LINGUIST List 14.1086

Fri Apr 11 2003

Review: Semantics/Pragmatics: Bras & Vieu (2001)

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  1. Thora Tenbrink, Semantic and Pragmatic Issues in Discourse and Dialogue

Message 1: Semantic and Pragmatic Issues in Discourse and Dialogue

Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2003 16:55:27 +0000
From: Thora Tenbrink <tenbrinkInformatik.Uni-Bremen.DE>
Subject: Semantic and Pragmatic Issues in Discourse and Dialogue

Bras, Myriam, and Laure Vieu (2001) Semantic and Pragmatic Issues in
Discourse and Dialogue: Experimenting With Current Dynamic Theories.
Elsevier Science Ltd, x+250pp, hardback ISBN 0-08-043943-8, $86.50.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-2847.html


Thora Tenbrink, University of Bremen, Germany

OVERVIEW

This book contains a collection of eight carefully revised and
extended papers, most of which were originally presented at a workshop
on ''Theoretical Bases for Semantics and Pragmatics in NLP: The
Expression of Time, Space and Movement in Lexicon, Discourse and
Dialogue''; 6th TALN conference, Corsica, July 1999.

In the first paper (''She's Character''), Paul Dekker deals with the
semantics of pronouns. In previous accounts in logic and formal
semantics, pronouns were treated like variables: functional on the
context, and void of content. Dekker points out that pronouns carry
two kinds of indexical presuppositions that need to be taken into
account when specifying their character: that of utterance (a pronoun
has no 'character' independent of its actually being employed) and
that of the presence of an individual that it points to (such as, in
the case of 'she', a female). Both of these presuppositions
characteristic of pronouns are captured in a formal
specification. Highlighting how such presupposed presence is dependent
on a speaker's intentions and on the context of utterance, Dekker now
introduces the notion of 'presence in intentional space'. Many
intuitive examples are introduced to illustrate this concept: for
instance, it is possible to refer to a non-present (and discourse-new)
woman as 'she' if both interlocutors at this moment see her husband
enter the bar. In other words, for a pronoun to be employed in a
discourse context it is sufficient that the interlocutor can identify
the intended referent on the basis of what is said about the referent
(as in 'She is very sick' if the husband looks downcast), of the
interlocutors' background knowledge, etc. Note that this concept of
'presence in intentional space', which Dekker proposes to capture
formally in a many-sorted modal logic, embraces both anaphoric and
demonstrative uses of pronouns, and it applies independently of
epistemic complications.

The second paper, ''Exhaustivity and Specificity: A Parallelism
between Answers and Pronouns'' by Robert van Rooy, also deals with
pronouns; more precisely, it addresses the distinction between their
referential vs. descriptive uses. This distinction, re-analysed as
differentiating between exhaustivity and specificity, is shown to
reflect a more general phenomenon than previously assumed: very
similar effects can be detected in the uses of wh-questions, in the
classical distinction between referentially and attributively used
definite descriptions, and in reference to specific events
vs. event-types. This parallelism is extended to account for
functional dependencies, and worked out in detail in a dynamic logic
framework that integrates choice functions in addition to worlds and
assignment functions.

In the third paper, ''Presupposition Computation and Presupposition
Justification: One Aspect of the Interpretation of Multi-Sentence
Discourse'', Hans Kamp presents an in-depth DRT (Discourse
Representation Theory) analysis of the following mini-discourse: ''I
gave the workers a generous tip. One thanked me. The other one left
without saying a word.'' The analysis highlights the specific
mechanisms of presupposition justification, including the specific
contributions of expressions like ''other'' or ''one'', that enable
the reader to infer (after processing the whole mini-discourse) that
the number of workers in the first sentence must be two. This
procedure gives insight into the more general processes underlying the
interpretation of discourse in those cases where presuppositions are
not justifiable directly by the previous context, while at the same
time offering a comprehensible introduction to the formalisms adopted
in DRT (starting with the syntax-semantics interface). On the basis of
his analysis, Kamp questions the dichotomy in the literature between
presuppositions that either do or do not permit the accommodation of
discourse referents, and points to the need for a finer-grained
classification of presupposition types. He concludes by considering
the complexities involved in accounting for the ambiguities arising in
natural discourse in a working implementation, a task that needs to be
approached using Underspecified DRT.

The next paper, ''Presupposition Triggered by Temporal Connectives''
by Frank Schilder, deals with the presuppositional effects associated
not with a specific discourse as in the previous paper, but with
specific expressions, namely, 'before' and 'after'. By analysing
longer stretches of discourse in which these connectives occur, using
the DRT framework, Schilder works out the regularities of
presuppositions to be found both within and beyond the sentence, in
contrast to previous accounts that concentrated on the temporal
semantics of the connectives and on the relations between main and
subordinate clause within a sentence. Concentrating on sentences
reflecting the natural order of events, he points to several distinct
kinds of sentential relations and discourse linking relations
established by 'before' and 'after', such as a 'termination relation'
(established as a discourse linking relation by 'after', but as a
sentential relation by 'before'). The analysis also shows that a
causal relation cannot be established by 'before'. Moreover, while
'after' can establish a causal relation between the two events
described within the sentence, no causality can be inferred between a
preposed after-clause and the preceding discourse. The refined
discourse semantics of the two connectives is formally specified
within DRT, incorporating and extending results taken from Asher and
Lascarides (1998).

In the following paper, ''French Adverbial Puis between Temporal
Structure and Discourse Structure'', Myriam Bras, Anne Le Draoulec,
and Laure Vieu also present a detailed analysis of a specific
expression ('puis') in its relation to the wider discourse
context. The authors make extensive use of natural language examples
drawn from a corpus of French literature (most of which they do not
translate, which may hamper comprehension for English speaking
readers). Their central finding, which they work out in detail in the
framework of SDRT (Segmented DRT), is that 'puis' is a marker of the
discourse relation Narration, instead of directly contributing to the
semantics of the clause. This implies that 'puis' does not by itself
introduce a temporal referent or relation, but that the relation of
temporal succession is implied by the underlying discourse relation
that is marked by the adverb. This proposal, which is well justified
by the examples presented, mirrors findings on other discourse markers
(in French: donc as a marker of Result, mais as one of Contrast) and
opens up research questions with regard to related expressions in
other languages, such as ''then'' in English and ''dann'' in German.

Ana Teresa Alves and Isabel Gómez Txurruka analyse ''The Meaning of
Same in Anaphoric Temporal Adverbials''. Their focus is on those
occurrences of 'same' in which a discourse relation is canceled that
would be inferred in the absence of 'same'. The authors introduce the
concept of Unexpected Identity (UI) to account for the discourse
effects triggered by 'same', and formalise the refined semantics of
'same' in the framework of SDRT. UI indicates that a particular
identity of an entity with a previously mentioned one is not logically
implied by the discourse. This constraint is shown to capture most of
the interaction effects between 'same' and diverse kinds of discourse
relations that are put to the test.

The next contribution, ''Spatial Inferences in a Localization
Dialogue'' by Peter Krause, Uwe Reyle, and Michael Schiehlen,
highlights the many instances of inferences and presuppositions that
occur in a natural dialogue dealing with spatial surroundings. The
authors present a fairly thorough DRT formalisation of a localisation
dialogue consisting of 10 turns, which is a formidable task in
itself. Central to their analysis are the mereotopological relations
originally proposed by Asher and Sablayrolles, 1995, which are
extended. Furthermore, the authors present axioms that build the basis
for accounting for the inferences associated with the interpretation
of the lexical items in the dialogue, and they formally specify the
most important lexical entries. Having accomplished this basis for
analysis, they turn to a step-by-step DRT analysis of the dialogue,
specifying in detail the implicit presuppositions and their
justification. This analysis exemplifies the complexity of such an
approach, leaving many issues and details open for further
clarification, such as the decision about which information to include
in the Common Ground before the dialogue has started. Another problem
is posed by the fact that not all presuppositions that need to be
accommodated, and are then included in the formalisation of the
'Common Ground', are indeed understood and/or accepted by the
interlocutor, which makes the information one-sided (rather than, in
the original sense, Common Ground). This differentiation is not
clearly represented in the formalisation. Altogether, the integration
of the diverse kinds of formal and cognitive problems that are merged
in a localisation dialogue constitute a major challenge for
research. The present article is certainly a good start in this
direction.

The last paper, ''Cooperativity in Dialogue'' by Nicholas Asher, Joan
Busquets, and Anne Le Draoulec, uses the SDRT framework to analyse
another localisation dialogue consisting of 23 turns. To begin with,
the main features of SDRT are introduced, and its relationship to DRT
is outlined. Then, the more recent extensions to the specific
requirements in dialogue are described, and the authors discuss the
relationship of the discourse relations to cognitive modeling. Their
main focus of analysis of the present dialogue is the question how the
Gricean principle of Cooperativity is manifested in the speakers'
contributions, also in cases of disagreement or indirect
answers. Thus, discourse relations are analysed in terms of speakers'
goals. One result is that there must be a further constraint pulling
in a different direction than Cooperativity: a need to 'save face',
i.e., to explain own actions to justify them. Many utterances cannot
be interpreted taking Cooperativity as the only driving force in
dialogue. Furthermore, the authors deal in some detail with the
effects of the discourse relation Correction, suggest some changes to
the SDRT framework, and open up issues for further research.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

The book is carefully edited and the papers are sorted in a reasonable
fashion, starting with traditional theoretical approaches, leading
over to analyses of single lexemes occurring in natural language
samples, and ending with articles that provide a good insight into the
current status of understanding the intricate phenomena contained in
longer stretches of dialogue. Some errata remain, e.g., a doubling of
''the'' on p11 as well as p236, and some confusions of letters
(''ellispses'' on p.132, etc.). But readability is enhanced by the
clear and concise layout plus editorial decisions such as using
footnotes rather than endnotes.

Although the book comprises only eight contributions, it still covers
a wide range of issues related to the issue of formally capturing the
interface between semantics and pragmatics: some contributions deal
with monologue, others with dialogue; some are fairly readable and
accessible to newcomers to the field or readers more familiar with
less formal (but related) research directions, others are strictly
formal and presuppose extensive previous knowledge of the approach
adopted in the paper; some deal with one single lexical item and its
occurrence in diverse kinds of discourse, while others concentrate on
the diverse discourse phenomena occurring in one stretch of discourse,
such as a localisation dialogue. Readers are presented with spatial
and temporal phenomena as well as issues concerning presupposition and
anaphora, discourse relations, and their treatment in different
dynamic semantic frameworks such as DPL (Dynamic Predicate Logic), DRT
and SDRT. All these issues reflect current moves towards integrating
pragmatic phenomena into formal semantic accounts of natural
discourse, as they are researched in diverse (almost entirely
European) projects (reflected in the range of countries represented by
the authors in this volume: France, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain,
Portugal, and the US). Here, also, the contributions vary between
innovative approaches, indicating many open issues for further
research, and in-depth analyses of specific phenomena building on
previous work.

Some of the analyses (specifically Bras et al., Krause et al., and
Asher et al.) are based on natural language data, which can be
considered as a special virtue. In Spenader (2002) some of the
complications of such an approach are exemplified: in naturally
occurring language relations and categories tend to be much less
clear- cut than in made-up examples, which are invented precisely for
the reason of exemplifying a concept. Therefore, while the respective
contributions generally succeed in outlining the relevant contrasts,
they also leave space for further analysis, often indicated by hints
at intuitions of the authors that could be worth more precise
consideration.

Concerning the range of issues covered, the book offers a good
overview of the state of the art with regard to dynamic
theories. However, concerning the potential audience some cautious
remarks are expedient. Since some of the articles provide accessible
introductions to all relevant concepts employed, readers from other
fields, especially those concerned with pragmatic issues in discourse,
will benefit from the analyses. Other contributions, however, have
obviously not been written with a broader audience in mind. One
particular example is the contribution by Krause et al., which -
because of its relation to spatial phenomena and its treatment of
''common ground'' - has a potential readership within the communities
of cognitive science as well as conversation analysis (or other areas
dealing with the analysis of dialogue). However, since relevant
concepts are presupposed in this article and innovative trains of
thought are mostly not covered in detail other than by presenting
formulae, much potentially interesting material will only be
accessible to readers who are completely at ease with DRT. In
contrast, Kamp manages to provide a brief (but effectual) introduction
to his approach, while at the same time extending it with new and
challenging issues not covered before. His paper is a fine
exemplification of how the diverse elements of (even a mini-)discourse
interact to create meaning, indicating just why it is so difficult to
grasp the subtleties of the semantics and pragmatics of single terms
like 'same', 'before', etc., covered in other papers in the book (not
to mention multi-sentential discourse). Thus, Kamp's contribution
provides useful background knowledge to some of the other articles - a
fact which is not transparent beforehand since the two preceding
papers in the book deal with entirely different (fairly theoretical)
issues.

While, in the case of DRT, the contribution containing background
knowledge for the understanding of DRT is placed before other articles
in the book building on such knowledge, the case of SDRT is not so
lucky. The first article in the book dealing with SDRT (Bras et al.)
is fairly self-contained in that only those discourse relations are
explained which are relevant to the paper (here, the difference
between the concepts Occasion and Topic Contingency should be made
explicit, since the intuition of 'belonging to the same story' is used
to explain both (p119f.)). The next article (Alves & Gómez Txurruka)
refers to a considerable variety of discourse relations most of which
are neither explained in intuitive terms nor defined in any detail
(e.g., Generalization on p155), although a more general introduction
to the SDRT framework is provided (but only later in the text -
reflecting a peculiarity with regard to the text structure of this
particular contribution, which also provides the relation to previous
approaches only at the end, rather than as an introduction, as could
be expected. A further peculiarity is that they refer to chapter
sections by using the paragraph symbol §). Moreover, although the
authors state that this phenomenon is crucial to the understanding of
the effects triggered by 'same', it is left open why in some cases the
discourse relation Result seems to entail temporal abutment (p160),
while in others it does not (p164). - Taken together, the articles
dealing with SDRT provide a relatively broad picture of the
applications of SDRT, even though every single contribution only
represents a portion of it.

Naturally, however, the major part of the expected audience will be
interested in the individual publications precisely because of their
previous knowledge of the respective formal approaches. Therefore it
is worth mentioning that, throughout, the authors have managed to work
out convincingly their particular contributions to the research in
each addressed field based on the previous state of the art,
regardless of how intensively such previous work is presented in the
respective article as relevant background knowledge.

The book is highly recommended to researchers dealing with any of the
fields outlined above. Many central aspects of the discourse
phenomenon of presupposition, for instance, are addressed from various
directions that need to be taken into account in further research
independent of the approach taken. Further major insights condensed
from several contributions (and equally transcending theoretical
stance) are the facts that temporal and spatial aspects are
intricately entwined with other discourse issues in more respects than
previously assumed, and that speakers' intentions play a major role
that needs to be accounted for in the analysis. Finally, researchers
working on the further development of both DRT and SDRT will benefit
from the great diversity of insights (concerning solutions as well as
open questions) indicated in the majority of contributions in this
book.

REFERENCES

Asher, N. and Sablayrolles, P. 1995. A Typology and Discourse
Semantics for Motion Verbs and Spatial PP in French. Journal of
Semantics, 12:163-209.

Asher, N. and Lascarides, A. 1998. Bridging. Journal of Semantics,
15(1), 83-113.

Spenader, Jennifer. 2002. Presupposed Propositions in a Corpus of
Dialogue. In: van Deemter, Kees and Rodger Kibble. 2002. Information
Sharing: Reference and Presupposition in Language Generation and
Interpretation. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Thora Tenbrink is a research assistant in the newly established DFG
Collaborative Research Center SFB/TR8 "Spatial Cognition: Reasoning,
Action, Interaction" (Bremen & Freiburg, Germany). Her research
interests focus on the fields of discourse analysis and text
linguistics; previous work has dealt with discourse relations and
information structure, presuppositions and non-temporal implications
of temporal terms, especially 'before', 'after', and 'then'. Her
dissertation project deals with discoursal applicability conditions
and features of spatial (and temporal where applicable) expressions in
human-robot interaction.
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