Workshop: Discourse Functions of Demonstratives

This two-day workshop focuses on the functions of demonstratives and related forms as discourse-structuring devices beyond their already well-described reference tracking and discourse-deictic uses.

The class of forms referred to as ‘demonstratives’ is large and varied, both crosslinguistically and often within individual languages. Traditional classifications of demonstrative forms (e.g. Diessel 1999, Dixon 2003) focus especially on the deictic distinctions made in demonstrative systems, and the morphology, syntax and grammaticalisation of demonstrative forms. Apart from being used in exophoric function, it is also well established that demonstratives often show endophoric functions. Himmelmann (1996), among others, discusses the use of demonstratives in introducing, identifying and tracking referents in discourse.

Beyond reference-tracking and discourse deixis, there is evidence that demonstratives are linked to a range of further discourse functions which have not been generally acknowledged in the typological literature (see e.g. functions discussed by Reesink 1987, de Vries 1995, François 2001, 2005, Schapper and San Roque 2011, Kratochvil 2011). Furthermore, despite extensive research over the last decades on demonstrative systems cross-linguistically and within individual languages, we know surprisingly little about markedness distinctions in demonstrative paradigms (Himmelmann 1997), i.e. about which member is the unmarked choice in a particular type of use and which member (and in which use) has the tendency to further grammaticalise into which target domain.


This two-day workshop focuses on the functions of demonstratives and related forms as discourse-structuring devices beyond their already well-described reference tracking and discourse-deictic uses.

We are interested in

  • functions including the foregrounding or backgrounding of information (e.g. referents, events, stretches of discourse), marking presupposed or asserted information, marking discourse topics, marking stretches of discourse as forming a unit, clause-linking and subordination-like functions, as well as functions relating to information structure (i.e. clause-level topic/focus relations).
  • how the structure of a demonstrative paradigm interacts with discourse functions. That is, does the type of system (person-based vs. distance-based) and/or the number of contrasts within the system (two-term, three-term, larger systems) have any impact on which member(s) of the paradigm take on specific functions?
  • little-studied discourse functions of demonstratives referring to persons, places and objects, but also in demonstratives expressing other ontological categories (e.g. manner, quality, degree, quantity), as well as contributions on the discourse function of presentative demonstratives.

Information for participants

The workshop is held on the University of Oslo campus at Blindern, see link to map on top of the page. The campus is easily accessible by public transport from the city centre. The nearest metro stop is Forskningsparken (see metro map here); tram lines 17 and 18 also go past the university (tram stop Universitetet Blindern, see map here). 

The nearest airport is Oslo Gardermoen (OSL). Some low-fare airlines fly to Torp (TRF); from there it is about 1 hour 40 minutes by train to Oslo Central Station. The quickest way from Gardermoen to the centre is the Airport Express train, which takes about 20 minutes; there are also regular trains between the airport and the city.

Public transport tickets for Oslo can be bought in Narvesen, 7-Eleven, Deli de Luca or Mix kiosks. A single ticket, valid for one hour, is NOK35; you can buy a travel card and load it with a sum of money of your choice, or a period ticket (24-hour ticket NOK105, 7-day ticket NOK249). There's also a smartphone app you can use to buy tickets (RuterBillett) and a separate app for timetable information (RuterReise). 

Coffee and lunch is provided for participants both days. The workshop dinner on June 15 will be at Restaurant Olympen, address Grønlandsleiret 15.


Programme and abstracts

The workshop programme (updated June 13) can be found here. Abstracts for the talks can be downloaded here.


Powerpoint from workshop introduction


Contact us by email to

Organising committee

Åshild Næss, University of Oslo

Jozina Vander Klok, University of Oslo

Anna Margetts, Monash University

Yvonne Treis, CNRS-LLACAN



Diessel, Holger. 1999. Demonstratives: Form, function, and grammaticalization. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

De Vries, Lourens. 1995. Demonstratives, referent identification and topicality in Wambon and some other Papuan languages. Journal of Pragmatics 24(5). 513–533.

Dixon, R.M.W. 2003. Demonstratives: a cross-linguistic typology. Studies in Language 27:1, 61-112.

François, Alexandre. 2001. Contraintes de structures et liberté dans l’organisation du discours: une description du mwotlap, langue océanienne du Vanuatu. Univ. Paris.

François, Alexandre. 2005. A typological overview of Mwotlap, an Oceanic language of Vanuatu. Linguistic Typology 9. 115–146.

Himmelmann, Nikolaus. P. 1996. Demonstratives in narrative discourse: a taxonomy of universal uses. In Fox ed., Studies in Anaphora, 205-254. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Himmelmann, Nikolaus P. 1997. Deiktikon, Artikel, Nominalphrase: zur Emergenz syntaktischer Struktur. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Kratochvíl, František. 2011.  Discourse-structuring functions of Abui demonstratives. In Foong Ha Yap, Karen Grunow-Hårsta and Janick Wrona (eds.), Nominalization in Asian languages: Diachronic and typological  perspectives, 757–788. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Reesink, Ger P. 1987. Structures and their functions in Usan. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Schapper, Antoinette, and Lila San Roque. 2011. Demonstratives and non-embedded nominalisations in three Papuan languages of the Timor-Alor-Pantar family. Studies in Language 35:2, 380-408.

Publisert 18. okt. 2017 14:28 - Sist endret 14. juni 2018 10:08