A linguistic-pragmatic analysis of cat-induced deixis in cat-human interactions

L. Cornips, M. van Koppen, Sterre Leufkens, Ronja van Zijverden, Kristin Melum Eide

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The present paper contributes to the emerging field of embodied interaction. It reports on research into deictic interactions between a human and a non-human, specifically a cat, interlocutor, applying a pragmatic framework developed for human–human communicative interactions. We analyse video recordings of interactions where a cat is a deictic agent pointing the human interlocutor either to the door or the food bowl. We show that these interactions show triadic pointing, hence, focusing joint attention on a common object as a proxy for the event i.e., providing food in the bowl and opening the door. We show that the cat also checks whether the human understands her intentions and that she confirms the human's interpretation. We do not restrict ourselves to vocal communication - as is often done in human language studies -, but we examine how in cat-human communication the cat and human bodies are used to express deixis. Thus, we conceptualize deixis as an embodied interpersonal i.e., interspecies phenomenon. We show that the cat interlocutor uses her body, e.g. eyes/body/tail/ears, as well as her voice, meowing/purring, within this complex deictic interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-68
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


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