NYU Short Course 2017: Indexicality

Craige Roberts


Course Outline


I.          Contextually mediated reference and properties of indexical expressions across languages


We consider a rich range of natural language data which illustrates important characteristics of the class of expressions generally regarded as indexicals. In particular, we consider evidence that:

·         indexicals always seem to take wide scope

·         statements like I am here now are logically true

·         as a class, indexicals display the range of behaviors and distribution typical of anaphoric expressions

·         in a number of languages, indexicals can shift to refer to the third-person agents of certain embedding attitudes

·         indexicals always give rise to de se interpretations

·         in some languages, in some contexts, indexicals—even 1st person!—can be bound

·         indexicals occurring in reported beliefs are non-direct


We outline how a number of these properties present problems for the standard Kaplanian approach, in which indexicals are directly referential:

·         Both demonstratives and “pure” indexicals display the features of anaphoric expressions, including the possibility of bound readings, and more generally, the possibility of antecedents which are merely locally accessible (in Heim’s sense).

·         Indexicals show evidence of being perspectival, in that cross-linguistically in the relevant contexts they always give rise to de se interpretations.


Thesis: Reference in natural language discourse is always contextually mediated.


II.       An anaphoric approach to English indexicals, and its limitations


We sketch and explore an account of English I, we and you as anaphoric triggers, in Heim-style discourse anaphora. These presuppose distinguished discourse referents—the speaker, addressee—which effectively give rise to pseudo-scope: the anaphoric presupposition can only be satisfied globally, in the context of discourse. Crucially, this pseudo-scope effect with the English indexicals captures Kaplan’s observations about English indexicals and scope but without direct reference. We show how this satisfies the desiderata satisfied by the direct reference approach. But it also affords:

·         a more satisfying approach to the treatment of the interaction between indexicals and distributivity, yielding further evidence against direct reference.

·         a new approach to treating so-called “fake indexicals”.


However, this approach falls short in three important respects, especially as the foundation for a cross-linguistic account of indexicality:

·         Its natural extension to an anaphoric semantics for demonstratives (King 2001, Roberts 2002, Elbourne 2008) fails to offer a satisfactory explanation of how these differ from pronouns and definite descriptions.

·         It doesn’t readily generalize to account for shifted indexicals with a third person antecedent.

·         It fails to address the de se character of indexicals, both the English and the shifted varieties.


III.    Perspective, perspectival expressions, and centered worlds


As background for an approach to the problems of the anaphoric account in II, we briefly consider a group of expressions which are perspectival, i.e. conventionally anchored to a salient point of view. We consider both locatives like to the left (which presuppose a point of view in actual space) and doxastic perspectivals (which presuppose a point of view in the space of epistemic possibility). The latter include come and other deictic motion verbs (as explored in the recent work of Jefferson Barlew), evidentials, epistemic modals, and Pottsian Conventional Implicature triggers. Focusing on the doxastic perspectivals, we see that perspective can shift only in certain types of contexts, and that when it does, it always yields de se interpretations.


We then review the way in which the de se has been modeled by Lewis (1979) and Stalnaker (2008), using centered worlds. And we introduce a way of modeling perspectival anchoring in discourse, using a distinguished type of discourse referent, which we’ll call a discourse center. A discourse center is associated with a salient doxastic perspective in discourse; such perspectives are introduced in very limited ways. We then show how anchoring to discourse centers yields de se interpretations for the doxastic perspectival expressions.


IV.    de se anaphoric semantics for indexicals across languages


We revise the anaphoric semantics for English indexicals developed in II, so that they presuppose anchoring to discourse centers, and show how this gives rise to the de se readings of our benchmark examples.


Then we turn to the semantics of indexicals in several languages that have shifted indexicals, exploring the ways in which the 1st and 2nd person pronouns in such languages vary in distribution, and conducting a preliminary exploration of parameters in their semantics which might explain this variation. The de se semantics developed for English indexicals proves crucial for capturing their uniformly de se semantics.


V.   de se anaphoric semantics for indexicals, continued


A.    Shifted indexicals, continued


We continue our exploration of shifted indexicals, offering preliminary semantics for Amharic and Slave indexicals. We consider why these shifted indexicals, unlike those in Llengua de Signes Catalana (LSC, the signed language of Catalonia; Quer 2013), resist binding: indexicals strongly tend to be specific, a property inconsistent with an arbitrary (bound) antecedent.


B.     Neo-localism and perspectival content


The way in which indexicals are anchored to a salient local perspective is part of a much more general phenomenon in human language, the subject of earlier work by Fillmore, Lyons, Mitchell, Doron, Sells, Speas & Tenny, Pearson and others. We’ll briefly explore some aspects of how the notion of doxastic perspective can shed light on a wide variety of types of expressions, including not only the locatives and deictic motion verbs like come (considered earlier), but also non-restrictive relative clauses and other appositives (Potts’ supplemental conventional implicature triggers), tense, evidentials and epistemic modals, imperative and jussive mood, conjunct-disjunct systems in Sino-Tibetan, logophoric pronouns, and predicates of personal taste. We’ll focus on one or two types, chosen in consultation with the course participants, using these to illustrate general features of perspectival expressions and how this is reflected in their semantics.  The goal is to show how the analysis of indexicals developed here provides a toolbox for exploring and formalizing the semantics of other perspectival expressions.


VI.    Further topics in indexicality and perspective


Time permitting, we’ll either continue discussion of material already considered in the course, or discuss one of the following topics, chosen in consultation with the course participants:

·         the de se and the de re: how the notion of perspective used by Aloni in her work on the de se can be modeled in the present framework. de re interpretations of names and indexicals, considering how appositives bear on such interpretations

·         predicates of personal taste

·         epistemic modality



·         Lecture 1: January 24, 2017

·         2009 Lecture notes on demonstratives, with more critical discussion of some literature

·         Lecture 2: January 26, 2017

·         Lecture 3: January 31, 2017

·         Lectures 4 and 5: February 2 & February 7, 2017

·         Lecture 6: February 16, 2017




·         Braun, David (1997) Indexicals. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Revision of 2015.

·         Elbourne, Paul (2008) Demonstratives as individual concepts. Linguistics and Philosophy 31:409-466.

·         Heim, Irene (n.d.) Lecture notes on indexicality. ms, MIT.

·         Kaplan, David (1977) Demonstratives, draft #2.  Ms., UCLA Philosophy Department.  Revised and published as "Demonstratives: An essay on the semantics, logic, metaphysics, and epistemology of demonstratives and other indexicals," along with an “Afterthought”, in Joseph Almog, John Perry, and Howard Wettstein (Eds.) Themes from Kaplan, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp.481-563.

·         King, Jeffrey C. (2001) Complex Demonstratives: A quantificational account. MIT Press.

·         Nunberg, Geoffrey D. (1993) Indexicality and deixis. Linguistics and Philosophy 16:1-43.

·         Roberts, Craige (2002) Demonstratives as definites. In Kees van Deemter and Roger Kibble (eds.) Information Sharing: Reference and Presupposition in Language Generation and Interpretation, CSLI Press, pp.89-196.

·         Roberts, Craige (2005) Pronouns as definites. In M. Reimer & A. Bezuidenhout (eds.) Descriptions and Beyond. Oxford University Press, 503-543.

·         Roberts, Craige (2014) Indexicality: de se semantics and pragmatics. In preparation for Oxford University Press.

·         Stojnic, Una, Matthew Stone & Ernest Lepore (2013) Deixis (even without pointing). Philosophical Perspectives 26(1):502-525.

·         Wechsler, Stephen (2010) What ‘you’ and ‘I’ mean to each other: Person indexicals, self-ascription, and theory of mind. Language 86.2:332-365.


The de se:

·         Boër, Stephen & William Lycan (1985) Knowing Who. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

·         Castaneda, Hector-Neri (1966) He*: A Study in the Logic of Self-Consciousness. Ratio 8: 130-57.

·         Castaneda, Hector-Neri (1967) Indicators and Quasi-Indicators. American Philosophical Quarterly 4: 1-16.

·         Castaneda, Hector-Neri (1968) On the Logic of Attributions of Self-Knowledge to Others. Journal of Philosophy LXV: 439-56.

·         Gerbrandy, Jelle (1997) Questions of identity.  In P. Dekker, M. Stokhof & Y. Venema (eds.) Proceedings of the Eleventh Amsterdam Colloquium. ILLC, University of Amsterdam.

·         Lewis, David (1979b) Attitudes de dicto and de se. The Philosophical Review 88.4:513-543.

·         Maier, Emir (2009) Presupposing Acquaintance: A unified Semantics for De Dicto, De Re and De Se Belief Reports. Linguistics and Philosophy 32:429–47.

·         Maier, Emar (2009b) Proper names and indexicals trigger rigid presuppositions. Journal of Semantics 26.3):253–315.

·         Mitchell, Jonathon E. (1986) The Formal Semantics of Point of View. PhD thesis, University of Massachusetts.

·         Morgan, Jerry (1970) On the criterion of identity for Noun Phrase deletion. CLS 6:380-381.

·         Ninan, Dilip (2010) De Se Attitudes: Ascriptions and Communication. Philosophical Compass 5:551-67.

·         Pearson, Hazel (2013) The sense of self: topics in the semantics of de se expressions. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University.

·         Perry, John (1979) The Problem of the Essential Indexical. Noûs 13:3–21. Reprinted in Perry 1993.

·         Perry, John (1993) The Problem of the Essential Indexical and Other Essays. New York: Oxford  University Press

·         Perry, John (2001) Reference and Reflexivity. CSLI Press, Palo Alto, CA.

·         Quine, Williard van Orman (1956) Quantifiers and propositional attitudes. Journal of Philosophy 53:101-111.

·         Richard, Mark (1993) Direct Reference and Ascriptions of Belief. Journal of Philosophical Logic 12: 426-52.

·         Stalnaker, Robert C. (2008) Our Knowledge of the Internal World. Oxford University Press. Chapter 3: “Locating Ourselves in the World”.

·         Stalnaker, Robert C. (2014) Context. Oxford University Press.


Shifting indexicals:

·         Anand, Pranav & Andrew Nevins (2004) Shifty operators in changing contexts. In K. Watanabe & R.B. Young (eds.) Proceedings of SALT 14. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications. 

·         Deal, Amy Rose (2013) Nez Perze embedded indexicals. In H. Greene (ed.) Proceedings of SULA 7. Amherst: GLSA.

·         Hermann, Annika & Markus Steinbach (2012) Quotation in Sign Languages – A Visible Context Shift. In I. van Alphen & I. Buchstaller (eds.) Quotatives: Cross-linguistic and Cross Disciplinary Perspectives. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 203-228.

·         Hübl, Annika (2013) Role shift, indexicals and beyond – New evidence from German Sign Language.  Leah C. Geer (ed.) Proceedinsg of the 13th Meeting of the Texas Linguistics Society. Austin: Texas Linguistics Forum, University of Texas, 1-11.

·         Koulidobrova, Elena & Kathryn Davidson (2014) Watch your attitude: Role-shift and embedding in ASL. Talk at Sinn und Bedeutung 14, University of Göttingen, September, 2014.

·         Maier, Emar & Kees de Schepper (2013) Fake indexicals in Dutch: a counterexample to Kratzer 2009. Snippets 27:12-13.

·         Quer, Josep (2005) Context shift and indexical variables in sign languages. In Proceedings of Semantic and Linguistic Theory (= SALT) XV. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.

·         Quer, Josep: 2011, Reporting and quoting in signed discourse. In Elke Brendel, Jörg Meibauer & Markus Steinbach (eds) Understanding Quotation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 277–302.

·         Quer, Josep (2013) Attitude ascriptions in sign languages and role shift. In L.C. Geer (ed.) Proceedings of the 13th Texas Linguistics Society Meeting. Austin, Texas, 12-28.

·         Podobryaev, Alexander (2014) Persons, Imposters, and Monsters. Ph.D. dissertation, MIT.

·         Rice, Keren (1986) Some remarks on direct and indirect speech in Slave (Northern Athapaskan). In Florian Coulmas (ed.) Direct and Indirect Speech. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 161–178.

·         Schlenker, Philippe (2003) A plea for monsters. Linguistics and Philosophy 26:29-120.

·         Schlenker, Philippe (2014) Super Monsters I: Attitude and action role shift in sign language. Ms., Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS and NYU.

·         Sudo, Yasutada (2012) On the Semantics of Phi Features on Pronouns. Ph.D. dissertation, MIT Linguistics.

·         Zucchi, Sandro (2004) Monsters in the Visual Mode?  Unpublished Manuscript, Università degli Studi di Milano.


Fake indexicals and imposters:

·         Cable, Seth (2005) Binding local person pronouns without semantically empty features. Ms., MIT.

·         Collins, Chris & Paul Postal (2012) Imposters. MIT Press.

·         Heim, Irene (2008) Features on bound pronouns. In Daniel Harbour, David Adger & Susana Bejar (eds.), Phi Theory: Phi-Features Across Modules and Interfaces, 35–56. Oxford University Press.

·         Jacobson, Pauline (2012) The direct compositionality and “uninterpretability”: The case of (sometimes) “uninterpretable” features on pronouns. Journal of Semantics 29.3:305-343.

·         Kratzer, Angelika (1998) More structural analogies between pronouns and tenses. In Proceedings of SALT 8, 92–109.

·         Kratzer, Angelika (2009) Building a pronoun: Fake indexicals as windows into the properties of pronouns. Linguistic Inquiry 40:187–237.

·         Maier, Emir (2009) Presupposing Acquaintance: A unified Semantics for De Dicto, De Re and De Se Belief Reports. Linguistics and Philosophy 32:429–47.

·         Maier, Emar (2009b) Proper names and indexicals trigger rigid presuppositions. Journal of Semantics 26.3):253–315.

·         Maier, Emar & Kees de Schepper (2013) Fake indexicals in Dutch: a counterexample to Kratzer 2009. Snippets 27:12-13.

·         Partee, Barbara H. (1989) Binding implicit variables in quantified context.  In Papers of the Chicago Linguistic Society 25:342-365.

·         Rullmann, Hotze (2003) Bound-variable pronouns and the semantics of number. In Brian Agbayani, Paivi Koskinen & Vida Samiian (eds.), Proceedings of WECOL 2002, 243–254.

·         Rullmann, Hotze (2004). First and second person pronouns as bound variables. Linguistic Inquiry 35.1:159–168.

·         Rullmann, Hotze (2010) Number, Person, and Bound Variables. Slides for a talk given at the workshop “Between You and Me: Local Pronouns across Modalities”, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, June 7-8, 2010.

·         von Stechow, Arnim (2003) Feature deletion under semantic binding. In Proceedings of NELS 33.

·         Sudo, Yasutada (2012) On the Semantics of Phi Features on Pronouns. Ph.D. dissertation, MIT Linguistics.


Perspectival expressions: Locatives and deictic motion verbs

·         Barlew, Jefferson (2013). Point of view in Mushunguli locatives. In Orie, O. O. and Sanders, K. W. (eds.) Selected Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL). (pp. 115-129). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

·         Barlew, Jefferson (2013) Anchored to what? An anaphoric approach to frames of reference.  Proceedings of BLS 39.

·         Barlew, Jefferson (2015) Coming toward a doxastic agent: A doxastic analysis of the motion verb come.  Sinn und Bedeutung 19, pp.71-88.  Georg August University at Göttingen.  Göttingen, Germany.

·         Barlew, Jefferson (2016). Point of view and the semantics of spatial expressions in Mushunguli and English.  Journal of Semantics 33(2):215-267.   doi: 10.1093/jos/ffu018

·         Barlew, Jefferson (2017) The semantics and pragmatics of perspectival expressions in English and Bulu: The case of deictic motion verbs. Ph.D. dissertation, The Ohio State University.

·         Doron, Edit (1991). Point of view as a factor of content. In Moore, S. and Wyner, A. Z., editors, Proceedings of the First Semantics and Linguistic Theory Conference. Cornell University Working Papers in Linguistics.

·         Eckardt, Regine (2014) The Semantics of Free Indirect Discourse. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands.

·         Fillmore, Charles J. (1975). Santa Cruz lectures on Deixis. Indiana University Linguistics Club, Bloomington, Indiana.

·         Fortis, Jean-Michel (2012) On the history and speciation of localism. Slides from a talk at Université Paris Diderot, Research Unit “Histoire des Théories Linguistiques”, available on-line at http://htl.linguist.univ-paris-diderot.fr/fortis/History_Localism_2012.pdf. 

·         Harris, Jesse A. & Christopher Potts (2009) Perspective-shifting with appositives and expressive. Linguistics and Philosophy 32(6):523-552.

·         Kierstead, Gregory & Scott Martin (2012) A multistratal account of the projective Tagalog evidential ‘daw’. Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 22, 326-346. CLC Publications.

·         Kierstead, Gregory (to appear) Shifted indexicals and conventional implicature: Tagalog akala. In Proceedings of semantics and linguistic theory (SALT) 23, Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications

·         Sells, Peter (1987) Aspects of logophoricity. Linguistic Inquiry 18(3):445-79.

·         Speas, Margaret (2000) Person and Point of view in Navajo Direct Discourse Complements. In E. Jelinek (ed.) WCCFL in Honor of Ken Hale. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

·         Speas, Peggy & Carol Tenny (2003). Configurational properties of point of view roles. In Di Sciullo, A. M. (ed.) Asymmetry in Grammar, volume 1. John Benjamins, Amsterdam.