LINGUIST List 12.2220

Tue Sep 11 2001

Review: Malrieu, Evaluative Semantics

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  1. Kerstin Fischer, review of Malrieu: Evaluative Semantics

Message 1: review of Malrieu: Evaluative Semantics

Date: Fri, 7 Sep 2001 11:59:10 +0200 (MEST)
From: Kerstin Fischer <>
Subject: review of Malrieu: Evaluative Semantics

Jean-Pierre Malrieu (1999) Evaluative Semantics: Cognition,
Language and Ideology. Routledge, hardback ISBN 0-415-19671-9,
$110.00 (US), $165.00 (Canada), 316+xiipp, Frontiers of
Cognitive Science series

Kerstin Fischer, University of Bremen

The topic of the book is the relationship between language
and ideology. The main project followed in 'Evaluative
Semantics' is to develop a (formal) method to estimate the
consistency of a text with respect to a given ideology.

The author, Jean-Pierre Malrieu, takes an extraordinarily
broad approach. In particular, he combines insight from

 - sociology
 - discourse analysis
 - lexical semantics
 - formal semantics
 - psychoanalysis and psycholinguistics
 - research on affect and emotion
 - artificial intelligence

For all of these areas, he attempts to provide overviews of
the current state of the discussion in order to position his
own approach in the whole spectrum. That is, at no point in
the book does the author argue 'X is suitable for my
purposes, that is why I decided for it'. Instead, he
attempts at arguing 'U, V, W, Y, Z are not suitable, that is
why I chose X'. This methodological attitude gives rise to
the fascinating breadth of the book. However, even more
compelling is that many of the approaches presented are not
well-known in the English-speaking world. So the book
allows the non-French speaking linguist to learn a lot about
French sociological and linguistic research. However, this
attitude is also responsible for a number of problems: the
book is, especially in the first half in which the other
approaches are discussed, extremely difficult to follow
because it is often not clear what the author is aiming
at. The presentations themselves often remain sketchy, and
the selection of approaches presented was sometimes puzzling
to me, which may be partly due to the francophone background
of the author (and the anglophone background of the
reviewer). Occasionally, his sources furthermore remain
hidden. Thus he criticizes Althusser and Pecheux for not
having properly understood Lacan's psychoanalytic theory
(p.99), without providing us with a reference to Lacan's
writings himself, neither in his presentation of this theory
(p.61-65), nor elsewhere in the book. Finally, some side
topics, such as compositionality, have been dealt with
rather vaguely, which may also be due to the enormous range
of topics tackled.

Jean-Pierre Malrieu takes the following steps, which
correspond to the individual chapters of the book, to
present us with his considerations about evaluative

1. The first chapter consists in a discussion of the notion
of ideology. The approaches on which the discussion is
based are mainly those of Foucault, Althusser and
Bourdieu. The first major question Malrieu deals with is
how ideology can be defined. He therefore compares
internal (ideologies are systems with their own logic and
rigor), external (ideologies are real (material)
phenomena), and so-called 'cold' (ideologies have a
subjective rationality) theories of ideology. Topics of
this chapter include the problems of external theories of
ideology, the scarcity of discourse argument, discursive
legitimation, and the role of the content of
ideologies. Malrieu argues that because content is
necessary to reject particular ideologies, and because
ideologies often have no practical consequences for
individuals, ideological discourse can neither be defined
as completely external, nor as entirely 'cold'. The
second major question concerns in what ways ideologies
are consistent, and he discusses proposals such as that
ideological statements group together because of the
practical objectives they pursue (p.44), or that
generative schemes and ideological patterns produce
consistent ideological discourse. In contrast to these
approaches Malrieu argues that consistency is achieved
through a harmony of values, objects, and actions
(p.42). Finally Malrieu describes an internal account of
ideological categories developed by Boltanski and
Thevenot (1991) which he uses in his model outlined in
chapter eight.

2. In the second chapter, Malrieu reviews some approaches to
the relationship between affect and cognition, arguing
that there are three possible positions: a) evaluation
belongs to the affective sphere, b)evaluation belongs to
the cognitive sphere, and c) evaluation is indissolubly
affective and cognitive. Topics discussed include
emotional development, Edelman's model, psycholanalysis,
and of the role of evaluation in text processing. Malrieu
concludes that evaluation is to a large extent autonomous
from cognition.

3. Then, Malrieu discusses different approaches to discourse
analysis. His main focus is on content
analysis. Furthermore, he includes some notes on the
contribution of Anglo-American and French discourse
analysis to the study of ideological language. The
question he addresses in this chapter is whether there
are linguistic criteria for isolating particular
linguistic properties as ideologically relevant per
se. Not surprisingly he concludes that ideological
relevance of particular linguistic items depends on the
respective ideology.

4. In the fourth chapter, Malrieu reviews several lexical
semantic approaches, in particular, markedness theory,
the theory of argumentation within language (Ducrot),
cognitive semantics, differential semantics (by which he
understands the structuralist tradition (Saussure,
Greimas, Pottier)), and what he calls interpretative
semantics (Rastier, Halliday). These theories he rejects
because, in his view, they "have remained, as far as
evaluation is concerned, at the lexical level" (p.147).
Denotational semantic approaches, which apparently have
not paid much attention to evaluation at all, are then
discussed in order to arrive at an account of evaluative
meaning effects at the level of phrases, sentences and
discourse. Malrieu proposes that "a semantics of
contextual modification, in which the default evaluation
of an expression is transformed into a contextual
evaluation under the influence of its linguistic context"
(ibid.) is the most suitable way to account for
evaluative meaning.

5. Then, Malrieu introduces semantic networks and different
discourse representation formalisms. This chapter is
certainly valuable as an overview for readers not
previously acquainted with such representation
formalisms. Sowa's Conceptual Graph Model is described in
great detail, however, only to be rejected as showing
that "the complexity required to achieve logical
correctness often turns out to be as dangerous as the
lack of logical foundations which characterizes ad hoc
methods" (p.177). The author therefore concludes to
develop a formalism which uses aspects of conceptual
graphs, but which dispenses with logical foundations in
favour of a representation that is closer to the
linguistic surface.

6. The sixth chapter introduces this kind of formal
representation of text; the graph representation Malrieu
developed is called Styled Semantic Networks (SSNs),
'styled' because he uses colours and fonts to express
particular aspects of the semantics of a text. The
networks are very close to the linguistic surface,
syntactic structure plays no role, and determiners
etc. are not interpreted but just represented in the
nodes of the network. The links are constituted by
relations very close to thematic roles or the links in
frame semantics, etc. Malrieu argues that the SSNs can be
tested for semantic validity by a projection game similar
to that developed by Sowa, however, it did not become
clear to me whether this game is actually part of the
computational model of evaluative semantics developed
step by step throughout the book. Because of the
closeness of the representation to natural language
utterances, the author argues that inter-coder
reliability, another way to test the validity of a
representation, should be high (p.203).

7. In the chapter 'Dynamic Semantic Networks', Malrieu
proposes his definition of ideological consistency as
"the stability of evaluations in a dynamic semantic
network" (p.209) and of evaluative meaning effects as
"the dynamic modification between units of discourse"
(ibid.). That is, ideological consistency is estimated by
measuring the distance between initial and stable states
of the representation. 'Dynamic' is the calculation of
inertia and default values on the basis of the three
relations attraction, repulsion, and attraction-repulsion
that are argued to hold between linguistic items.

8. Chapter eight comprises the complete model of ideology
with its three layers ontology, relations, and
ideological knowledge. While the ontology and the
relations are held to be the same for all ideologies, the
last level codes the particular ideology, the
opinion. The relations are described as weighted
connections between, for instance, actions and entities,
coding information such as "The evaluative influence of
an action on its actor is stronger than the reverse
influence" (p.231). The third, ideological, level is
represented by a networked analysis of each ideology in
terms of Boltanski and Thevenot's categories. Malrieu
then adds some general semantic properties to his model,
such as accounts of negation, quantification and

9. The ninth chapter presents an example analysis of
Antony's funeral speech in Shakespeare's Julius
Cesar. The phrases of this monologue are analyzed as
SSNs, the weights to the connections are added according
to the general representation of the relations developed
in the previous chapter, inertia and default values are
assigned and then the representation is compared to the
two different representations of the two conflicting
ideologies 'tyranny' and 'republic'. For each sentence
the consistency with either one ideology is
estimated. That is, what the model does is to judge for
each sentence of a text how likely it supports a
particular given ideology.

The book presents very stimulating and complex discussions
on the nature of ideologies and their relationship to
language. While developing his argument by means of
discussing previous approaches and perspectives in the above
listed research domains, Malrieu also offers some
interesting points on aspects which can be seen as welcome
side effects of his model, for example, the treatment of
opaque contexts and the account of connectives, such as
'but'. Thus, the book presents a very rich and complex
picture, and it is certainly worth reading because of this
complexity and breadth.

The model developed itself is of course very restricted. The
decision whether a given sentence supports a given ideology
or not constitutes only a minor aspect of the much more
general problem of ideological language. The author argues
that solving this problem helps to identify, for instance,
ironical statements, thus being useful for the automatic
disambiguation of sentences. However, though aspects of the
model seem to be implemented, most parts are not, and since
Malrieu holds that we can decide on the 'default' values of
individual (lexical) items (the initial state which is
compared to the terminal state after all relations have been
calculated by their weights) only in the context of a given
ideology, the decision being taken by the sociologist, it
seems that the model relies on many intuitive judgements
taken by the researcher. There are furthermore several
aspects of the model developed that remained unintelligible
to me, and this is probably not due to my sparse
mathematical background; it seemed to me that the author did
not pay too much attention to letting the reader participate
in all aspects of his model. For instance, in the SSNs,
tense is represented by colour, of which the author plainly
notes that this is invisible in print (p.182). In spite of
all shortcomings, the application of his model to the data
in chapter nine is stunning. As it often is the case in
artificial intelligence research, the path that leads to a
particular model may be much more interesting than the
formal representation resulting. This is definitely true of
Malrieu's book.

Kerstin Fischer teaches English Linguistics at the
University of Bremen, Germany. In her PhD thesis, she
developed a model of the functional polysemy of discourse
particles. Currently, she works on linguistic aspects of
human-computer and human-robot communication. Her research
interests lie in the areas emotionality in human-computer
communication, register theory, recipient design, and the
role of context in the interaction with artificial
communication partners.
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