Research Topic

Perspective Taking in Language

About this Research Topic

This Research Topic aims to bring together multiple areas of language research in which perspective taking plays an important role. Each language user brings their own unique set of perceptions, knowledge and experiences to the table, which may or may not be aligned with the perspectives of other people. In communication with others, or when talking or writing about a third person, these perspectives need to be somehow coordinated in language. For example, when referring to an object in the world, speakers take into account whether the object and its visual context are shared between speaker and listener in choosing a particular referring expression. Listeners can also understand ironic utterances and quickly draw the inference that the speaker intends to convey something considerably different from the literal meaning. Furthermore, languages offer various constructions for reporting the perspectives of others, including quotation, attitude reports, and more subtle stylistic means such as free indirect discourse. Research has shown that the ability to infer and reason about other people’s mental states starts to develop in early childhood. At the same time, even adults sometimes fail to use this ability to consistently take into account the perspective of others. The exact preconditions for when language users shift perspective and to what degree are as yet unknown, although they should probably be sought in a combination of linguistic, pragmatic, cognitive and social factors.

As is clear from the examples given above, perspective taking plays a role in a variety of language functions, from reference to irony to narrative writing. There is a rich body of literature on different types of perspective taking in language. Recently, there has been increased attention to perspective taking in both children and adults with pragmatic disorders such as autism. Perspective taking research has also been applied to the domain of visual communication, such as comics and graphic novels. However, the mutual relationships between the different types of perspective taking are still largely unknown. For example, given that the ability to understand what other people see develops earlier than the ability to understand what other people believe, are visual and cognitive perspective taking distinct mental processes? What is the relation between shifting perspectives in conversation to understand whom the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’ refer to and shifting perspective between characters in narrative discourse? Can we formulate a definition of perspective taking that encompasses all these different types?

We welcome papers on these and other questions relating to the many forms of perspective taking in language. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

- Visual/spatial perspective taking, as well as (by metaphorical extension) temporal perspective taking
- Cognitive and emotional perspective taking, Theory of Mind, empathy
- Speaker knowledge vs. hearer knowledge, audience design, common ground, (pronominal) reference, implicatures, irony, metaphor
- Speech reporting, deictic shift, literary/narrative perspective taking

We particularly welcome papers that attempt to build a bridge between two or more types of perspective taking in language.


Special thanks to Raheleh Saryazdi of the University of Toronto for her contribution in delineating this Research Topic theme.


Keywords: perspective taking, language, theory of mind, audience design, narrative


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

This Research Topic aims to bring together multiple areas of language research in which perspective taking plays an important role. Each language user brings their own unique set of perceptions, knowledge and experiences to the table, which may or may not be aligned with the perspectives of other people. In communication with others, or when talking or writing about a third person, these perspectives need to be somehow coordinated in language. For example, when referring to an object in the world, speakers take into account whether the object and its visual context are shared between speaker and listener in choosing a particular referring expression. Listeners can also understand ironic utterances and quickly draw the inference that the speaker intends to convey something considerably different from the literal meaning. Furthermore, languages offer various constructions for reporting the perspectives of others, including quotation, attitude reports, and more subtle stylistic means such as free indirect discourse. Research has shown that the ability to infer and reason about other people’s mental states starts to develop in early childhood. At the same time, even adults sometimes fail to use this ability to consistently take into account the perspective of others. The exact preconditions for when language users shift perspective and to what degree are as yet unknown, although they should probably be sought in a combination of linguistic, pragmatic, cognitive and social factors.

As is clear from the examples given above, perspective taking plays a role in a variety of language functions, from reference to irony to narrative writing. There is a rich body of literature on different types of perspective taking in language. Recently, there has been increased attention to perspective taking in both children and adults with pragmatic disorders such as autism. Perspective taking research has also been applied to the domain of visual communication, such as comics and graphic novels. However, the mutual relationships between the different types of perspective taking are still largely unknown. For example, given that the ability to understand what other people see develops earlier than the ability to understand what other people believe, are visual and cognitive perspective taking distinct mental processes? What is the relation between shifting perspectives in conversation to understand whom the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’ refer to and shifting perspective between characters in narrative discourse? Can we formulate a definition of perspective taking that encompasses all these different types?

We welcome papers on these and other questions relating to the many forms of perspective taking in language. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

- Visual/spatial perspective taking, as well as (by metaphorical extension) temporal perspective taking
- Cognitive and emotional perspective taking, Theory of Mind, empathy
- Speaker knowledge vs. hearer knowledge, audience design, common ground, (pronominal) reference, implicatures, irony, metaphor
- Speech reporting, deictic shift, literary/narrative perspective taking

We particularly welcome papers that attempt to build a bridge between two or more types of perspective taking in language.


Special thanks to Raheleh Saryazdi of the University of Toronto for her contribution in delineating this Research Topic theme.


Keywords: perspective taking, language, theory of mind, audience design, narrative


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 May 2020 Abstract
30 September 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 May 2020 Abstract
30 September 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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