Spatial Cognition and Computation 1: 399–412, 1999.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Why do speakers mix perspectives?
, PAUL LEE
and SCOTT MAINWARING
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, USA;
Interval Research Corporation
Abstract. Although considerations of discourse coherence and cognitive processing suggest
that communicators should adopt consistent perspectives when describing spatial scenes, in
many cases they switch perspectives. Ongoing research examining cognitive costs indicates
that these are small and exacted in establishing a mental model of a scene but not in retrieving
information from a well-known scene. A perspective entails a point of view, a referent object,
and terms of reference. These may change within a perspective, exacting cognitive costs, so
that the costs of switching perspective may not be greater than the costs of maintaining the
same perspective. Another project investigating perspective choice for self and other demon-
strates effects of salience of referent object and ease of terms of reference. Perspective is
mixed not just in verbal communications but also in pictorial ones, suggesting that at times,
switching perspective is more effective than maintaining a consistent one.
Key words: deictic, frame of reference, intrinsic, perspective, referent object, route, spatial
cognition, spatial mental model, survey
When people talk about space, or anything for that matter, they take a
perspective on it. There are many different perspectives that speakers can
take, but it has been generally assumed that in a particular discourse, speakers
adopt one perspective consistently. There is an a priori reason for consistency
of perspective: a consistent perspective provides coherence for a description,
a framework for the discourse. There is also a practical reason for maintaining
the same perspective: perspective switching can have cognitive costs, at least
for the listener or reader. When one sentence uses “come,” and the next, “go,”
readers take more time to comprehend the sentences than when the viewpoint
of the narrative is consistent (Black, Turner and Bower 1979).
Perspective is one of those extraordinarily useful words that, as a
consequence, has many senses. Some senses are strictly spatial, but others
are broader. The concern here is with spatial perspective. Even within the
domain of space, perspective has been used narrowly and broadly.
We are grateful for the insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers.