When “go” means “come”: Questioning the basicness of basic motion

David P. Wilkins, Deborah Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of this paper is to question some of the basic assumptions concerning motion verbs. In particular, it examines the assumption that “come” and “go” are lexical universals which manifest a universal deictic opposition. Against the background of five working hypotheses about the nature of “come” and “go”, this study presents a comparative investigation of two unrelated languages—Mparntwe Arrernte (Pama-Nyungan, Australian) and Longgu (Oceanic, Austronesian). Although the pragmatic and deictic “suppositional” complexity of “come” and “go” expressions has long been recognized, we argue that in any given language the analysis of these expressions is much more semantically and systemically complex than has been assumed in the literature. Languages vary at the lexical semantic level as to what is entailed by these expressions, as well as differing as to what constitutes the prototype and categorial structure for such expressions. The data also strongly suggest that, if there is a lexical universal “go”, then this cannot be an inherently deictic expression. However, due to systemic opposition with “come”, non-deictic “go” expressions often take on a deictic interpretation through pragmatic attribution. Thus, this cross linguistic investigation of “come” and “go” highlights the need to consider semantics and pragmatics as modularly separate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-260
Number of pages52
JournalCognitive Linguistics
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1995
Externally publishedYes


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