregrounding demonstratives, these two are used for general reference to humans; an accompanying forefinger point is needed to bolster the foregrounding force beyond that of simple reference. Additionally, while nehe’ presupposes symmetry among interactional participants (regarding background knowledge, perceptual access, etc.), neh’eeno presupposes asymmetry. These factors are displayed by the interaction of three speakers, designated by the following letters and arrangement; they are on stage facing an audience and preparing to talk to them.

A B C

B and C turn inward toward one another; B speaks into C’s ear, instructing C to tell the audience that A will speak first. B makes a forefinger point at A on nehe’.

he3eb-ei'towuun-inee ne'-P nehe' heet-cesisi-too-t
there-tell s.o.-3.IMPER then-pause this FUT-begin-do-3.S
“Tell them about it; this one will start”

In their orientation, B and C define an interactional space excluding A. Using nehe’ signals that the two participants are on equal ground regarding the referent, A; the forefinger point at A underscores A’s position as the discourse object.

Seconds later, B and C move to disengage and open their interactional space to A. Signaling this, B briefly faces A. After demonstrated confusion about the proceedings, B reinforces her initial instructions to C; nevertheless, B maintains the A-inclusive interactional space by turning only her gaze to C. B punctuates neh’eeno with a thumb point at A.

hiiko neh'eeno heet-ne'-cesisi-too-t
no this FUT-then-begin-do-3.S
“No, her, she's the one who will start”

Although A is part of the interactional space, she is also the referent; that is, A is foregrounded to some degree over the others (i.e. the reference creates asymmetry). However, presupposing this asymmetry, neh’eeno settles any other implications of such reference. Furthermore, the thumb point doesn’t have the foregrounding force of a forefinger point, and so this embodied demonstrative works dually to resolve the asymmetry created through it. Through the commingling of speech with various hand shapes and orientations of co-present bodies, such interactional practices support the argument that demonstratives are central to embodied language.

Richard Sandoval is a PhD student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Colorado, Boulder.   He can be reached at Richard.Sandoval@Colorado.EDU.

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Colorado Research in Linguistics is the working papers journal of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Colorado.


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