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
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
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.
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.
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.