Attention, accessibility, and the addressee: The case of the Jahai demonstrative ton

Niclas Burenhult


The detailed semantic encoding of demonstrative systems of the world’s languages has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. One important finding is that spatial (notably distance) encoding, normally considered to lie at the heart of exophoric demonstrative semantics, may be rivalled as to its ‘basicness’ by more discourse-related forms of encoding, such as the status of the addressee’s attention in relation to the referent. This paper investigates the attentional characteristics of ton, a nominal demonstrative in Jahai (Mon-Khmer, Malay Peninsula) previously considered to encode spatial proximity to addressee. It does so in light of naturalistic interaction data from a specific object-identification task originally aimed at eliciting shape-encoding distinctions (Seifart 2003).

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