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 Ling 131: Language & Style

 Topic 8 - Discourse structure and point of view > Different kinds of point of view

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Session Overview
Discourse structure and point of view
Discourse structure of 1st and 3rd person novels
Being the author!
Different kinds of point of view
Linguistic indicators of point of view
Ideological viewpoint
Point of view in a more extended example
Point of view checksheet
Topic 8 'tool' summary
Useful Links

Different kinds of point of view

So far we have noticed some rather general things about point of view and how it changes in texts, and later on in this topic we will look closely at how viewpoint is signalled linguistically. But before we go on to that it will be helpful if we note that there are a number of different kinds of viewpoint:

  • Spatial viewpoint
    The most basic manifestation of viewpoint has to do with our position in space. Looking at something from one position is different from looking at it from another position. Compare 'The tiger disappeared into the distance' with 'The tiger got larger and larger'. The first sentence represents a viewing position behind the tiger, with the tiger moving away, and the second is from a position in front of the tiger with it moving nearer and nearer to the viewing position. Spatial viewpoint encodes distance (nearer/farther) as well as position in relation to other objects.


  • Temporal viewpoint
    By analogy with temporal viewpoint we can see that we also encode temporal viewpoints when we talk. 'Yesterday, the exam' and 'Tomorrow, the exam' position us 'behind' and 'in front of' the exam (note how we have used spatial metaphors in these prepositions to represent time). Time points can also be nearer or further away from the 'time viewing' position, as well as being on one side or the other of that position. All these spatial metaphors for time indicate that spatial viewpoint is the most basic.

  • Social viewpoint
    We can also talk of social viewpoint. We can talk refer to people as being above or below us in status (note the use of spatial metaphors again), and as being close or distant from us (cf. 'sister' and 'step-sister', or 'mother' and 'mother-in-law').

  • Personal / ideological viewpoint
    Whatever their social status, we can look down on, or up to the opinions of others (cf. the spatial metaphors again!), depending upon whether we agree or disagree with their personal or socio-political views. If someone in an organisation makes public what they see as some wrongdoing, they might be seen as a dreadful 'traitor' or a benign 'whistle blower', which likens them to a referee in a football match.

  • Conceptual viewpoint
    Sometimes the representation of a viewpoint can be so different from ours that it represents a different way of conceptualising the world we live in. If a small child calls all male adults 'daddy', it is because he has not yet properly made the conceptual distinction between his father and other male adults. In other words, his conceptual viewpoint is different from ours. A good example of conceptual viewpoint in a poem is Craig Raine's 'A Martian Sends a Postcard Home', where a Martian visiting Earth refers to what are ordinary objects for us in very different terms. So books, for example, are described as 'mechanical birds'. For us the Martian has completely misunderstood what books are because of his conceptual viewpoint. We can see how he has done it, because half-open books do look a bit like large birds in flight, but we can also see that he has a completely different conceptualisation of the world from us.



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