LINGUIST List 23.5317

Mon Dec 17 2012

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

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 17-Dec-2012
From: Simone Bacchini <>
Subject: Viewpoint in Language
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Book announced at

Editor: Barbara DancygierEditor: Eve SweetserTitle: Viewpoint in LanguageSubtitle: A Multimodal PerspectivePublisher: Cambridge University PressYear: 2012

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


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

The book is divided into four parts: Part One deals with “intersubjectivityand subjectification”; Part Two addresses “gesture and processing of visualinformation”; Part Three contains contributions on “multiple viewpoints inAmerican Sign Language; and Part Four deals with “constructions anddiscourse”. One of the editors, Eve Sweetser, provides an introduction, whilstthe conclusion, “multiple viewpoints, multiple spaces”, is by the othereditor, Barbara Dancygier. Part one contains three contributions each, whilstparts two, three, and four contain two each.

The chapters in Part One, “Intersubjectivity and Subjectification”, explorethe ways in which speakers weave complex viewpoints by simultaneously evokingand 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 fromthe narrative mind, from the possibility of encoding anything that weencounter, both as something which simply occurs and something that isrepresented, thus relying on viewpoint. The authors argue that irony ispervasive but that its functioning and interpretation are cognitivelydemanding processes. They rely on the ability to connect with a singleall-viewing mental space, i.e., an “all-knowing viewer”. The authors argue forthe existence of close and natural relations between different types of“verbal, situational, and structural ironies” (p. 44), which make it difficultto explain why irony is often unsettling.

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

Chapter 3, by Barbara Dancygier, deals with concepts of negation in thecontext of the mental space framework (MSF). By developing the concept of an“alternativity of negation”, the author argues that negation is a device formarking viewpoint and signalling stance. The author considers someconstructions that involve negation in order to explain its intersubjectiverole and shows how this is used to negotiate multiple viewpoints which aremade available by a specific context. This approach, the author argues, canhelp clarify problematic areas such as the interpretation of Neg-Raising andmetalinguistic 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 thetext contains single quotes, please put double quotes around the singlequotes). The author separates viewpoint into three distinct -- althoughinterconnected -- phenomena: conceptual, linguistic, and gestural. She arguesthat considering viewpoint as seen in co-gesture can help bring together andharmonise general notions of viewpoint and views of it as understood by the‘blending and conceptual integration framework’, a theory of cognitionaccording to which elements from various scenarios are subconsciously‘blended’. According to the theory, this process underlies thinking and speechprocesses. The author describes an experimental study involving twenty-fouruniversity students. They were each accompanied by a friend and, afterwatching three cartoon stimuli, had to describe them to their friend. Each ofthe participants watched the cartoon in one of two conditions: the ‘sharedknowledge condition’ and the ‘control condition’. In the former, theparticipant watched the stimuli with his/her friend, while in the latterhe/she watched alone. The study helps to shed light on the ways in which thetwo modalities of speech and gestures are connected.

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

Chapter 6, by Barbara Shaffer, is a further contribution to our understandingof sign language (specifically, American Sign Language (ASL)) from the pointof view of Cognitive Grammar.. The author analyses one of the ways in whichASL users incorporate viewpoint in their discourse. In particular, she looksat how reported speech is marked in ASL and concludes that the ways in whichevidentiality is marked and grammaticised in ASL is in many aspects similar tothe 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 a180-degree rotation of the signer’s body. This allows him or her to alternatebetween physically representing one of the participants in a reportedconversation, and then the interlocutor, who is facing him/her. It is thisshift in imagined viewpoint, the author argues, which is based on theinteractants’ cooperation, that enables the correct interpretation of messagesand thus allows effective communication.

Chapter 8 is by Niki Nikiforidou. Leaving signed language behind, the openingcontribution to the last section of the volume brings the discussion back tomore familiar grounds, namely, narrative viewpoint in literary texts.Nikiforidou explores the use, in English, of the past tense with a proximaldeictic ‘now’ (e.g. ‘they were NOW listening to him attentively’). She arguesthat its implications are twofold. First, it signals a change of perspectivefrom ‘outside’ to ‘within’ the narrated event. Secondly, this narrativestrategy should be viewed on par with other discourse-grammaticalconstructions of a high-level type.

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

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


Due to its multidisciplinary approach and multimodal orientation, ‘Viewpointin Language’ is likely to appeal to diverse audiences, most likely at thepost-graduate level. Indeed, a fundamental strength of the volume is that itcoherently brings together strands of research that are frequently pursuedseparately.

The various contributors to this volume convincingly show the centrality ofviewpoint in human cognition and its ubiquity across a range of communicativemodes. Crucially, they also show to what extent human cognition andcommunication 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 canbe especially useful in highlighting interlocutors’ need (and ability) to takeinto account other people’s -- as well as their own -- unique viewpoint in theencoding, decoding, and transmitting of a linguistic message. Although studiesof signed languages are by no means rare, the existing ones still do nojustice to the importance of close analysis of signed languages, both for itsnumerical relevance in terms of users, and for its relevance for a deeperunderstanding of both cognitive and communicative processes.

The editors of this volume acknowledge that the study of viewpoint, and anappreciation of its pervasiveness in human communication, are not new. Whatthis collection of essays adds is a clear example of the ways in which amultimodal approach enhances our understanding of the cognitive processesinvolved in communication. This is because such an approach is better atpicking up clues that would not be entirely accessible if only a single mode-- such as the study of written literary fiction, for example -- isconsidered. One of the major strengths of this volume, therefore, is that itdeals with the implications and manifestation of subjective viewpointholistically, as shown by the aforementioned sections on American SignLanguage.

The papers published in this volume are not informed by new theories. As theeditors say it is “a contribution to the study of language in the context ofembodied (or grounded) cognition” (p. 3). It makes use of the MSF and, moregenerally, insights gained from Cognitive Grammar. However, the paperspresented in the volume present new case-studies or revisit topics that havebeen the object of considerable attention in a new light. Such is the casewith irony (Tobin and Israel, pp. 25-46), viewed as a viewpoint phenomenon andas 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 - greatlyappreciated by, literary scholars. As stated, literary narrative is perhapsthe field that has had the longest familiarity with viewpoint andsubjectivity. However, Nikiforidou’s and Vandelanotte’s essays bring a morenuanced examination of the linguistic machinery that underpins the encoding ofviewpoint in narrative and literary texts. Like the other contributions, butperhaps even more so -- given the aforementioned familiarity of literary andnarrative studies with viewpoint -- these two essays exemplify how theinterdisciplinary and multimodal approach exemplified in, and exemplified by,this volume truly represents a step forward in our understanding ofsubjectivity.

The ability with which the editors have been able to give shape to a coherentapproach is to be applauded. It is likely that a number of researchers nowworking separately in different areas on viewpoint will be encouraged to carryon with their work enlightened and inspired by this volume. Indeed, thebringing together of linguistics, cognitive science, and literary studies by aunifying concept of subjectivity as an embodied phenomenon is a major andneeded achievement.

About the Reviewer:Simone Bacchini has recently been awarded a PhD in linguistics, havingdefended a thesis on the linguistic encoding of the experiences of physicalpain and chronic illness through the lexicogrammar of Italian. His researchinterests include sociolinguistic, Systemic Functional Grammar and discourseanalysis. As a result of his doctoral research, he has developed and interestin health communication and the use of language in medicine and medicalsettings. He is currently researching the encoding of ‘affect’ indoctor-patient communication, with particular attention to the role of theinterpreter in situations when medical professionals and patients do not speakthe same language.

Page Updated: 17-Dec-2012