Definition and Examples of Indexicality in Linguistics 

In linguistics, indexicality refers to a language’s ability to make explicit references to the conditions or context of an utterance. Roughly speaking, an indexical is a linguistic expression whose reference can shift from context to context.

All languages have the ability to function indexically, yet some expressions and communication actions imply indexicality more so than others.

An expression that has many meanings (or referents) at once is called an indexical expression. For example, the indexical ‘you’ may refer to one person in one context and to another person in another context. Other examples are today, that, here, utterance, etc. Two speakers who utter a single sentence that contains an indexical may say different things. Interpretation of indexical phrases in conversation may be influenced by a number of paralinguistic and non-linguistic elements, including hand gestures and the participants’ shared experiences.

The term “indexicality” is frequently used by philosophers and linguists to distinguish between classes of expressions whose meaning depends on the context in which they are used, such as this and that, here and now, I and you, and expressions whose meaning is claimed to be objective, or context-free, such as noun phrases that refer to a class of objects. The importance of a language statement is always dependent on the context in which it is used, especially in a communicative sense. In this perspective, pronouns, place and time adverbs, and deictic expressions are simply especially effective examples of a general fact about situated language.

Direct Indexicality

A meaning relationship that exists directly between language and the attitude, deed, action, or identity indicated is known as direct indexicality.

The American English address phrase dude is an example of this procedure. Young white guys most often use the term “dude,” which denotes a casual solidarity and a friendly but vitally non-intimate relationship with the addressee. Young white American men tend to adopt this posture of informal unity more frequently than members of other identity groups. Dude therefore also subtly indexes young, white masculinity.

These indexicality descriptions, however, lack specificity and do not consider the speech event or the identities of the speakers as established by other perceptual modalities, such as vision.

Indexical Expressions

The achievement of a deictic act of citation to a certain book through an indexical expression. For instance, when we say this book, both its gestural indication and its physical presence must be present in the shared visual field of the interlocutors.

However, deictic use is not always made of indexical terms. Anaphoric and cataphoric usage is possible with definitive noun phrases and third-person pronouns. Anaphoric indication occurs when the field changes while the expression stays the same. The phrase usually refers to an entity that has been named within the same speech or text but not necessarily to a specific person that is physically present in the perceptual field: I’m reading a paper on cataphora. I find it (this paper) interesting.

The personal pronouns “I,” “we,” “you,” etc., demonstratives “this,” “that,” deictics “here,” “there,” and “now,” as well as tense and other forms of temporal placement like “smiles,” “smiled,” and “will smile,” are the most often seen indexicals. Our comprehension of both spoken and written words must be grounded in the physical world. We need a provisional location for myself (the speaker—a meaning for here), for “you” (my addressee), for the object (this), and for the anticipated outcome (there) in order to grasp a statement like “Would you carry this over there.”

Examples of Indexicality

Following are some examples of indexicality in a language:

Indexical Words:

  • Pronouns: I, he, she, it, this, that, we, us, ours, they, them, theirs, these, those
  • Adverbs: Here, now, today, yesterday, tomorrow, actually, then, presently, currently, there
  • Adjectives: My, his, her, present, past, actual, current
  • Modals: Necessary, necessarily, possible, possibly, contingent, contingently, must, might, could, may, can, able

Indexicals used in phrases:

  • The dog she is looking at
  • Sat next to me
  • He is standing
  • He was born in Detroit
  • Her paper was published
  • Every young boy thinks that he will go to school
  • Every young girl rode her bike
  • Johnny was riding a bike. He was having a good time.
  • A woman came to my office today. She worked for Gigantic Academic Press. She tried to persuade me to adopt their logic book.
  • Fred is hungry
  • Sue can go to the party
  • Joe might have been in London this morning
  • Alice might have run three miles
  • Mary may go to school
  • She is possibly late
  • Larry must have boarded the train by now
  • Mary is a philosopher
  • That is larger than that
  • I utter nothing
  • I want you to win the game
  • I shall follow you
  • He is making a mess
  • John wants him to eat a large slice of pizza
  • That philosopher was born in Boise
  • That is not identical with that
  • She was sitting far away from me

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