Towards a comparative semiotics of pointing actions in signed and spoken languages

Trevor Johnston*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    41 Citations (Scopus)


    Co-speech pointing actions have been under-analysed or ignored in language description and linguistic theory and this has led to an over-interpretation of their role and status in signed languages as signs belonging to particular grammatical classes, such as pronouns, determiners, and locatives. I argue that the pointing signs found in signed languages are not fundamentally different from the pointing actions found in the composite utterances of spoken languages in their face-to-face mode. I show how pointing signs and pointing actions are both symbolic indexical signs (signs that have partly conventional elements and partly contextual elements and are thus hybrids of conventional and non-conventional signs). I conclude that pointing signs are not a fundamentally different kind of phenomena when they occur in signed language composite utterances (so-called 'linguistic' pointing) compared to when they occur in spoken language composite utterances (so-called 'gestural' pointing).

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)109-142
    Number of pages34
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • pronouns
    • pointing
    • semiotics
    • symbolic indexical
    • sign language
    • gesture
    • deixis


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