Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 477–520 | Cite as

Quotation, demonstration, and iconicity

  • Kathryn DavidsonEmail author
Research Article


Sometimes form-meaning mappings in language are not arbitrary, but iconic: they depict what they represent. Incorporating iconic elements of language into a compositional semantics faces a number of challenges in formal frameworks as evidenced by the lengthy literature in linguistics and philosophy on quotation/direct speech, which iconically portrays the words of another in the form that they were used. This paper compares the well-studied type of iconicity found with verbs of quotation with another form of iconicity common in sign languages: classifier predicates. I argue that these two types of verbal iconicity can, and should, incorporate their iconic elements in the same way using event modification via the notion of a context dependent demonstration. This unified formal account of quotation and classifier predicates predicts that a language might use the same strategy for conveying both, and I argue that this is the case with role shift in American Sign Language. Role shift is used to report others’ language and thoughts as well as their actions, and recently has been argued to provide evidence in favor of Kaplanian “monstrous” indexical expressions. By reimagining role shift as involving either (i) quotation for language demonstrations or (ii) “body classifier” predicates for action demonstrations, the proposed account eliminates one major argument for these monsters coming from sign languages. Throughout this paper, sign languages provide a fruitful perspective for studying quotation and other forms of iconicity in natural language due to their (i) lack of a commonly used writing system which is otherwise often mistaken as primary data instead of speech, (ii) the rich existing literature on iconicity within sign language linguistics, and (iii) the ability of role shift to overtly mark the scope of a language report. In this view, written language is merely a special case of a more general phenomenon of sign and speech demonstration, which accounts more accurately for natural language data by permitting more strict or loose verbatim interpretations of demonstrations through the context dependent pragmatics.


Quotation Iconicity Sign languages Classifiers Event semantics Indexicals 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsHarvard University CambridgeUSA

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