Locuphoric person forms and speech act participants

Grammarians often have occasion to distinguish between 1st/2nd person forms on the one hand, and 3rd person forms on the other – that these two behave differently in many languages has been well-known since Benveniste (1947) and Forchheimer (1953). Over the last two decades, the term “SAP” (= speech act participant) has become fairly common in typological circles when reference is needed to 1st/2nd person forms (e.g. Zúñiga 2006; Jacques & Antonov 2014; DeLancey 2018).

However, clumsy terms that need to be shortened to be manageable are far from ideal, so here is an alternative proposal: 1st/2nd person forms can be called locuphoric forms, using the element -phoric (well-known from anaphoric and logophoric) and the root locu- (from Latin loqui ‘talk, speak’; cf. English locution, illocution).

In general, it is better to have terms that are at least somewhat transparent than terms that are purely based on numbers or letters (my least favourite language names are Tocharian A and Tocharian B; and I much prefer the semi-opaque accusative to “4th case”, as it is known in traditional primary school German). So in principle, “speech act participant” is better than “1st/2nd person”, but the transparency that is gained is lost again by abbreviating it to “SAP” (and I don’t know how to pronounce this – as [sæp], or as [ɛs eɪ piː]?). Locuphoric is also better than SAP in that it has transparent counterparts in other European languages, e.g. Spanish locufórico. There is also a natural way to talk about 3rd person forms in similar contexts: aliophoric forms (using the Latin root alio- ‘other’), which is transparent and less cumbersome than “non-SAP”.

The term locuphoric was inspired by important works of three great linguists, Charles F. Hockett (1916–2000), Aleksandr E. Kibrik (1939-2012), and Östen Dahl (*1945). Hockett seems to have introduced the distinction between local persons (=locuphoric persons) and non-local person (=aliophoric person) in his widely cited 1966 paper on the Algonquian language Potowatomi (“What Algonquian is really like”), and since Aissen (1999), this terminology has sometimes been used in the general-typological literature. In their overview paper on inverse constructions, Jacques & Antonov (2014) use the term (non-)local in addition to SAP, for sets of agent-patient scenarios. For this purpose, too, the term pair locuphoric/aliophoric is very suitable: We can talk about locuphoric scenarios (1SG>2PL, 2SG>1SG, 1DU>2PL, etc.) and aliophoric scenarios (3SG>3PL etc.), in addition to mixed scenarios (1SG>3PL, etc.). Clearly, these phenomena are so specific that a super-general term like “local” is unsuitable. (For highly technical concepts, unique terms also have the advantage of easy searchability; while “local” and “SAP/sap” are hard to find with search engines, an internet search for “locuphoric” will immediately give useful results.)

The second inspiration was Östen Dahl’s work on “egophoric reference” (2000; 2008), a term which he uses for locuphoric pronouns, pronoun used logophorically, plus generic pronouns like German man. These papers brought home to me the importance of first and second person referents and forms in everyday language use, which is too easily overlooked in a world where formal written language carries so much more prestige. I realized that the term “egophoric” filled a gap, but it seemed to sit uneasily in this gap: While it is partially transparent, it is also misleading, because the element ego- wrongly suggests  that it does not include reference to the addressee. So I started thinking about more transparent alternatives, and it did not require much imagination to come up with locu-phoric. In the meantime, Dahl’s “egophoric” has been superseded by a completely different sense of the term egophoric, to refer to what was previously known as “conjunct/disjunct marking” (see Floyd et al. 2018; Bergqvist & Kittilä 2020). Dahl had also coined the term “allophoric” for 3rd person forms (based on Greek allo- ‘other), which was also taken over for a different sense by these more recent authors; but as we saw above, “aliophoric” is a nice counterpart of “locuphoric”, with Latin “alio-“ corresponding to Latin “locu-“ (in the friendly neighbourhoord of  Greek “-phoric”).

The third inspiration was Aleksandr E. Kibrik, who felt a similar gap and started using the term “locutor” in the 1990s (e.g. Kibrik 1997). A problem with this term is that it might suggest that it refers only to the speaker (not to the addressee), though if taken as short for “interlocutor”, it comprises both participants in the speech event (or of the “locutionary” event). One might even say that locutor and locuphor should both be used, distinguished as follows: A locutor is a speaker or an addressee (= an SAP), while a locuphor is a form that refers to a locutor (= an SAP form) – in other words, the former is a semantic term, while the latter is a morphosyntactic term.

This terminological innovation does not solve any deep problems, but while progress on all our deep problems is slow, we might as well make our lives a bit easier by introducing somewhat better technical terms…

P.S. What about locuphoric expressions in sign languages? Doesn’t the Latin root locu- ‘speak, talk’ refer to vocalized languages exclusively, and shouldn’t we look for neutral terms? Yes, we should use neutral terms to the extent possible (e.g. use producer/comprehender instead of speaker/hearer), but which terms are neutral? Is “language” (deriving from Latin lingua ‘tongue’) clearly more neutral than “illocutionary force” (deriving from locu- ‘speak, talk’)? In any event, “speech act (participant)” is more clearly tied to the spoken/oral/vocalized modality than “locuphor”, so the latter is an improvement in this respect as well.


Aissen, Judith. 1999. Markedness and subject choice in Optimality Theory. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 17. 673–711.

Benveniste, Emile. 1947. Structure des relations de personne dans le verbe. Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris

Bergqvist, Henrik & Kittilä, Seppo (eds.). 2020. Evidentiality, egophoricity and engagement. Berlin: Language Science Press.

Dahl, Östen. 2000. Egophoricity in discourse and syntax. Functions of Language 7(1). 37–77.

Dahl, Östen. 2008. Animacy and egophoricity: Grammar, ontology and phylogeny. Lingua 118(2). 141–150. (doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2007.02.008)

DeLancey, Scott. 2018. Deictic and sociopragmatic effects in Tibeto-Burman SAP indexation. In Cristofaro, Sonia & Zúñiga, Fernando (eds.), Typological hierarchies in synchrony and diachrony. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Floyd, Simeon & Norcliffe, Elisabeth & San Roque, Lila (eds.). 2018. Egophoricity. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Forchheimer, Paul. 1953. The category of person in language. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Hockett, Charles F. 1966. What Algonquian is really like. International Journal of American Linguistics 32(1). 59–73.

Jacques, Guillaume & Antonov, Anton. 2014. Direct/inverse systems. Language and Linguistics Compass 8(7). 301–318. (doi:10.1111/lnc3.12079)

Kibrik, Aleksandr E. 1997. Beyond subject and object: Toward a comprehensive relational typology. Linguistic Typology 1(3). 279–346.

Zúñiga, Fernando. 2006. Deixis and alignment: Inverse systems in indigenous languages of the Americas (Typological Studies in Language 70). Amsterdam: Benjamins.







2 thoughts on “Locuphoric person forms and speech act participants

  1. Why not just say ‘interlocutor’ it is already the normal English word that means ‘the speaker and / or the addressee’.

    • Good question – I don’t know. I think the term “participant” was used by Lyons (1968), but somehow, “speech act participant” has become entrenched since the 1990s.

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