What’s the matter with indexicality?

Lecture by Mike Baynham (Leeds University) | 20 June 2019

Invited by the Ghent University MULTIPLES Research Centre

Indexicality is a linguistic construct that I have started to find slightly troubling. It is a core, indeed pervasive element in the architecture of what one might broadly call contextual approaches to language analysis with all the blooming diversity that this suggests: sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, linguistic ethnography. It plays a prominent part in the thinking of field leaders like Silverstein,  Blommaert and Rampton and many others. Its most sophisticated current elaboration is perhaps in the work of Silverstein. One might say it has become something of a black box as Latour would have it, an unanalyzed prime. In this paper I will try to prise open the black box a little, examining a) the history and development of indexicality from Bühler onwards, b)  the assumptions about language and the world that inform indexicality and c) some recent changes in the way that language/world relations are being theorized which make the relations assumed by indexicality seem rather static and at the limit not fit for purpose. Instead I will propose that there are now some more dynamic ways of articulating the language/world relationship currently available in the theoretical lexicon, clustered round ideas of assemblages, spatial and semiotic repertoires, multimodality and semiotic orders, language/body relations, co-production and performativity. I will conclude by asking: has indexicality had its moment?