In American Sign Language (ASL) a certain kind of anaphora is found by assigning things in the discourse to physical locations around the speaker.

For example, if you say "my brother's new house" and gesture to a point off to your right, you've now assigned that referent to that location. Then you can gesture to that location again to use it like a pronoun, referring to your brother's new house without naming it again. Then you might say "the piano that fell on my car" and gesture to your left, and now you can gesture to that location to talk about the piano.

What are the proper terms for referring to this sort of concept?

  1. the process of assigning a thing to a location (assignment? reference? indexing?)
  2. the thing that is assigned (referent?)
  3. the location that refers to the thing (pronoun? anaphor?)

I'm looking for the broadly-applicable terms, not ones that might only be used for ASL.

1 Answer 1


Compared to speech:

  1. Gesturing to a new location is a pronoun used in apposition to the noun phrase ('the house, here'). This is a form of 'mention' where the multiple possible locations correspond to something analogous to 'gender'. ('Indexing' seems good as a coined term)

  2. The referent is the 'antecedent'. ('the house')

  3. The gesture to a mentioned location is a (demonstrative) pronoun. ('this')

  • So you'd say something like this? He indexed the antecedent "my brother's new house" with the pronoun "lower right".
    – Joe
    Apr 18, 2017 at 21:27
  • Yes, although it is new terminology. The analogy is also with person or proximity.
    – amI
    Apr 19, 2017 at 21:58
  • Is there existing terminology for this feature? Linguists love naming things, and ASL has been studied for a while now.
    – Joe
    Apr 19, 2017 at 22:41
  • 1
    I'm not qualified to answer. See 'directional inflection' and 'spatial agreement'. 'Indexing' is already an ASL term so you might not want to extend its meaning. Can anyone else answer?
    – amI
    Apr 19, 2017 at 22:58

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