Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Robert W. Fiengo

Committee Members

Richard Kayne

William McClure

Subject Categories



Indexicals are those expressions in natural language–such as I, you, here, and now–whose reference varies with occasion of use, picking out individuals in virtue of their contextual roles. Although analyses of the semantics of indexicals have been advanced–most notably by Kaplan–their syntax has heretofore been largely ignored. This dissertation puts forth a theory of the syntax of indexical expressions, within the framework of generative grammar, and proposes a new model of the formal context for natural language.

The central argument against prior accounts of indexicals is that such theories draw the distinction between the first and second person pronouns versus third person incorrectly. Evidence for syntactic "uniformity"–that first, second and third person expressions are individuated in the same way–is presented in chapter 2. It is concluded that Kaplan's notion of "character" as a semantic function from context to individual is theoretically inadequate. Hypothesized instead is syntactic "orientation," a function that operates at the syntactic level of logical form, the output of which is not individuals but syntactic indices. The resulting proposed structure of the formal context is thus two-tiered; the syntactic input to the semantic component is uniform across first, second and third person expressions.

Analysis of the "switch" phenomenon in chapters 3 and 4 lends support to the syntactic orientation hypothesis. A natural account of switch is advanced within Fiengo and May's dependency theory, through the assumption that dependencies may occur among syntactic orientations. The existence of two derivational levels at logical form–as proposed in the new model–is revealed to be crucial to the explanation of more complicated switch data. Additionally, evidence is presented that oriented sentences are the structure of choice in the making of expressive utterances such as "speech acts."

In chapter 5, syntactic orientation is shown to provide a natural way of describing the pronominal systems across languages. Furthermore, the new model is generalized to include non-pronominals, yielding a general theory of indexical expressions. Finally, "demonstrative" expressions are defined with respect to indexicals, with which they are argued to be in complementary distribution.


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