Ever Wondered Why a Teacher Would Prefer “We” to “You” When Speaking to Students, or a Father Favor “Daddy” over “I” to His Child?

This preference of different deixis is much related to their pre-emptive or anti-pre-emptive usages in social communication.

Deixis is directly concerned with the relationship between the structure of a language and the context in which the language is used. The pre-emptive use of deixis makes us answer a question “where are you?” with “I am here”, instead of “Selina is at latitude 53.16’N and longitude 4.03’, while the anti-pre-emptive usage demanding particular context refers to non-deictic words substituting deixis, which can often shows in letters, telephones, and emails.

In Yu Zhang’s research from School of Foreign Languages at Southwest University, published in Open Journal of Modern Linguistics 2013 vol.3 by Scientific Research Publishing. She reviewed the pre-emptive use of social deixis and anti-pre-emptive use of person deixis, and concluded that their pragmatic functions are of the same nature. Most anti-pre-emptive uses of person deixis embody speaker’s pragmatic intention of regulating the interpersonal relation, either to draw close psychological distance with the addressee to show closeness, love or care, or to keep a distance so as to show respect, superiority or indirect reminding , or to carry overtones such as modesty, conceit, self-mockery, etc. The pre-emptive use of social deixis by polite nouns and naming forms and titles, honorific terms and self-abasing expression, or teknonymous terms, is proved to perform the same pragmatic function.

Given the profound pragmatic functions person deixis and social deixis possess , we might want to consider twice how we address others.

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