perception verbs used as deictic (or non-deictic) presentational particles

Viktor Elsik viktor_elsik at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon May 1 23:04:13 UTC 2006

Dear Nicholas,

also in Czech (my native language) there is a deictic that has developed
through grammaticalization of a perception verb, although I would hesitate
to call it a presentational deictic.

The source form of the deictic is the imperative of the verb HLEDJ-ET 'to
look' (I’m not using the standard Czech orthography here). The verb itself
is bookish and not used in colloquial Czech (which employs DJÍVAT SE or
KOUKAT SE instead), while the deictic is typical of the colloquial register

The deictic still retains some verbal properties, viz. inflection for the
number and/or the relative social status of the addressee(s). (The
social-deictic distinction in Czech pronouns and verb inflection is much
like the French TU vs. VOUS distinction, both structurally and

1. The forms HELEDJTE (< plural imperative HLEDJ-TE) is used when speaking
to more addressees (of any social status) or when speaking to a single
addressee of the VOUS status.
2. The form HELEDJ (< singular imperative HLEDJ) is used when speaking to a
single addressee of the TU status.
3. The form HELE (< HELEDJ) is typically used like the form 2 (by all
speakers of Colloquial Czech), but can also be used like the form 1, i.e.
when speaking to more addressees or a VOUS addressee (by some speakers
only). This form is by far the most common of all.
4. The form HELEME appears to be an analogical creation consisting of the
form 3 plus the verbal 1PL suffix –ME, rather than a result of
grammaticalisation from the 1PL imperative HLEDJ-ME. It is used as an
inclusive form.

It seems peculiar that the grammaticalized forms 1 and 2 are one-phoneme
longer than their source imperative forms, at least synchronically!
Phonological reduction between 2 > 3 goes hand in hand with a functional
extension with regard to the properties of the addressee. The forms 1, 2 and
4 (but not 3) can show formal reflexivization: HELEDJTE SE, HELEDJ SE,
HELEME SE, but not *HELE SE.

The unreflexivized forms appear to be much more common as deictic particles
introducing NPs. They take the nominative case with nouns, e.g. HELE KRÁVA!
“look, a cow!; (t)here is a cow!”, but the accusative case with personal
pronouns, e.g. HELE HO! “look at what he’s doing!; here he comes! etc.”.
(The source verb, on the other hand, requires a preposition, e.g. HLEDJ NA
KRÁVU ~ NJEHO! “look at a/the cow ~ him!”.) The referent of the NP must be
visible: the original perception (vision) meaning has not been bleached
enough for the deictic to become a general-purpose presentational deictic.
(I do not dare to go into a detailed functional analysis without other than
introspection data.) In addition, all of the forms, including the
reflexivized ones, can function as discourse markers of the English LOOK
type, e.g. HELEDJ SE, TOHLE NEMÁ CENU “look, this does not make any sense”.

To conclude: the Czech HELE etc. deictic appears to fulfil functions
intermediate between the imperative of a perception verb and a
presentational particle of the VOILA/VOICI type.


Viktor Elšík (Elsik)

Department of General Linguistics and Finno-Ugric Studies
Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Philosophical Faculty)
Charles University

Email: viktor_elsik at

Correspondence address:
Viktor Elsik
Libusina 429
25263 Roztoky u Prahy
Czech Republic

>> Dear Colleagues,
>> I am looking for examples in different languages where a perception verb,
>> maybe something like 'see', has been grammaticalized as a 'deictic
>> presentational' particle, or anything functionally close to that (for
>> example, it might also function as a non-deictic presentational particle, in
>> an 'existential' construction meaning 'there is a X.').
>> Can anyone help me?
>> The only two clear examples of deictic presentational particles that I know
>> of so far are from French and from Classical and Koine Greek:
>> Voilà mon ami. 'There's my friend'
>> Voici mon frère, Trey. 'Here's my brother, Trey'
>> Le voilà. 'There he is' (le is unambiguously the object case, not
>> subject/nominative)
>> idou hudOr 'Here's/There's (some) water!'  (idou is unmarked for near/far
>> deixis)
>> idou egO 'Here I am!' (egO is unambiguously nominative case)
>> Knud Lambrecht counts voilà as 'a frozen form of the imperative of voir "to
>> see" meaning literally "see there".'
>> Greek idou derives from the singular imperative of the middle aorist stem
>> eidon '(I) saw'. As far as I understand, middle forms were slowly falling
>> out of classical Greek, and by Koine times, the middle of eidon is only used
>> as this grammaticalized deictic presentational particle. (The active forms
>> of eidon, however, continued to be in use, so the real aorist imperative
>> 'see!' or 'look at!' was ide [singular] or idete [plural].)
>> I would be very grateful for any examples people could share with me, or
>> references to literature. If possible, please explain what case the
>> introduced NP is in (object or subject case, etc.), and whether or not the
>> construction is neutral for near/far deixis (Greek idou is neutral).
>> Many thanks for your attention.
>> Nicholas Bailey
>> nicholas_bailey at

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