You‘ve reached the Joneses. We‘re not here right now, so please leave a message.
Now that I’m all grown up and have a class of my own, I use this exercise as way to pump everyone’s intuitions about these words. I first have my students write down what they think these words mean (or refer to) in general. Only then do I ask them what they might mean in a voicemail message (which in some ways is worse than an answering machine).
Many reasonable definitions for indexicals fail in the context of a voicemail greeting:
- You is not some specific person the speaker has in mind, because they have no idea who will call them (think: wrong number!).
- I/We/Me is not the entity creating the sound wave which conveys the utterance — that’s the caller’s phone.
- Here is not the caller’s location, or the location of the cell phone, or the cell phone owner, or even the computer where the voicemail is stored.
- Now is not (usually) when the speaker spoke; rather, it is when the listener is hearing the message. But imagine leaving a voicemail saying “it’s now 6PM, and I should be home by 10PM if you’d like to try again”…
Endless debates ensue, of course…
(P.S., I just found an article all about this topic: http://aardvark.ucsd.edu/language/ans_machine_phil_compass.pdf .)