The Power of Point of View

YouTube clips from “Star Wars” and “The Gods Must Be Crazy” to help unpack Phraseological Plane of Point of View

return of the jedi - squareby GARY YAMASAKI   The phraseological plane of point of view is definitely the least significant of the six–it being the least utilized–but it has got to be the most fascinating for its ability to influence in a most unassuming fashion through whose point of view an audience experiences an event.

Unfortunately, this plane’s transition from the study of the modern novel to the study of biblical narrative has not been smooth, largely due to some unclarity in the way Boris Uspensky treats it in his A Poetics of Composition. Uspensky devotes a long chapter to the phraseological plane, and he does make clear right at the beginning of the chapter that this is the plane of speech characteristics (p. 17), but the remainder of the chapter lacks a clear pronouncement on the significance of speech characteristics for the analysis of point of view.

Actually, their significance can be found tucked away near the end of the preceding chapter (on the ideological plane), but it is easily missed at that point since the readers have not yet encountered the introduction to phraseological matters supplied by the following chapter. . .unless, of course, they are reading the book from back to front, a reading strategy that apparently escaped all biblical scholars (it was only on my fourth reading of the book that I finally noticed the connection).

The tucked-away comment asserts that “phraseological means may indicate concretely whose point of view the author has adopted for his narration” (p. 15), and by “phraseological means” Uspensky is referring to speech characteristics. So, the point introduced here–though not developed until the following chapter–is that an author’s incorporating speech characteristics of a character into the speech of the narrating voice can contribute toward the readers coming to experience the events of the story through that character’s point of view.

As mentioned at the outset, this technique is not used often. Usually, a character in a story does not have speech characteristics that are distinctive specifically to that character. Rather, the speech characteristics of characters are usually indistinguishable from those of the narrating voice. Occasionally, however, a character will be given speech characteristics that are distinguishable from both the narrating voice and the speech of the other characters. For an example, think of Star Wars’ character Yoda, the Jedi Master. Click HERE for a sample of his speech, taken from a scene from Episode 6: Return of the Jedi (at 40:09).

In commenting on his physical condition, Yoda says, “Sick I have become. . .old and weak. . . .When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not.” His speech is clearly characterized by a unorthodox use of syntax, a style of speech that is immediately recognizable as that of Yoda by anyone who has seen the Star Wars movies. This is what Uspensky means by a speech characteristic, and he asserts that inserting such a speech characteristic of a character into the narrating voice will contribute toward the readers coming to adopt the point of view of that character, that is, experience the events of the story through that character’s point of view.

This is a difficult dynamic to demonstrate with a movie clip, since movies generally do not feature a narrating voice, like the narrating voice in a written story that presents to the readers all the words of the narrative (except for the words contained in the direct discourse of characters). However, there is one movie containing a narrator voice-over that does demonstrate this dynamic quite nicely.

The first segment of the film The Gods Must Be Crazy plays like a documentary contrasting the modern life of Johannesburg with the life of the Sho people of the Kalahari Desert of Botswana, with a narrator voice-over providing commentary using phraseology typical of modern society. However, the voice-over’s phraseology abruptly changes at the 8:25 mark; click HERE to view the scene (the YouTube clip goes on for over four minutes, but the first several seconds of the clip is enough for our purposes).

As this clip demonstrates, the voice-over abandons phraseology typical of modern society in favor of phraseology that would be more typical of the Sho people. So, when the voice-over makes reference to airplanes flying overhead, it does not use the modern term “airplanes.” Rather, it uses “noisy birds which flew without flapping their wings,” phraseology reflecting how the Sho people would speak of what was passing overhead.

This practice of a narrator incorporating characters’ speech characteristics in the narrating voice also happens in written narratives, noticeable by an abrupt change in the language of the narration; it is as though the person who has been doing the narrating has been pulled aside and replaced by someone with a different style of speaking. How this appears in biblical narrative will be demonstrated in a future post.

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