Are there any natural languages that mark the distinction between cataphoric and anaphoric pronouns?

Just to make sure I got the terms straight, I looked up “cataphora” and its opposite, “anaphora,” at the Summer Institute of Linguistics’ Glossary of Linguistic Terms.

“Cataphora is the coreference of one expression with another expression which follows it. The following expression provides the information necessary for interpretation of the preceding one.”

e.g. “If you need one, there’s a towel in the top drawer.”

See What is cataphora?

“Anaphora is coreference of one expression with its antecedent. The antecedent provides the information necessary for the expression’s interpretation.”

e.g. “A well-dressed man was speaking; he had a foreign accent.”

See What is anaphora?

My question is, are there any languages that mark this distinction? For example, are there any languages that have one set of pronouns that is cataphoric and another set of pronouns that is anaphoric? Another example: Are there any languages whose pronouns take affixes that mark their reference as cataphoric vs. anaphoric?

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    Another interesting thing is that, in Latin, the demonstrative pronouns hic "this" and ille "that" can be used contrastively to indicate textual proximity in anaphora. For example: Lepidus et Octavianus conspirabant post primum triumviratum, hic filius Caesaris, ille divitissimus. "Lepidus and Octavianus conspired after the the first triumvirate, the latter the son of Caesar, the former very rich." The word hic "this" refers to the nearer of the two possible antecedents, ille "that" to the farther.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 4:20

2 Answers 2


This is a great question! I personally don't know of any NLs which mark the distinction morphologically, and i'd be very surprised indeed to find one that did. Suppose in a hypothetical language L, an anaphoric pronoun is assigned form A, and a cataphoric one is assigned form B. The distribution of A and B would have to conditioned by the linear order of A/B with respect to its antecedent, which may be at a potentially unbounded distance away. Syntactic/morphological rules just don't work that way - syntactic rules don't tend to invoke linear order at all, and morphological rules only invoke linear order to the extent that forms can be conditioned by adjacent material.

Unfortunately it's much harder to prove a negative than a positive, but since i'm feeling brazen i'm going to go ahead and answer this question by saying that such a natural language couldn't exist. Now someone go ahead and try to disprove me.

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    That's pretty much the conclusion I came to, too. One might come across a SOV language where pronouns are attached to the verb and almost all coreference was cataphoric by necessity, but that would be an effect of the morphosyntax rather than a fact about anaphora. BTW, as another point to consider, in linguistics the generic term is anaphora, and individual coreferents are called anaphors, whichever direction they go in; cataphora is not used except in very special circumstances.
    – jlawler
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 15:24
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    Finally, English has a syntactic rule that determines when cataphora may occur, but it works for all pronouns and keys on the structure rather than what the pronoun happens to be.
    – jlawler
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 15:29

Ancient Greek does something pretty close. It has (among others) two demonstrative pronouns hóde and hoûtos, both of which are usually translated "this" or sometimes "that". But when referring to a stretch of discourse, e.g. a story or a speech, hóde means "the following" and hoûtos means "the preceding". For example, táde élege (táde = neuter plural of hóde) "he said this, i.e. what follows", but taûta élege (taûta = neuter plural of hoûtos) "he said this, i.e. what precedes".

  • Can the distinction ever be observed intrasententially? Seems more like a discourse deictic than an anaphoric phenomenon on the face of it.
    – P Elliott
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 23:03
  • Yes, these are discourse deictics (hence "something pretty close"). I can't think of an intrasentential example of this usage, at the moment anyway.
    – TKR
    Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 0:48
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    It seems to me that we get a similar effect in English actually: (i) "Go away and leave me alone". Bill said that to me, can you believe it? (ii) ? "Go away and leave me alone?" Bill said this to me, can you believe it? (iii) Bill said this to me, can you believe it? "Go away and leave me alone". (iv) # Bill said that to me, can you believe it? "Go away and leave me alone".
    – P Elliott
    Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 0:55
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    I wonder if this holds of proximal/distal demonstratives more generally. It's an interesting effect. Clearly not what the questioner has in mind though.
    – P Elliott
    Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 0:59
  • This is probably the more common pattern in Greek and Latin (hoc/ille), but I wouldn't say it is universal. I started at the beginning of the Apology, and it didn't take me long to find this example: οὐδὲ γὰρ ἂν δήπου πρέποι, ὦ ἄνδρες, τῇδε τῇ ἡλικίᾳ ὥσπερ μειρακίῳ πλάττοντι λόγους εἰς ὑμᾶς εἰσιέναι. καὶ μέντοι καὶ πάνυ, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, τοῦτο ὑμῶν δέομαι καὶ παρίεμαι: ἐὰν διὰ τῶν αὐτῶν λόγων ἀκούητέ μου ἀπολογουμένου δι᾽ ὧνπερ εἴωθα λέγειν καὶ ἐν ἀγορᾷ ἐπὶ τῶν τραπεζῶν, ἵνα ὑμῶν πολλοὶ ἀκηκόασι, καὶ ἄλλοθι, μήτε [17δ] θαυμάζειν μήτε θορυβεῖν τούτου ἕνεκα.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 3:54

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