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References to Environs are Coordinated to be Heard and Seen (REaCHeS): an investigation of multimodal spatial referencing in Eastern Chatino

Project description

A closer look at spatial deictic expressions and pointing gestures

To point to objects in the world, people use spoken deictic expressions (like ‘this’ and ‘that,’ ‘here’ and ‘there') and gestures of the head and hands. The EU-funded REaCHeS project investigates how speakers use these signals during direction-giving. Specifically, the project focuses on spoken deictic expressions and pointing gestures in speakers of Eastern Chatino (a Zapotecan language used in Oaxaca, Mexico). This lesser-studied language has a rich set of spoken deictics, as well as pointing gestures that convey information about the distance of the target. The project explores how people combine the many information-rich pointing signals available to them during real-world navigation and direction-giving activities.


To locate objects in the world, speakers typically use two linked indicating behaviours: spatial deictic expressions and pointing gestures. A growing body of research focuses on both of these indicating types, asking how semantic information is encoded in each modality, and investigating the factors that condition speakers’ use of indicating strategies in isolation and in combination. The proposed research programme will explore these questions by examining multimodal indicating behaviours in speakers of Eastern Chatino (Zapotecan, Otomanguan). The language presents an ideal system for examination because of its typologically unusual demonstrative system; its manual pointing system with distance-encoding formational distinctions; and its additional lip pointing system. The planned research programme comprises two studies that probe the semantic encodings of demonstratives and lip- and manual pointing, as well as the factors that motivate speakers to combine them. In Study 1, semistructured interviews will be performed in which speakers describe features of the landscape while walking familiar routes. Video and audio recordings of the multimodal talk in these interviews will be analysed using traditional tools of descriptive linguistics, along with a GIS tool adapted expressly for the research programme to encode the relative geospatial positions of speakers, addressees, and referents. Analysis will generate hypotheses about semantic distinctions encoded in various demonstrative and pointing forms. These, in turn, will be tested In Study 2, a more controlled quasi-experiment (a referential communication task) designed to isolate factors like distance and in/visibility of referent that are often coupled in discourse environments. The research programme is ambitious in its use of new tools to examine multimodal behaviour in a lesser-studied language. Expertise of Chatino speakers and researchers from multiple linguistic subdisciplines will inform its design.


Net EU contribution
€ 191 852,16
Paradisgatan 5c
22100 Lund

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Södra Sverige Sydsverige Skåne län
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 191 852,16