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Cognitive Linguistics

Editor-in-Chief: Newman, John

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Volume 17, Issue 4 (Dec 2006)


Demonstratives, joint attention, and the emergence of grammar

Holger Diessel
  • University of Jena, Germany.
  • Email:
Published Online: 2006-12-12 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/COG.2006.015


Drawing on recent work in developmental and comparative psychology, this paper argues that demonstratives function to coordinate the interlocutors' joint focus of attention, which is one of the most basic functions of human communication. The communicative importance of demonstratives is reflected in a number of properties that together characterize them as a particular word class: In contrast to other closed-class expressions, demonstratives are universal, they are generally so old that their roots cannot be traced back to other linguistic items, they are among the earliest words that children learn, and they are closely tied to a particular gesture. Moreover, demonstratives play an important role in the organization of discourse and the diachronic evolution of grammar, which arguably is also motivated by their communicative function to establish joint attention.

Keywords: demonstratives; joint attention; deixis; pointing; grammaticalization; evolution of grammar

About the article

*Correspondence address: University of Jena, Department of English, Ernst-Abbe-Platz 8, 07743 Jena, Germany.

Received: 2005-09-05

Revised: 2006-01-23

Published Online: 2006-12-12

Published in Print: 2006-12-01

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/COG.2006.015. Export Citation

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