Chapter Order of Demonstrative and Noun

by Matthew S. Dryer

1. Defining the values

This map shows the different orders of demonstrative and noun. For the purposes of this map, a word or affix is considered a demonstrative if it satisfies at least one of two criteria: (1) it has among its uses a meaning that contrasts with some other form in terms of physical proximity to the speaker, so that there is at least a two-way contrast of proximal (near speaker) versus distal (not near speaker); or (2) the form has among its uses an indication that the hearer is intended to direct their attention towards something in the physical environment. In many and probably most languages, demonstratives are associated with both of these functions. The words this  and that  (and their plural forms these  and those ) constitute the demonstratives of English. In many languages, including English, the demonstratives can be used without a difference in form, either as modifiers of nouns, as in (1a), or pronominally (not modifying a noun), as in (1b).

(1) 

a. 

I want that book. 

b. 

I want that. 

This map shows the order of such words with respect to the noun when they accompany a noun, as in (1a). In some languages, the form of demonstratives depends on whether they are being used pronominally or with a noun; see Map 42A for more on this phenomenon.

Values of Map 88A. Order of Demonstrative and Noun
Go to map
 ValueRepresentation
Demonstrative word precedes noun (DemN) 542
Demonstrative word follows noun (NDem) 561
Demonstrative prefix on noun 9
Demonstrative suffix on noun 28
Demonstrative simultaneously before and after noun 17
Two or more of above types with none dominant 67
Total: 1224

The first type shown on the map consists of languages in which the demonstrative is a separate word which precedes the noun. English is an instance of such a language, as in (1a), as is Fore (East New Guinea Highlands, Trans-New Guinea; Papua New Guinea), as in (2).

(2) Fore (Scott 1978: 89) 

má: 

ntamá 

this 

house 

Dem 

‘this house’ 

The second type includes languages in which the demonstrative is a separate word which follows the noun. An example of a language of this type is Maba (Maban, Nilo-Saharan; Chad), as in (3).

(3) Maba (Trenga 1947: 70) 

mašuk 

wak 

kulak 

ti 

man 

this 

tall 

be.3sg

Dem 

   

‘This man is tall.’ 

The third type consists of languages in which the demonstrative is a prefix on the noun. An example of such a language is Abzakh Adyghe (Northwest Caucasian; Caucasus region, Russia), illustrated by the prefix mə-  ‘this’ in (4).

(4) Abzakh Adyghe (Paris 1989: 175) 

mə-səy-ǧ⁰əneǧ⁰ə-r 

this-1sg.poss-neighbour-def

‘this neighbour of mine’ 

The fourth type consists of languages in which the demonstrative is a suffix on the noun, as in (5) from Gude (Chadic; Nigeria).

(5) Gude (Hoskison 1983: 45) 

a. 

zəmə-na 

b. 

zəmə-ta 

 

food-this 

 

food-that.far 

 

‘this food’ 

 

‘that food (far)’ 

The fifth type involves languages where the expression of demonstrative meaning involves a demonstrative word or affix preceding the noun occurring simultaneously with a demonstrative word or affix following the noun. An example of such a language is Milang (Tibeto-Burman; northeast India), as illustrated in (6).

(6) Milang (Tayeng 1976: iv) 

yo 

miu 

yo 

this 

boy 

this 

‘this boy’ 

In Nishi (Tibeto-Burman; northeast India), the demonstratives that precede are different from those that follow the noun, as in (7); the ones that precede are the words that otherwise function as demonstrative adverbs (here, there).

(7) Nishi (Hamilton 1900: 20) 

sɑ 

mindui 

sî 

here 

buffalo 

this 

‘this buffalo’ 

In Lai (Tibeto-Burman; Myanmar), there is an invariant demonstrative word that precedes the noun, while the demonstratives that follow vary for distance, as in (8). 

(8) Lai (Hay-Neave 1953: 37, 44) 

a. 

mah 

lam 

hi 

b. 

mah 

mipa 

khi 

 

dem 

road 

this 

 

dem 

man 

that 

 

‘this road’ 

 

‘that man’ 

In Chai (Surmic, Nilo-Saharan; Ethiopia), the demonstrative takes the form of a simultaneous prefix and suffix. The prefix is constant, but there are two suffixes, one with proximal meaning, the other with distal meaning, as illustrated in (9).

(9) Chai (Last and Lucassen 1998: 400) 

a. 

ŋà-sábbá-à 

b. 

ŋà-ɓíré-nù 

 

dem-head-this

 

dem-stick-that

 

‘this head’ 

 

‘that stick’ 

In some languages, the pattern of demonstratives simultaneously preceding and following the noun is optional. An example of such a language is Bawm (Tibeto-Burman; India and Bangladesh); in (10a), there are demonstratives both preceding and following the noun, while in (10b), there is only a postnominal demonstrative. 

(10) Bawm (Reichle 1981: 136, 137) 

a. 

hi 

Pathian 

biakin 

hi 

 

this 

God 

temple 

this 

 

‘this temple of God’ 

b. 

khuavâng 

kha 

   
 

prophet 

that 

   
 

‘that prophet’ 

Such languages are shown on the map according to the position in which the demonstrative is obligatory; hence Bawm is shown as placing the demonstrative after the noun. 

The sixth type includes languages in which two or more of the above constructions occur without either being dominant (see “Determining Dominant Word Order”). Most of these languages are ones in which both orders of demonstrative and noun are common, as in Gulf Arabic, as illustrated in (11).

(11) Gulf Arabic (Holes 1990: 175) 

a. 

il-qaraar 

haadha 

b. 

haadha 

l-qaraar 

 

the-decision 

this 

 

this 

the-decision 

 

‘this decision’ 

 

‘this decision’ 

Tigré (Semitic; Eritrea) represents a fairly rare subtype of the type in which neither order is dominant, in that the proximal and distal demonstratives occur in different positions: the proximal one obligatorily precedes the noun while the distal one normally follows, as in (12).

(12) Tigré (Raz 1983: 45) 

a. 

ʔəllan 

ʔamʕəlāt 

 
 

this.f.pl

days 

 
 

‘these days’ 

b. 

ʔəb 

laʔawkād 

lahay 

 

at 

time 

that.m

 

‘at that time’ 

Also treated as languages in which no one type is dominant are languages with two constructions, one involving an affix, the other involving a separate word. For example, Doyayo (Adamawa; Niger-Congo) has both demonstrative suffixes, as in (13a), and separate demonstrative words that occur at the end of noun phrases, as in (13b). 

(13) Doyayo (Wiering 1994: 148, 170) 

a. 

i³s-c²³

 

goat-that 

 

‘that goat’ 

b. 

wa²lɛ³ 

sɛ¹rɛ³ 

rɔ⁴bɛ¹ 

gbɔ¹lɛ³ 

ee¹rɛ¹ 

wɔ¹rɔ¹ 

 

man.pl

young 

foreign 

big 

two 

those 

 

‘those two big young aliens’ 

The demonstrative suffix and the demonstrative word in Doyayo cannot co-occur in the same noun phrase. It is not clear what conditions the choice between them. 

The order of demonstrative and noun is more often fixed than many other pairs of elements. In many languages in which word order is in general flexible within the noun phrase, the order of demonstrative and noun is fixed. For example, in Mangarrayi (Northern Territory, Australia), adjectives, numerals, and genitives can either precede or follow the noun, but the demonstrative must precede the noun, as in (14). 

(14) Mangarrayi (Merlan 1982: 63)

ŋaḷi-na 

ŋala-gaḍugu 

f.nom-that

f.nom-woman

‘that woman’ 

While this map shows the order of demonstrative and noun and excludes words that are specifically definite articles, there are many languages in which one of the demonstratives, most commonly the distal demonstrative, is very frequently used anaphorically in ways that resemble a definite article. See Chapter 37. However, such a word or affix will be treated as a demonstrative as long as it satisfies one of the two criteria described in the first paragraph of this chapter as definitional of demonstratives. It should be noted that languages sometimes have words that are called demonstratives  in grammars but which lack either of the two functions treated as definitional here; this is generally because they belong to a class of words that also includes words that do satisfy the definition assumed here. For example, in Mauka (Mande; Côte d'Ivoire; Ebermann 1986a: 76), there is a word that Ebermann calls a demonstrative pronoun that occurs either as a pronoun or as a modifier of the noun, but whose meaning is necessarily anaphoric in the discourse context, meaning ‘the aforementioned’. Since it lacks a contrast involving proximity and since it is not used to direct the hearer’s attention to something in the physical environment, I do not treat it as a demonstrative.

2. Geographical distribution

Languages with demonstrative words preceding the noun are the overwhelmingly dominant type in most of Europe and Asia, except in Southeast Asia and except for a few languages in western Europe (Celtic languages and Basque). This is also the dominant type in the Americas, though there are many scattered exceptions. Languages with demonstrative words following the noun are the overwhelmingly dominant type in Africa and in a large area stretching from Southeast Asia eastward into the Pacific. Both of these types are common in Australia and in New Guinea, and there are complex areal patterns within Australia. Languages with demonstrative affixes are not common, though they are somewhat more common in Africa, and languages with prefixes are more common in areas where demonstrative words tend to precede the noun while languages with suffixes are more common in areas where demonstrative words tend to follow the noun, as in Africa. Languages with demonstratives preceding and following the noun are not common; they are found in widely scattered areas, with a notable pocket among Tibeto-Burman languages in northeast India. Languages in which none of the preceding types is dominant are widely scattered, somewhat more common than average in Africa and somewhat less common in Europe and Asia.

3. Theoretical issues

The term determiner  is often used, especially with reference to English, for a class of words that includes demonstratives but often other words as well, such as articles (words like the  and a  in English). The concept of determiner is well-motivated for English, since there is a single syntactic position in the noun phrase which can be filled by at most one determiner. But for many other languages, there is less motivation for a grammatical class of determiners, since the language may lack articles, or it may have articles but they occur in a different position in the noun phrase from demonstratives (see Chapters 37 and 38 on articles). For example, in Kana (Niger-Congo; Nigeria), the definite article precedes the noun, while the demonstrative follows, and the two can co-occur, as in (15).

(15) Kana (Ikoro 1996: 70) 

ló 

bárí 

āmā 

def 

fish 

this 

‘this fish’ 

Similarly, in Ngiti (Central Sudanic; Democratic Republic of Congo), the demonstrative and definite article both precede the noun, but can co-occur, as in (16). 

(16) Ngiti (Kutsch Lojenga 1994: 376) 

yà 

ndɨ 

dza 

this 

def 

house 

‘this house (mentioned before)’