Is pointing “just” pointing?
Unraveling the complexity of indexes in spoken and signed discourse
This paper examines the nature and properties of gestural and vocal deixis in verbal languages (VL) and signed languages (SL). We focus on two classes of pointing gestures which we argue need to be distinguished: (1) prototypical ostensive printings directing an interlocutor's visual attention towards extralinguistic objects; (2) pointings to self and to one's own addressee expressing person reference distinctions similar to those expressed by spoken pronouns. Drawing on previous work on SL and VL, and on new evidence on the development of deictic gestures and words for demonstrative vs. person reference in hearing children, we show how the two classes of pointings we explore convey indexical relationships of different complexity, and thus need to be distinguished in order to achieve a more appropriate understanding of gestural deixis, and of its relationship with vocal and, more generally, linguistic deixis.