This and that back in context: Grounding demonstrative reference in manual and social affordances

AbstractSpatial demonstratives, i.e. words like this and that, serve as important tools to establish joint attention, allowing interlocutors to flexibly share spatial reference schemes. However, little experimental work has investigated which perceptual and social factors drive speakers’ choices of demonstrative forms. We used a novel experimental paradigm to explore 1) the role of relative placement of competing referents on the sagittal and lateral planes, 2) whether and how the presence of an addressee modulates the speaker’s choice of demonstrative forms. We found that the choice of demonstratives is affected by the relative position of competing referents both on the sagittal and lateral plane. Furthermore, we found that the presence of an interlocutor shifts attraction for proximal demonstratives towards the shared space of reference, but only in collaborative contexts. Together, these results suggest that spatial deixis is grounded in a contrastive organization of space tightly coupled to manual and social affordances.

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