Summary: Perception verbs used as deictic (or non-deictic) presentational particles

Nick Bailey nicholas_bailey at SIL.ORG
Fri May 12 05:08:27 UTC 2006

May 12, 2006

Dear LingTyp list members,


On April 30th I posted a request for cases of perception verbs (e.g. 'see') that have been grammaticalized as a 'deictic presentational' particle or anything functionally close to that sort of thing. I was very pleased by all the responses that people sent me. Thank you very much! In case it is of interest to others, here is a summary of what people sent me:


Some pointed me to examples in several languages of Europe. Besides French and classical Greek referred to in my original posting, people mentioned cases from Catalan, Czech, Hungarian, German dialects, and English.


The French cases of voici and voilà are well know (I had previously referred to Lambrecht 2000:646, but neglected to cite the work: Lambrecht, Knud. 2000. "When subjects behave like objects: An analysis of the merging of S and O in sentence-focus constructions". Studies in Language 24(3).611-682.). Bernard Fradin recommended an important work on voici and voilà:


Morin Yves-Charles. 1985. "On the two subjectless verbs voici and voilà". Language 77:777-820.


Hortènsia Curell reports the case of goita in some dialects of Catalan from the (now 'old-fashioned') verb guaita 'look':

"It is used like French "voilà", with a reduction of the initial diphthong, resulting in "goita":

"Goita ma mare" Here/there is my mother..

"Goita-la", where "la" is unambiguously accusative."


Viktor Elsík posted detailed data from colloquial Czech which feature four forms based on the imperative of the verb HLEDJ-ET 'to look'. He wrote that "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." He summarized saying that "Czech HELE etc. deictic appears to fulfill functions intermediate between the imperative of a perception verb and a presentational particle of the VOILA/VOICI type." For more detail see the letter that he posted to the list on May 2.


László Honti and Edith Moravcsik both reported one or more Hungarian deictic particles based on the verb néz 'see' including ne, nesze and ne'zd (apologies if I may have messed up the spellings or special characters here). László Honti pointed me to this Etymological Dictionary:


Loránd Benkö (Hrsg.), Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Ungarischen. Band II. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest. 1995. 1018, 1027


László Honti also suggested there might be something in Veps (Finnic) based on nähdä 'see'.


René Schiering reported that some "German dialects use contractions of  'see' + softener particle as deictic presentational particles, e.g. Ruhr German 'kuck mal' ~ 'kumma' and Kölsch 'loor eens' ~ 'loorens'. The following NP would be in nominative case in both cases." "'Loor' is the imperative of 'looren', which goes back to Old High German lôgên, which can be translated as - and is related to - English 'look'. It's traceable from Old High German to Middle High German to present German dialects, from Old Saxon to Lower German and from Anglo-Saxon to English, so it's pretty West-Germanic. 'Eens' seems to be related to the numeral ONE, cf. 'een', so it's similar to 'one' ~ 'once' in English.


Nicholas Ostler suggested one take a look at lo (<look!) and hark (<hearken!), and possibly list (<listen!). For 'lo' at least, I see that the Oxford English Dictionary and other dictionaries seem to confirm that it comes from a perception verb (from old English LÓCIAN 'to look, see'-but from the little I've read so far I still only have a very sketchy picture of its history). It is in any case clear that 'lo' in both middle and modern English can or could be used to direct the hearer's attention to "the presence or approach of something, or to what is about to be said" (The Oxford English Dictionary).


Several people also suggested examples from languages outside of Europe.


Kees Hengeveld reports that 'there is such a construction in Kpelle (Welmers 1973)' which I understand is also described in Hengeveld 1992. 


Welmers, William. E. 1973. African language structures. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.


Hengeveld, Kees. 1992. Non-verbal predication: Theory, typology, diachrony, Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter.


Martine Vanhove shared this: "Dialectal Arabic (at least Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian and some Yemeni varieties, for those I know of) have grammaticalized a verb meaning 'see' as a 'deictic presentational' particle, but also often as an aspectual marker. There is a vast literature on the subject. Here is one where you'll find other references:"


Caubet, Dominique. 1992. Deixis, aspect et modalité : les particules hA- et RA- en arabe marocain. in Morel, M.-A. et Danon-Boileau, L. (éds.), Actes du colloque : La deixis. Paris: PUF, p. 139-149. 


David Gil suggested there might be a case in Hebrew of the imperative re'eh (as well as harey). I have since found that one of the standard scholastic dictionaries on classical Hebrew (The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Ludwig Koehler & Walter Baumgartner) essentially confirms this. There are, for example, parallel passages in the Hebrew Bible where in one version of a story re'eh 'see!' is used and in another version hinneh is used. Hinneh in turn is recognized as a presentative particle by Andersen 2003, who also points out the parallels with re'eh (Andersen, Francis I. 2003. 'Lo and behold! Taxonomy and translation of Biblical Hebrew [hinneh].' Hamlet on a hill: Semitic and Greek studies presented to Professor T. Muraoka on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday, ed. by M. F. J. Baasten & W. Th. van Peursen, Leuven: Peeters.).


Alex François provide a very interesting example from Mwotlap of north Vanuatu.


In Mwotlap, an Oceanic language (1800 sp.) from north Vanuatu, there is a deictic presentational particle of the form /ete/.

It is most probably the combination of two morphemes, /et/ 'to see/look' + /e/ 'Deictic'.   

/et/ is both the radical form of 'see', and also the form of the imperative:  /et!/= 'Look!'

/e/ ~ /en/ is a general situational deictic which can be glossed 'there', and is now mostly used as an anaphoric particle and definite marker.  It is thus neutral with respect to distance, although it is probably cognate with /nen/, the mid-distance (or addressee's sphere) deictic. 

In other words, /ete/ is a perfect parallel to Fr. /voilà/.


Syntactically, /ete/ is sometimes attested with only an NP: /Ete n-êmw mino hag gên/ 'Voici ma maison là-bas' = 'There's my house, over there'.  As Mwotlap is not a case-marking language, I can't tell you if it's followed by a nominative or accusative.

It is also attested alone (/Ete!/ 'Voici!' = 'There it is! ~ Look!')

... or preceding a whole <Subject+Predicate> clause: 

/Ete kê no-togtog van agôh/

/Presentat. + 3sg:subj + Stative-stay:Dup + Direc + Dx:Prox/

'(Look) here's where she lives.'  


Rik van Gijn reports that in Yurakaré (unclassified, central Bolivia):


"both the presentational demonstrative and the verb for 'to see' seem to be derived from one and the same root, and not one from the other. The form for 'to see' is bëjta, which contains the form bë, also found in the causative counterpart of 'to see'  bëjche 'to show' (the -ta vs. -che non-causative-causative opposition is rather regular, it occurs with other verbs), and in bëbë 'search, look for'. There is also an enclitic particle =bë which, among other functions, is used to draw the attention of the hearer:


am=chi  bata-m=bë


'Hey! Where are you off to?'


There are two demonstrative forms bëna 'this here' and bëti 'that there', which are variants of ana 'this' and ati 'that'. These variants also contain the element bë, almost certainly related to the bë in bëjta. They have a wider use than just presentational, as they can also simply refer to something in the immediate visible (!) or linguistic context without presenting it, but it is one of their uses:


bëna            meme,           ani             li-tütü     mi-nñu       mother          dem:loc your-child

'Look here mother, here is your child.'


Thank you everyone for your help. I am also grateful to those who kindly shared other things, such as examples of deictic or deictic presentational particles which are probably not derived from perception verbs, or the use of an perception imperative for things other than deictic presentationals.


Nick Bailey
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