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LINGUIST List 23.5317

Mon Dec 17 2012

Review: Cognitive Science; Discourse Analysis; Ling & Literature: Dancygier & Sweetser (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <rajivlinguistlist.org>

Date: 17-Dec-2012
From: Simone Bacchini < simone.bacchinibl.uk">simobacgmail.com, simone.bacchinibl.uk>
Subject: Viewpoint in Language
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-2099.html

Editor: Barbara Dancygier
Editor: Eve Sweetser
Title: Viewpoint in Language
Subtitle: A Multimodal Perspective
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year: 2012

Reviewer: Simone C. Bacchini, The British Library, UK


The theme explored in this volume is “viewpoint” or “perspective”. The two
terms are very common: the former is often associated with literary and
linguistic studies whilst the latter is familiar in the figurative arts. Both
imply that any act of representation, linguistic or otherwise, necessitates a
sentient entity doing the “viewing” as well as a “viewed”. These observations
are not new but the somewhat novel idea that lies behind this new volume is
that viewpoint is much more pervasive in human cognition and language than has
been hitherto acknowledged. “Subjectivity”, meaning the particular position
and embodied perspective from which a cognitive and encoding (e.g. through
language) act is performed, is crucial and shapes forms of communication.
Furthermore, it can be argued that communication itself (in its broadest
sense) exists to encode and allow the expression of viewpoint. As mentioned,
literary (or narrative) viewpoint has been explored extensively. However, the
volume’s editors argue that more work is needed to explore the relations
between simple and complex viewpoints. In addition, there is also a need to
further explore and question the relationship between physical viewpoint and
more abstract ones, such as the one we find in narrative. “Viewpoint in
Language” takes a multidisciplinary, multimodal approach by bringing together
researchers from different scholarly communities and working within different
fields to explore and highlight the centrality and pervasiveness of viewpoint.

The book is divided into four parts: Part One deals with “intersubjectivity
and subjectification”; Part Two addresses “gesture and processing of visual
information”; Part Three contains contributions on “multiple viewpoints in
American Sign Language; and Part Four deals with “constructions and
discourse”. One of the editors, Eve Sweetser, provides an introduction, whilst
the conclusion, “multiple viewpoints, multiple spaces”, is by the other
editor, Barbara Dancygier. Part one contains three contributions each, whilst
parts two, three, and four contain two each.

The chapters in Part One, “Intersubjectivity and Subjectification”, explore
the ways in which speakers weave complex viewpoints by simultaneously evoking
and appealing to contrasting, even conflicting, spaces.

Chapter 1, by Vera Tobin and Michael Israel, offers a novel analysis of irony,
both situational and literary. They argue that irony naturally follows from
the narrative mind, from the possibility of encoding anything that we
encounter, both as something which simply occurs and something that is
represented, thus relying on viewpoint. The authors argue that irony is
pervasive but that its functioning and interpretation are cognitively
demanding processes. They rely on the ability to connect with a single
all-viewing mental space, i.e., an “all-knowing viewer”. The authors argue for
the existence of close and natural relations between different types of
“verbal, situational, and structural ironies” (p. 44), which make it difficult
to explain why irony is often unsettling.

Chapter 2 is by Lilian Ferrari and Eve Sweetser. It offers an analysis of
historical processes of semantic subjectification by resorting to the notion
of viewpoint relations within a complex and dynamic network of mental spaces.
Among the examples they deal with are the cases of deictic markers morphing
into articles and the emergence of epistemic meanings from deontic ones
encoded by modals. They argue that the result of this inclusion reveals higher
subjectivity, since the incorporated meanings are located in higher mental
spaces, further apart from the real-world content being described.

Chapter 3, by Barbara Dancygier, deals with concepts of negation in the
context of the mental space framework (MSF). By developing the concept of an
“alternativity of negation”, the author argues that negation is a device for
marking viewpoint and signalling stance. The author considers some
constructions that involve negation in order to explain its intersubjective
role and shows how this is used to negotiate multiple viewpoints which are
made available by a specific context. This approach, the author argues, can
help clarify problematic areas such as the interpretation of Neg-Raising and
metalinguistic negation.

Chapter 4, by Fey Parrill, is concerned with viewpoint in multimodal language,
i.e., “speech and speech accompanying gestures” (p. 97) (if the version in the
text contains single quotes, please put double quotes around the single
quotes). The author separates viewpoint into three distinct -- although
interconnected -- phenomena: conceptual, linguistic, and gestural. She argues
that considering viewpoint as seen in co-gesture can help bring together and
harmonise general notions of viewpoint and views of it as understood by the
‘blending and conceptual integration framework’, a theory of cognition
according to which elements from various scenarios are subconsciously
‘blended’. According to the theory, this process underlies thinking and speech
processes. The author describes an experimental study involving twenty-four
university students. They were each accompanied by a friend and, after
watching three cartoon stimuli, had to describe them to their friend. Each of
the participants watched the cartoon in one of two conditions: the ‘shared
knowledge condition’ and the ‘control condition’. In the former, the
participant watched the stimuli with his/her friend, while in the latter
he/she watched alone. The study helps to shed light on the ways in which the
two modalities of speech and gestures are connected.

Chapter 5, by Shweta Narayan, continues the exploration of gesture in
conversation, although this is done within the context of spoken language
rather than signed language, as in the previous chapter. In this chapter, the
author shows how interactants create meaning collaboratively thanks to their
ability to shift viewpoints as evidence of erroneous interpretations of
previous interactions emerge. By looking at how interactants “align” their
gestures, she is able to show that they are able to show viewpoint, thus
cognitively aligning themselves. with their interactants.

Chapter 6, by Barbara Shaffer, is a further contribution to our understanding
of sign language (specifically, American Sign Language (ASL)) from the point
of view of Cognitive Grammar.. The author analyses one of the ways in which
ASL users incorporate viewpoint in their discourse. In particular, she looks
at how reported speech is marked in ASL and concludes that the ways in which
evidentiality is marked and grammaticised in ASL is in many aspects similar to
the ways this is done in spoken language.

Chapter 7, by Terry Janzen, investigates yet another aspect of ASL discourse.
He describes a strategy used by ASL users that depends on imagining a
180-degree rotation of the signer’s body. This allows him or her to alternate
between physically representing one of the participants in a reported
conversation, and then the interlocutor, who is facing him/her. It is this
shift in imagined viewpoint, the author argues, which is based on the
interactants’ cooperation, that enables the correct interpretation of messages
and thus allows effective communication.

Chapter 8 is by Niki Nikiforidou. Leaving signed language behind, the opening
contribution to the last section of the volume brings the discussion back to
more familiar grounds, namely, narrative viewpoint in literary texts.
Nikiforidou explores the use, in English, of the past tense with a proximal
deictic ‘now’ (e.g. ‘they were NOW listening to him attentively’). She argues
that its implications are twofold. First, it signals a change of perspective
from ‘outside’ to ‘within’ the narrated event. Secondly, this narrative
strategy should be viewed on par with other discourse-grammatical
constructions of a high-level type.

Chapter 9 is by Lieven Vandelanotte. In it, the author argues that a more
nuanced account of reported speech and thought phenomena is possible -- and,
in fact, desirable -- if the area between direct and indirect speech (or
thought) is not considered as belonging to a single area of free indirect
forms. The author identifies a separate type of indirect speech: “distancing
direct speech and thought” (p. 198). This maintains the deictic centre and
particular viewpoint aligned with the quoting speaker, whilst incorporating
the quoted speaker’s speech.

The volume concludes with a chapter by Barbara Dancygier called ‘Multiple
viewpoints, multiple spaces’. In it, the author draws together the various
strands explored in the volume and one again highlights how, contrary to what
some might think, the linguistic and gestural structures examined by the
various contributors are far from simple. She also suggests further avenues of
exploration, such as more detailed explorations of the “mechanisms yielding
the configurations of viewpoint” (p. 228) addressed by the contributors to the


Due to its multidisciplinary approach and multimodal orientation, ‘Viewpoint
in Language’ is likely to appeal to diverse audiences, most likely at the
post-graduate level. Indeed, a fundamental strength of the volume is that it
coherently brings together strands of research that are frequently pursued

The various contributors to this volume convincingly show the centrality of
viewpoint in human cognition and its ubiquity across a range of communicative
modes. Crucially, they also show to what extent human cognition and
communication are profoundly embodied phenomena.

The section on signed communication is -- in this reviewer’s opinion --
important and effective in this respect. Perhaps because of their
‘physicality’, or their more obviously embodied nature, signed languages can
be especially useful in highlighting interlocutors’ need (and ability) to take
into account other people’s -- as well as their own -- unique viewpoint in the
encoding, decoding, and transmitting of a linguistic message. Although studies
of signed languages are by no means rare, the existing ones still do no
justice to the importance of close analysis of signed languages, both for its
numerical relevance in terms of users, and for its relevance for a deeper
understanding of both cognitive and communicative processes.

The editors of this volume acknowledge that the study of viewpoint, and an
appreciation of its pervasiveness in human communication, are not new. What
this collection of essays adds is a clear example of the ways in which a
multimodal approach enhances our understanding of the cognitive processes
involved in communication. This is because such an approach is better at
picking up clues that would not be entirely accessible if only a single mode
-- such as the study of written literary fiction, for example -- is
considered. One of the major strengths of this volume, therefore, is that it
deals with the implications and manifestation of subjective viewpoint
holistically, as shown by the aforementioned sections on American Sign

The papers published in this volume are not informed by new theories. As the
editors say it is “a contribution to the study of language in the context of
embodied (or grounded) cognition” (p. 3). It makes use of the MSF and, more
generally, insights gained from Cognitive Grammar. However, the papers
presented in the volume present new case-studies or revisit topics that have
been the object of considerable attention in a new light. Such is the case
with irony (Tobin and Israel, pp. 25-46), viewed as a viewpoint phenomenon and
as a “figure of subjectivity” (p. 44).

The final section of the volume (Constructions and Discourse, pp. 177-218)
will be of particular interest to, and -- in this reviewer’s opinion - greatly
appreciated by, literary scholars. As stated, literary narrative is perhaps
the field that has had the longest familiarity with viewpoint and
subjectivity. However, Nikiforidou’s and Vandelanotte’s essays bring a more
nuanced examination of the linguistic machinery that underpins the encoding of
viewpoint in narrative and literary texts. Like the other contributions, but
perhaps even more so -- given the aforementioned familiarity of literary and
narrative studies with viewpoint -- these two essays exemplify how the
interdisciplinary and multimodal approach exemplified in, and exemplified by,
this volume truly represents a step forward in our understanding of

The ability with which the editors have been able to give shape to a coherent
approach is to be applauded. It is likely that a number of researchers now
working separately in different areas on viewpoint will be encouraged to carry
on with their work enlightened and inspired by this volume. Indeed, the
bringing together of linguistics, cognitive science, and literary studies by a
unifying concept of subjectivity as an embodied phenomenon is a major and
needed achievement.

About the Reviewer:
Simone Bacchini has recently been awarded a PhD in linguistics, having
defended a thesis on the linguistic encoding of the experiences of physical
pain and chronic illness through the lexicogrammar of Italian. His research
interests include sociolinguistic, Systemic Functional Grammar and discourse
analysis. As a result of his doctoral research, he has developed and interest
in health communication and the use of language in medicine and medical
settings. He is currently researching the encoding of ‘affect’ in
doctor-patient communication, with particular attention to the role of the
interpreter in situations when medical professionals and patients do not speak
the same language.
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