The Power of Point of View

Linguistics influencing Point of View: Trying to make a ‘Police Shooting’ Palatable

BBC logo - croppedby GARY YAMASAKI   This post demonstrated how readers can be led to experience events through a Neanderthal point of view simply by linguistic manipulation, specifically, the avoidance of transitive clauses. This post goes a step further to explore how manipulation of transitivity can even lead readers to adopt the point of view of a particular party in an account involving a controversial issue.

Linguist Paul Simpson provides some interesting insights in this regard in an examination of a BBC news report of the 1986 acquittal of a police officer who had shot a five-year-old boy asleep in his bed (Language, Ideology and Point of View [Routledge, 1993], 106-108). Simpson first sets out one sentence of the report–”The boy died when the policeman’s gun went off”–and then analyzes the transitivity configurations of these two clauses.

He notes they are both middle clauses with verbs that do not accommodate equivalent active or passive forms (active: “X died the boy” / “Y went off the gun”; passive: “The boy was died by X” / “The gun was went off by Y”), thus preventing even the possibility of citing who was responsible for the shooting. Simpson concludes by suggesting the possibility that “this discourse pattern has an underlying political motive; that it is biased, in this instance, in favour of a powerful political institution.”

In essence, Simpson is talking about point-of-view manipulation. He is suggesting that the transitivity configurations chosen for this statement could possibly be intended to lead the BBC’s audience to adopt the point of view of the police, thus siding with them as opposed to siding with the victim’s family.

This represents point-of-view dynamics on a plane not yet covered in earlier posts. We have already seen point of view functioning on the spatial plane, the psychological plane, the informational plane, and the temporal plane. Here, we see it functioning on the ideological plane, a plane having to do with ideological stances of characters, and how a storyteller’s handling of them can impact through whose point of view an audience experiences an event.

While the study of point of view on each of the other planes has resulted in reasonably clear pictures of the specific factors relevant to the manipulation of point of view on each plane, that is not true with the ideological plane. Much work is still needed to establish a workable approach to point of view on this plane, and it is hoped that future posts will contribute toward that end.

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1 Response »

  1. This post reminds me of an article by Tony Trew, “Theory and Ideology at Work,” pages 94–116 in Fowler, Hodge, Kress, and Trew, _Language and Control_ (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979).

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