Systems of Deixis in Rawang Ata

There are numerous systems of deixis in the language, detailed in the following posts:

Positional Deixis:

Proferative and Contrastive Deixis:

Relation Deixis:

Ostension Deixis:

Personal Deixis:




Deixis in Rawang Ata: Ition

As with version, ition is a complex category. It is marked on verbs with the suffixes -u and -a – respectively positive and negative ition.

Ition and Movement

As the name suggests, one primary concern of ition is with movement. Positive ition often suggests movement away from the deictic centre, while negative ition indicates movement toward:


“he goes”

“he comes”

The deictic centre of ition is the same as that of positional deixis, and cannot be altered independently.

Other implications of ition.

In verbs without such clear motive semantics, ition can convey geographical location – positive ition indicating ‘upstream’, negative indicating ‘downstream’. Positive is also associated with distance, while negative is associated with proximity. Ition also has non-locational implications for verbs. Positive ition is associated with absolute or relative future tense, imperfective aspect, irrealis mood, uncertainty, spontaneity, and change or the unexpected. Negative ition is associated with past or present tense, perfective aspect, realis mood, the known and the dependable, the reactive, and with stasis or continuity or the expected. Except with verbs of motion, the locative sense is paramount when large numbers of verbs share the same ition, with the emphasis changing to tense, aspect or mood when location is clearly irrelevant or contradicted explicitly. With isolated itions that do not agree with the ‘background’ setting, tense, aspect, mood and the vaguer verbal implications are more important. Ition is very much a matter of emphasis and nuance:

Tyàyaru ia

“He will like that”

“He likes that (upstream)”

“He is liking that”

“He might like that”

“And he liked that!”


Tyàyara ia

“He liked that”

“He likes that (downstream)”

“He likes that (perfective)”

“He definitely likes that”

“He liked that, of course”


Systems of Deixis in Rawang Ata: Version

Whether version ought really to be considered deictic is debateable; nonetheless, it does have deictic characteristics, and so we include it here. Version is a characteristic of nouns that has deictic, anaphoric and descriptive uses. There are three ‘versions’ – primary, secondary and tertiary. These are marked with the suffixes -(a)wi, -(i)ri and -(a)jna respectively, although common nouns need not be marked for primary, nor local nouns for tertiary.

Verbs inflect to agree with the version of their heads – the suffixes -ir and –ajn are applied between the root (or person agreement, in the case of feminine verbs) and the ition suffix.

Version and Control

One of the most important aspects of version is its role in denoting control by the speaker. Common (i.e. not local) nouns by default have primary version – marking them instead for secondary version indicates that the object in question is under the control of the speaker. “Control”, however, takes a number of forms. Physical contact with the object, having the object within one’s sphere of influence, being able to influence the object’s actions, ownership of the object, creation of the object, and taking responsibility over the object can all be considered forms of control. Referring to any object with an ostensive makes control clear (and ostensives, used pronominally, have secondary version in all cases), while referring to something with an oblate eliminates control.


“My stone” or “this stone here”

Version, Topics, Influence, and Agency

Nouns with secondary version are considered deictic pronominals to the extent that they are not ordinarily topicalised, and topicalising one gives it a position of influence over the events of the clause.

Relatedly, and in relation to control, when a noun with secondary version appears as a non-agent subject, there is a suggestion that the speaker has a degree of agenthood.

Version and Distinction

When two objects referred to by the same noun need to be distinguished, version is one way to do so. There are two scenarios – alternation (where an interlocutor introduces a new object) and progression (where the speaker introduces a second object). In alternation, each speaker refers to the object they mentioned with secondary version – as though claiming control. In progression, the speaker assigns the new object a new version – secondary if the first was primary, or tertiary if the first was secondary. The interlocutor will then follow this order. If they wish to raise a primary version noun to secondary (by claiming control), the noun that was in secondary will be raised to tertiary – the first speaker will then follow the new order (if being polite).

As confusion may arise, it is not unusual to use adjectives (descriptive or deictic) to make these assignments clear, at least on first introduction. In particular, the contrastive deictics are of great use when the objects are actually to hand.

Version and Locality

Local nouns are by default of tertiary version, and giving a common noun tertiary version will promote them to local nouns – unless it is done clearly for reasons of distinction, as above.

Local nouns have meaning similar to common nouns, but refer to particular objects, defined by the community of speakers; they are called local nouns because they refer to objects in the locality of a discourse. Often they occur in doublets with common nouns. For instance, tamussì and byala both mean “mountain”, but the former is common and the latter is deictic – that is, in each community there will be a ‘mountain’ (or more often simply a high point) referred to as byala, and this will differ between communities. The section on positional deixis already explored the implications for this on the anchors of positionals. Some nouns, however, occur only as local nouns, with no common equivalent: baryōng, “house” is a local noun referring to the house of the speaker and interlocutor. Where there is no commonality of local nouns, the noun must be made non-local by altering its version to primary or secondary. Thus:


“our house”


“my house”


“your house/their house”

Version and Dependent Nouns

Like local nouns, dependent nouns rely on something else for their meaning – but where local nouns are essentially deictic, dependent nouns are essentially anaphoric. A good example would be the word , meaning “male relative on mother’s side without power relation” (i.e. brothers, cousins, uncles, but not the patriarch), or sometimes “male sibling or half-sibling”. This word by itself does not refer to a specific person – only the context of the sentence can do this. Each dependent noun has a ‘subject’ that gives it its specific reference – in this case, the subject tells us who the brother is a brother of. Normally, with primary version, the subject of a dependent noun is the topic; however, when a dependent noun has secondary version, its subject is, generally, the speaker. Dependent nouns can never be given tertiary version.

Version and Person

Non-directive pronouns used with first-person semantics are often considered to have secondary version, and verbs agree accordingly, even though deictic pronouns do not inflect for version:

dattaya rahanta

“the sailor threw something”


dattariya rahantira

“I threw something” (spoken by a sailor).

This use of version is not compulsory, and generally occurs to avoid ambiguity.

Personal Deixis is Rawang Ata

1. Deictic pronouns

Unlike many languages, Rawàng Ata does not have a single set of pronouns – aside from the ostensives, oblates and positionals with pronominal uses, there are also sets of deictic, anaphoric and directive pronouns. In many, if not most, cases, no pronoun will be used at all, with “pseudo-pronouns” preferred. Here, however, we will concern ourselves only with deictic pronouns.

Deictic pronouns refer to members of classes that are present at hand during discourse – normally physically, but occasionally only metaphorically. All deictic pronouns are considered to be third person animate for purposes of animacy and agreement. Deictic pronouns inflect for plural number. Below, the forms will be listed in the order [singular, plural].

The deictic pronouns relating to women (tàniko, mahikò and kanihā) are:

īkana,īkanāi – adult woman

kīkana, (no plural) – old or powerful woman (respectful)

īkaròi, īkarotan – young girl

kīkaròi (no plural usually, sometimes kīkarotan) – young aristocratic girl (or beloved girl)

īkòi, īkomā – young serf girl

kīkòi, (no plural) – adult serf woman (used in formal contexts; otherwise īkana)

īkodo, ikomā – vagabond, outlaw, foreigner, or ‘masculine’ woman (also term of affection for kanihā)

ikōro, ikōromā – woman of importance but not accorded respect

suata, susata – old woman (not respectful, though not always insulting)

akīkana, akīkanāi – younger sister of discourse participant (sometime not literally)

The deictic prouns relating to men:

bāna, bānako – man

bāoi, bāoko – serf man, or non-serf boy

nùko, nùnuko – serf boy

babā, bābamā – old man

For neuters:

akàina, akàināi – kimyō

ortu, orotu – ortu

The pronouns for women trigger feminine agreement; the others do not.

2. Syntactic/Semantic Functions of Personal Deixis

Deictic pronouns have a range of pragmatic and syntactic functions. Syntactically, their chief importance is their animacy, which interacts with the transitivity of verbs:

kimyōya rasileta kòman

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

As the animacy of subject and object is the same, the verb is intransitive, and the subject is marked with the ergative. This, however, prevents certain information from being present – information about other failures of transitivity.

akàina rasileta kòman

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

Here, the pronoun has a higher animacy than the object, and so the verb is transitive and does not have to be in the ergative. This allows us to create a contrasting sentence:

akàinaya rasileta kòman

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

Here, the subject is in the ergative, indicating that the verb is not transitive. Yet this cannot be due to inherent animacy, as the subject does indeed outrank the object. Hence we can conclude that either the subject lacked volition or the action was not entirely successful.

The opposite effect can also be employed:

kimyōya rasileta īkaròim

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

Technically, no more is implied than this than by the first sentence, but the intentional choice of a pronoun draws attention to the lack of animacy, and strongly suggests that this is the reason for the lack of transitivity – and thus that the action was both intentional and successful.

Deictic pronouns, whether personal, ostensive, positional or oblate, are never ordinarily topics; topicalising them is thus highly marked, and generally indicates control of influence:

īkaròim kimyōya rasileta

“The girl was kissed by the kimyō”

As in the previous case, this is strongly suggested to be voluntary on the part of the kimyō, but the undue topicalising of the pronoun implies that the girl has helped bring this situation about.

[For a willing girl and an unwilling kimyō, the construction would be: īkaròi kimyōya rasileta nàm. This employs the deictic pronoun as a non-subject agent and introduces an anaphoric pronoun for the object.]

Finally, the interaction of deictic pronouns with the anchors of positional deictics has been explained in an earlier section.

3. Pragmatic Functions of Personal Deixis

Deictic pronouns are used for people who can be ‘pointed to’ – present to the senses, or recently present to the senses, or perhaps present to the imagination, or anticipated to be present to the senses. In all these cases, there must be a feasible contact with the speaker and/or listener.

However, deictic pronouns are not always used in these cases, primarily because of register concerns. It sounds informal and imprecise to avoid deictic pronouns when they can be used, while never avoiding them sounds stilted and precise. They are thus more common in formal contexts. However, it is also impolite to over-use them for participants in a discourse (including listeners), even in formal contexts. Yet at the same time, when used with specifically first- and second-person semantics, pseudo-pronouns can sound overly casual, and deictic pronouns used when there is a serious purpose.

To summarise then, in general:

–         for first and second person, deictic pronouns are used to demonstrate seriousness, unless directive pronouns are called for

–         for third-person participants, deictic pronouns are only used when being extremely formal

–         for third-person non-participants, deictic pronouns are used in formal or precise contexts

This is only a general picture, and it is usual for a variety of pronouns to be used in the course of a discourse – in particular, using a deictic pronoun on each occasion would be extremely stilted.

However, all the above is altered by power relations. Those in positions of power, authority or status over their interlocutors may use deictic pronouns when they would not otherwise be used, and so their use can enforce claims of superiority; however, it should be noted that politeness is considered a virtue even in the powerful, and excessive use of deictics should thus only be used in establishing or calling to mind a legitimate power relation when it is in question, not as a continual means of self-elevation.

Contrariwise, those in weaker positions are unlikely to ever use deictic pronouns for their superiors.

Finally, due to the difficulties sometimes in finding an appropriate pseudo-pronoun for all members of a group, the plural forms of the deictics are used rather more frequently than the singulars.

Whether it is these pragmatic concerns or the syntactic and semantic concerns addressed above that influences word choice is very much a matter for context. In general, specific syntactic motivations trump these general pragmatic considerations – although in cases where social status and politeness are particularly salient, these may move to the forefront.

Rawang Ata: Ostension Deixis

Ostension deixis is a limited form of deixis used almost only with physical ostension – that is, a physical action designed to call attention to an object. There are five ostensives:

to            – “this in my hand”

–            “that, that I’m pointing at”

ū            – “this that I’m throwing to you”

kilu            – “this that I’m standing on or kicking”

ko            – “this that I’m tapping”

Ko is now rare, archaic or patronising, with its meaning largely transferred to kilu. To can also be used with items that are part of the body of the speaker if the speaker is pointing to them.

The ostensives are used almost exclusively in this precise physical situations. Occassionally, however, they may be used metaphorically, when something has been pointed out with such overwhelming directness and obviousness that it is considered analogous to a physical gesture. In these cases, the ostensive is often accompanied by a form of its appropriate gesture even if there is no object present to be gestured to. In these metaphorical cases, the ostensives are all more or less interchangeable in meaning.

Ostensives are adjectival particles, preceding the noun like positionals (although they typically move to follow the noun if there are other particles preceding the noun). Unlike positionals, oblates and relationals, ostensives inflect for number – singular, dual, plural and perplural. The inflection is irregular, though singular is always unmarked. In the order [singular-dual-plural-perplural] the inflection is as follows:

to            –            toko            –            tomā            –            totan

nù            –            nuài            –            nuko            –            nùmā

ū            –            ūai            –            ūko            –            ūtan

kilu            –            kiluko            –            kilukilu            –            kilukilu

ko            –            koko            –            komā            –            koko

In practice, the colloquial kilu inflects differently:

kilu            –            koko            –            komā            –            koko

However, the ostensives do not inflect to agree in gender.

In addition to their adjectival use, ostensives can also be converted into pronouns (with the same meanings) through the use of the suffix -i, although the inflection then works somewhat differently:

toi            –            tokoi            –            toitoi            –            totani

nùi            –            nùkoi            –            nùinùi            –            nùimā

ūi            –            ūkoi            –            ūiko            –            ulūi

kilui            –            kilukoi            –            kiluiko            –            kiluikilu

ko            –            kokoi            –            koikoi            –            kotani

It should be noted that these ‘pronouns’ retain an underlying adjectival quality, and the number of the pronouns depends not only on the number of items pointed at but also on the grammatical number of the noun that they semantically relate to. For example, somebody holding a pair of scissors would refer to them as tokoi, not toitoi.

Systems of Deixis in Rawang Ata: Relation Deixis

Whereas positionals define locations within a frame of reference, relations define the locations of frames of reference in space and time. They can be used adverbially or pronominally.

  1. Adverbial use of relationals

The relationals of time are as follows:

kontomorrow (after sunset tonight)


ruo yesterday (before sunset last night)

kon kala –            tonight

meta kalalast night

ruo kala the night before last

nahā this year

naruo last year

nakonnext year

halaokowithin this generation

foyā in the next generation

fotuangu in the last generation

It should be noted that kon, meta and ruo can all refer to a “day” in the sense either of a 24-hour period or of a period of daylight.

These can all stand as adverbs describing the temporal location of an event. The anchor for these relationals is by default the time of the discourse, but the use of any topics with temporal-adverbial semantics causes the anchor to shift to this new time. The anchor is only reset by a new temporal-adverbial topic, or by the use of directive syntax. Within directive syntax, relationals are always anchored to the discourse itself.

For example:

Rahànta yuinù. Kon to rahànta yuinù.

“I am throwing a stone. Tomorrow I will throw a stone again.”

Samù āng, rahànta yuinù. Kon to rahànta yuinù

“At the wedding, I threw a stone. The day after, I threw a stone again.”

Samù āng, rahànta yuinù. Kon to bahànta yuinù

“At the wedding, I threw a stone. Tomorrow I will throw a stone again.”

[The use of the first-person agreement indicates directive syntax]

In a similar manner, there are a number of spatial relationals as well:


ùi ‘upstream’

dahi east

dahi ao west

ohoramasu south

ohoramasu aonorth

nyoa                            – nearby

dàfan a day’s walk from

uminu in the region of

The ‘upstream’/’downstream’ relationals have similar semantic extension to the upstream/downstream positionals, ao and uli, to which they are clearly related. Dàfan has an extended meaning, ‘at the next location’, on the analogy of the next resting place on a journey of many days. The anchors of the spatial relationals operate in the same manner as those of the temporal relationals.

2. Adrelationals

Relationals can be modified by a number of particles we will term ‘adrelationals’. The most important four magnify the ‘amplitude’ of the relation, by one of four degrees. The order of the amplitudinal adrelationals is as follows: wa, ya, yò, ku. The first of these relates to fractional distances; the remaining three relate to concepts of ‘handful’, ‘heap’ and ‘mountain’. Taking kon as our base relational, this gives us:

wa kon                        – ‘less than a day from now’

ya kon             – ‘several days from now’

kon             – ‘many days from now’

ku kon             – ‘a huge number of days from now’.

The same effect operates on the two spatial relations of distance:

wa uminu  – ‘more than a day away, but far from not being in the same region as’

ya dàfan   – ‘a handful of days’ walk from’

The remaining spatial relationals, and the temporal relational meta cannot be modified by these adrelationals.

In addition to the amplitudinal adrelationals are two ‘peripheral’ adrelationals, bana and nisi, and two ‘segmental’ adrelationals, riu and bià. The peripheral adrelationals convey the meanings ‘at or near the limit of’ and ‘just beyond the limit of’; the segmental adrelationals, ‘in the near part of’ and ‘in the far part of’:

bià kon                  – ‘late tomorrow’

bià ruo                        – ‘early yesterday’

riu ruo             – ‘late yesterday’

bana kon      – ‘dusk tomorrow’

nisi dàfan   – ‘a little more than a day’s walk’

bià uminu  – ‘in the farther parts of the region’

Finally, there is a peculiar adrelational , with the meaning ‘everywhere within’. With definite verbs, the idea is of duration or wide extent, while with indefinite verbs it is of iteration and variance in place:

dàfan   – ‘everywhere within a day’s walk’

meta                – ‘all today’

3. Adjectival use of relationals

The relationals can also be used with adjectival meanings, in which case they follow the noun like oblates, rather than preceding them like positionals. Where there is semantic overlap between an adjectival positional and an adjectival relational (eg. ā vs. ao), the relational is usually used in cases of greater distance – and the rules for determining the anchor are also different, as explained above.

samù āng kon

“the wedding tomorrow”

kubirko nisi dàfan

“the bridge a little more than a day’s walk from here”

Proferative and Contrastive Deixis in Rawang Ata

Distinct from the system of positionals is a system of deictics with a separate field of use. This system contains only five deictics, two of which are rare. Due to their association with transference, we will call them oblates.

1. Exclamatory uses

The core use of oblates is as exclamations when handing an object to an interlocutor. Four of the five oblates can be used in this way:





The first of these can be used in place of any of the other three. The second is used specifically when relinquishing ownership, as when giving a gift. The third, used more rarely, occurs when responsibility is relinquished – as when handing over a person or object to be guarded or kept captive. The fourth signifies that the item remains a property of the giver, and that benefits will continue to accrue to the giver, but that responsibility has been transferred – mostly used in legal instances, as when handing over stewardship of property.

The fifth oblate is in a way the opposite of the above – it is used when taking an object from an interlocutor:


All five oblates may be used a metaphorical way to refer to concepts and statements transferred in discourse, in which case they are used as interjections:


“There, think about that!”


“There, I’ve told you myself so you didn’t have to work it out”


“Hold that thought for now, it will be relevant later”


“That’s what I’ve given you, now give me your own thought”

(Used only in formal contexts, such as in instruction)

The oblates ia and niò may also be used in response to questions and statements, with meanings of “yes, I don’t deny it” and “I was the one who told you!”.

2. Pronominal and adjectival proferative uses

The exclamatory uses may not themselves be considered deictic, but the oblates (with the exception of the fifth) can also be used, with much the same meaning, as evidently deictic pronominals and as particles with deictic adjectival content. As adjectival particles, they follow the noun they modify:

Yuinù ia

“This stone I am giving you”

Kihantara ia

“She threw this thing I am giving you”

Note that oblates never inflect, not even for feminine agreement.

3. Pronominal and adjectival contrastive uses

Two of the oblates, ia and awì, have important pronominal/adjectival uses when contrasting two different options. The former is used with the preferred item, while the latter is used with the non-prefered item.

Wui kihantara awì, wakà ia.

“She didn’t throw that, but she threw this!”

Tyàyara awì, ìnga nao ia.

“She likes that, but she likes this more!”

It should be noted that the deixis in contrastive uses is entirely conceptual, and need not involve actual physical presence.

4. Discourse Deixis

Finally, the oblate ia is also the pronominal (and adjectival) used to refer to words and phrases that have occurred in speech:

“Tyàyara awì” – kosakkila ia

” ‘She likes that’ – that is true”

This use, however, is somewhat rare, as such constructions are generally avoided, and typically only occur in dialogue, where one participant discusses the words of the other.