Viewpoint in language

Viewpoint in language: A multimodal perspective. Ed. by Barbara Dancygier and Eve Sweetser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. 254. ISBN 9781107017832. $99 (Hb).

Reviewed by Adam Głaz, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin, Poland

The back cover of this beautifully designed and produced book says that human cognition is inherently ‘viewpointed’. Indeed, the diversity of the contributions found in the book very aptly testify to that assertion. The reader is offered analyses of spoken language, sign language, and gesture that together make up a variegated picture of how viewpoints are assumed, maintained, and shifted, or how they otherwise operate. Yet nowhere do we find claims that the picture is anywhere near completion (it cannot be); on the contrary, the editors humbly hope that others will ‘carry the field forward to new syntheses, which we cannot yet see from our current perspective’ (xi).

The book consists of an introduction, nine chapters in four parts, and a conclusion. In the introduction, Eve Sweetser provides an overview of the major areas covered in this interdisciplinary book: viewpoint in language, its links with subjectivity and deixis, the workings of mental spaces that underlie viewpoint, and viewpoint in various modalities (e.g. spoken/written language vs. sign language vs. gesture). It is, in fact, much more than an introduction to the book: it presents a panorama of relevant issues and surveys major directions of research.

Part 1, ‘Intersubjectivity and subjectification’, contains three contributions. Vera Tobin and Michael Israel (Ch. 1) discuss irony in terms of viewpoint. Lilian Ferrari and Eve Sweetser (Ch. 2) apply the mental spaces model to an analysis of subjectivity, and Barbara Dancygier (Ch. 3) links negation, stance verbs, and intersubjectivity in a coherent account. Part 2 deals with gesture and the processing of visual information. Fey Parrill (Ch. 4) looks at gestural viewpoint in discourse in the context of conceptual blending, and Shweta Narayan (Ch. 5) reports on an experiment investigating the interface between physical and cognitive viewpoints.

Part 3 is devoted to multiple viewpoints in American Sign Language (ASL). In Ch. 6, Barbara Shaffer proposes an account of viewpoint in reported speech as an evidentiality strategy, and in Ch. 7 Terry Janzen presents mechanisms of assuming static and rotated viewpoints in ASL.

Finally, Part 4 returns to spoken and written language in two studies of constructions in discourse. Kiki Nikiforidou (Ch. 8) analyzes the past + now construction as a viewpoint blend, and Lieven Vandelanotte (Ch. 9) looks at examples of one speaker’s viewpoint being submerged in another’s.

The book ends with a conclusion from Barbara Dancygier, which covers multiple viewpoints and proposes directions of future research. An index helps navigate through the content of the book. It is to be regretted only that instead of footnotes the reader is offered endnotes in a separate section. This rather awkward solution, however, is the publisher’s requirement and does not affect the quality of this very exciting collection of papers. Indeed, if the book leaves the reader displeased with anything, it is due to whetting the appetite with questions that are not fully satisfied  with answers. This, however, is inevitable and, in fact, is the book’s asset; easy solutions to complex and multifarious viewpoint issues would only be dubious and superficial.