Indeed young children learn basic referencing rules through looking, pointing, listening and repeating in a face-to-face context and they find it hard to think or talk about things which are not in the immediate field of vision. This kind of extra assistance is not available in a written text, however, and it helps little in discussing abstract concepts or talking about the past or the future. The rules of syntax are very helpful in explaining the mechanisms which are available for creating such a consistent referencing system. Some languages, such as French, for example, have both masculine and feminine third person plural pronouns are and elles while others, such as English, only have a generic third person plural they which does not identify the gender of the individuals referred to.
This variation shows that each language makes its own categories and constructs its own referential system from them. This means that each linguistic community has, a slightly different way of conceptualising the relationships that can exist between animate and inanimate objects in the world. The rules of syntax only take us so far, however, in understanding the connections between items referred to in any utterance or text.
One of the key insights of the field of pragmatics has been that the context in which any statement is made will have a very great impact on what it means. In other words, some words used to refer to things and people in the world are open to multiple interpretations, and it is only when the surrounding context is understood, that the statement makes sense. The term “ deixis” is derived from the Greek verb meaning “ to show” or “ to point out” (Yule, 1996, p.
9) and its use in linguistics helps to clarify those references which might remain ambiguous without an understanding of the context of a statement. The term is used to denote a whole system made up of a number of elements working together.
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