LINGUIST List 12.1603

Mon Jun 18 2001

Review: Language of Word Meaning (2nd rev)

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  1. Stella Markantonatou, review of Bouillon and Busa

Message 1: review of Bouillon and Busa

Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001 15:15:58 +0300
From: Stella Markantonatou <>
Subject: review of Bouillon and Busa

Bouillon, Pierrette and Federica Busa, ed. (2001) The
Language of Word Meaning, Cambridge University Press,
hardback, 387 pp., ISBN 0 521 78048 9, Studies in Natural
Language Processing

Stella Markantonatou, Institute for Language and Speech
Processing, Athens, Greece

This interesting book is an edited collection of papers
having the Generative Lexicon Theory [JP1995] as a common
thread. The book is divided into four Sections each one
brilliantly introduced by the editors. The first Section,
which is titled "Linguistic Creativity and the Lexicon",
consists of four papers. The central question is: How does
a theory of language explain the fact that words and
utterances are used by humans in various contexts in a
variety of senses? James Pustejovsky [JP1995] has
introduced the concept of Polysemy and proposed an
artificial language for representing it. The contributors
to the first Section raise various important issues
stemming from the study of this phenomenon and criticize
Pustejovsky's approach. The papers are:
(1) James McGilvray, Chomsky on the Creative Aspect of
Language Use and Its Implications for Lexical Semantic
Studies. Which is the object of study of the science of
linguistics and what are the implications for lexical
semantics? The author argues that a Science of Meaning can
only be an Internalistic Syntactic Science and that
referential approaches will never manage to make sense of
the fact that humans produce unlimited linguistic output
which is (almost always) appropriate to circumstances.
Furthermore, he argues that such a science must adopt an
anthropocentric point of view in order to account for the
fact that, after all, natural language expressions serve
human needs. McGilvray works in the framework of
minimalism; Underspecification, which is one of the
cornerstones of the Generative Lexicon Theory, has no
place in a framework where load on syntax is kept as
minimal as possible.
(2) Jerry A. Fodor and Ernie Lepore, The Emptiness of the
Lexicon: Critical Reflections on J. Pustejovsky's "The
Genarative Lexicon". The authors favor a denotational
approach to the Lexicon. They argue that entries in the
Lexicon should not contain inferences. They strongly
criticize Pustejovsky's use of the notion of Polysemy.
They do not believe that words are semantically
underspecified nor that their semantics is fixed in
context. They argue that what eventually varies with, say,
verbs, is not the semantics of the verb but the semantics
of the VP headed by the particular verb. Therefore, they
favor the listing of words/senses and the use of rules,
which they conceive as a word's dowry, to determine the
logical form of the phrases which are headed by the
particular word.
(3) James Pustejovsky, Generativity and Explanation in
Semantics: A Reply to Fodor and Lepor. The author defends
Polysemy as (one of) the linguistic manifestation(s) of
the faculty for generative categorization and
compositional thought. This faculty, he says, is unique to
humans. Then, he argues that Polysemy may be understood as
the result of generative mechanisms, very much in the way
syntax has been understood within the generative
tradition. Such an approach will allow for (a) an
explanation of the logical relations that hold among the
various senses of polysemous words (2) the use of
generative devices in order to express generalizations
about the creative use of the words in terms of important
semantic distinctions. In the more technical parts of the
paper, the author also explains how the machinery he
proposes adequately represents Polysemy phenomena and
related generalizations.
(4) Yorick Wilks, The "Fodor"-FODOR Fallacy Bites Back.
The author argues that the Fodor & Lepore denotational
semantics is not adequate both from the point of view of
Artificial Intelligence (which is very much concerned with
the manipulation of representations) and of a theory of
the Language. The reason, he explains, is that the Fodor &
Lepore approach does not actually contribute any
information about the meaning of words. That is, in the
Fodor & Lepor approach, according to the author, the
lexicon is a simple listing of arbitrary strings with no
information about their semantics. Instead, the meaning of
the words may be understood as relationships among
representational structures and the world as a whole.

The second Section, which is titled "The Syntax of Word
Meaning", is mainly a technical one. The general
principles of the upgraded Generative Lexicon Theory are
introduced and then, the machinery is used to model a
large range of frequent and challenging phenomena. An
interesting discussion is carried out concerning the
central claim of the Generative Lexicon Theory, namely,
that there are general mechanisms which account for the
multiple semantic interactions between words and their
contexts. More particularly, the Section consists of seven
papers as follows:
(5) James Pustejovsky, Type Construction and the Logic of
Concepts. Here, certain innovations to the
representational language of the Generative Lexicon Theory
are described. More particularly, the concepts and
mechanisms to construct an ontology for the representation
of word meanings are explained. Type-coercion operations,
which form a central mechanism for accounting for
creativity within this theory, are formalised into a
handful of well-defined types of operation.
(6) Jaques Jayez, Underspecification, Context Selection,
and Generativity. This paper questions one of the central
claims of Generative Lexicon Theory, namely that the
variety of semantic relations between words and their
contexts can be dealt with a number of generalised
operations. These operations rely on the assumption that
words are underspecified and the missing information is
provided by the context. Evidence is brought from French
(concerning the behavior of predicates such as "attendre"
and "suggester") which supports the claim that words
select for the context they appear in while a considerable
amount of vagueness does not allow for an exact
interpretation of the semantics of the resulting
structures. There are at least two consequences of this
fact: (a) the semantics of the resulting structure cannot
be fully predicted (b) words tend to appear in restricted
contexts. Such a simultaneously idiomatic and vague
behavior can not be captured by representational languages
which are based on generative mechanisms.
(7) Pierrette Bouillon and Federica Busa, Qualia and the
Structuring of Verb Meaning. This paper takes over the
discussion introduced in the previous paper and offers a
detailed analysis of the behavior of the verb "attendre".
It defends the view that it is possible to encode the
challenging phenomena under question (and some more
phenomena) by exploiting underspecification and the
generative mechanisms made available by the Generative
Lexicon Theory.
(8) Patrick Saint-Dizier, Sense Variation and Lexical
Semantics Generative Operations. This paper suggests
possible extensions to the machinery available to QUALIA
for the case of adjectives and verbs. The importance of
the TELIC role is stressed while it is suggested that a
number of generalisations concerning sense variation can
better be encoded with rules for type shifting rather than
with general operations (as the Generative Lexicon Theory
(9) Salvador Climent, Individuation by Partitive
Constructions in Spanish. Partitive constructions offer a
way to individuate referents in a number of languages,
Spanish included. Because it is the case that some kind of
mutual selection between the partitive expression and the
complement noun exists, the semantics of partitive
constructions are better obtained with the co-composition
mechanism of the Generative Lexicon Theory. The quale
CONSTITUTIVE is shown to play an important role here.
(10) Laurence Danlos, Event Coreference in Causal
Discourses. The extended event structure for causative
verbs proposed in the Generative Lexicon Theory is
exploited to study the semantics of discourses expressing
direct causation. An event coreference relation is shown
to exist in a discourse where the result is expressed by a
causative verb in its transitive use. Two types of event
coreference are claimed to exist: generalisation and
particularisation. These notions are further used to
formulate two demonstrably valid hypotheses about the
structure and the interpretation of causal discourses.

The third Section, titled "Interfacing the Lexicon",
discusses the possibility of treating "deviant" word uses,
such as metaphors, with a generative mechanism, e.g. the
one proposed by the Generative Lexicon Theory. The first
three papers seem to agree that, to some extend,
phenomena such as metaphor and metonymy can be captured
by some combination of generative mechanisms. The fourth
paper strongly questions this approach. A short
description of the papers follows:
(1) Julius M. Moravcsik, Metaphor: Creative Understanding
and the Generative Lexicon. The paper stresses that the
metaphorical use of words preserves some important
features of their literal use but not all of them. Words,
when used metaphorically, can be thought to have
underspecified semantics as compared to the semantics of
their literal uses. The semantics of metaphorical
structures, although it is about the world, is not
compositionally derived. Instead, an element of
subjectivity plays an important role and a holistic view
is adopted. The author proposes a theory for representing
lexical semantics. In this theory, lexical meanings are
conceived of as functions of four specified factors (an
idea which is close enough to the QUALIA role of the
Generative Lexicon Theory).
(2) Nicholas Asher and Alex Lascarides, Metaphor in
Discourse. The paper offers a robust formalisation of
metaphor phenomena, selecting the French and English
Change of Location verbs as a case study. It divides the
load of the interpretation of such structures between a
lexical semantics component and a formal discourse
semantics one. Lexical semantics is formalised with typed
feature structures and inheritance and the formalisation
is compatible with the HPSG framework. The QUALIA role is
exploited. Formal discourse semantics is used to
illustrate the interaction between lexical semantics and
certain rhetorical relations such as Narration and
Contrast. The main idea here is that words, in their
metaphoric use, preserve those features that distinguish
them in the word class they belong to.
(3) Jerry Hobbs, Syntax and Metonymy. The author relies on
the Interpretation as Abduction framework to show that
several phenomena, which are often attributed to the
Syntax, are, in fact, instances of Metonymy: Metonymy is
the phenomenon whereby an entity is referred to with the
description of a functionally related entity. He
demonstrates the capabilities of the method by offering a
treatment of a wide range of phenomena such as: extraposed
modifiers, ataxis, container nouns, distributive and
collective readings, small clauses, assertion of
grammatically subordinated information. At the bottomline,
the paper demonstrates the utility of a framework where
syntax, semantics and pragmatics are modeled in a uniform
(4) Adam Kilgarrif, Generative Lexicon Meets Corpus Data:
The Case of Nonstandard Word Uses. The author questions
the claim that the Generative Lexicon Theory, and any
generative theory, can adequately deal with non-standard
uses of words. He claims that lexical semantics often is
not a matter of individual words but of the collocations
they participate to. Furthermore, he claims that a large
part of meanings is not computed each time they are used.
Instead, these meanings are stored and retrieved when
necessary - a claim which challenges the central role of
generative mechanisms in the mental lexicon.

The fourth Section, which has the title "Building
Resources", discusses aspects of the problem of
constructing large scale lexica. It draws a lot on the
experience of the project "SIMPLE" which largely adopted
the Generative Lexicon Theory. The main issue discussed in
this section is the construction of ontologies. It
consists of three papers:
(1) Federica Busa, Nicoletta Calzolari and, Alessandro
Lenci, Generative Lexicon and the SIMPLE Model: Developing
Semantic Resources for NLP. The authors present the
ontology developed in the SIMPLE project. This ontology
further elaborates on the one proposed by the Generative
Lexicon Theory. The aim is to provide such mechanisms for
accommodating words in the ontology that are general
enough to allow for creating large lexical resources for
natural language processing.
(2) Nilda Ruimy, Elisabetta Gola and, Monica Monachini,
Lexicography Informs Lexical Semantics: the SIMPLE
Experience. The SIMPLE project developed a set of
templates which helped lexicographers to accommodate
senses without violating the general design of this multi-
lingual lexical database. The authors explain how
templates were constructed and select non-concrete nouns
as a case study to show that theory and lexicographic
practice provide feedback to each other.
(3) Piek Vossen, Condensed Meaning in EuroWordNet. The
paper reports on the experience of constructing a
multilingual lexical database, which was gained with the
EuroWordNet project. Polysemy is accounted for in one
language in a generative way by exploiting the
hyponymy/hyperonymy relation. A "global" ontology is also
defined to encode cross-lingual correspondences.


This is an interesting book well-addressed to a large
audience in linguistics, computational linguistics and, to
my view, philosophy of the language. It is actually a
book about the Generative Lexicon Theory [JP1995] although
its title ("The language of word meaning") could be
interpreted to allude to a more general discussion about
existing artificial languages which have been proposed for
the representation of lexical meaning (I will name only
[Jackendoff 1990] but there are several more, of course).
However, in this volume, an interesting debate unfolds
which eventually concerns serious issues of lexicography
and linguistics in general. The debate is between scholars
who more or less adopt and defend some central ideas of
the Generative Lexicon Theory and scholars who argue
against them.

Among the hot topics discussed in the book are:
(1) The fact is that humans can successfully use the same
words/structures with different contexts and in different
situations. How does a theory of the language better
capture this fact? In particular, is it at all possible to
construct a representational theory for this purpose? Can
this theory be similar to syntactic theories, that is,
exploit generalisations and general purpose operations to
account for this phenomenon? To this question, the
Generative Lexicon Theory gives a positive answer. There
are several researchers who claim that generalisation-
based theories eventually miss out something because words
tend to collocate and/or strongly select their contexts
while the overall semantics of such structures does not
seem to be compositionally derived. It is one of the
merits of the book that this debate is well-presented and
taken up from various points of view.
(2)Perhaps on the previous line of thought, is it possible
to construct an adequate theory of metaphor and if yes,
what would the burden be on lexical semantics and what on
discourse analysis? The book includes very interesting
contributions in this area. Still, before accounting for
this issue, how do we know that something is a metaphor
and not a literal use of a word? There may not exist an
answer to the second question but, certainly there is no
convincing answer in the book. Often contributors seem to
know a priori which senses are literal and which are
metaphorical. Certainly, this is not a book about metaphor
but it is a book about Underspecification in the Lexicon
which eventually addresses the issue of literal and non-
literal uses of words. It would be an additional advantage
of the book if a discussion existed about how the line is
drawn between these two areas.
(3)Underspecification of lexical entries is a cornerstone
of the Generative Lexicon Theory. But is it actually a
panacea for representing the multi-faced semantic (and
syntactic) behavior of words? The discussion is detailed
and very illuminating. At the end of the book, I was
convinced that underspecification can be exploited to
constrain unwanted interpretations while allowing for a
considerable degree of semantic flexibility but, it is not
possible to use it in order to account for all meanings.

The book is mainly of the theoretical persuasion. However,
it also touches upon the problems that have been faced by
enterprises which aim to construct large computational
dictionaries. The problem of constructing the ontologies
which form the backbone of large scale lexica is
discussed. This discussion is mainly located in Section
Four but crucial information can also be found elsewhere
in the book and especially in the papers by James
Pustejovsky. As regards one or two papers in Section Four,
I would observe that they look like papers which introduce
a theory to an audience poorly informed about the adopted
theoretical backbone, for instance, the audience in a
conference of computer applications. However, this is a
book about the Generative Lexicon Theory after all.
Perhaps, those papers could have been further edited so as
to keep in the introduction the absolutely relevant
theoretical information only.

Last, but not least, my opinion is that the editors must
be credited with an overall success (although,
unfortunately, several typos have managed to escape the
editorial eye) because both the selection of the topics
and the overall organisation of the collection have
resulted into an informative and stimulating text.


[JP1995] James Pustejovsky. 1995. The Generative Lexicon.
MIT Press, Cambridge
[Jackendoff 1990]. Ray Jackendoff. 1990. Semantic
Structures. MIT Press, Cambridge

Stella Markantonatou (1958) completed her PhD at the
University of Essex in 1992. She has joined the Essex
Computational Linguistics Group for four years and has
been in charge of the MT Department of ILSP since June
1998. She has taught in various Universities and has
published in international journals and conferences. Her
interests are in the areas of grammatical formalisms,
lexical semantics and statistical approaches.

Dr. Stella Markantonatou
Head of the Machine Translation Department
Institute for Language and Speech Processing
Artemidos 6 & Epidavrou
Gr-15125 Marousi

Tel: +30-1-6875452
Fax: +30-1-6854270
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