Indexicals and the character shifting theory



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Tartu Ülikool


Kaplan’s (1989) theory provides rules, called characters, which determine the reference of indexicals "I", "here" and "now". Speaker intentions do not play a role in this and indexical reference is a matter of convention. Answering machines have posed a threat to this semantic account of indexicals. Several accounts have since been offered to resolve this while retaining the intention-free aspect of the theory. One recent response is Michaelson’s (2013) character shifting theory where the character of an indexical expression is sensitive to the medium of communication. The theory assigns a fixed rule for each indexical which changes depending on the communication channel while remaining fixed for within the channel. This rule is a formalization of convention that we arguably observe with respect to indexical usage in this channel. My thesis shows that his theory fails in giving us the correct truth conditions of indexicals when it comes to postcard communication. I also show that a fixed rule cannot be assigned to certain kinds of communication channels, such as internet and video communication because of the manner in which they function. I construct plausible examples to show this and consider possible ways Michaelson (2013) can defend his theory against these examples.



Kaplan’s theory, Semantics, Indexicals