LINGUIST List 14.3107

Thu Nov 13 2003

Review: Psycholing/Cog Sci: Garnham (2001)

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  1. Umarani Pappuswamy, Mental Models and the Interpretation of Anaphora

Message 1: Mental Models and the Interpretation of Anaphora

Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2003 01:50:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Umarani Pappuswamy <>
Subject: Mental Models and the Interpretation of Anaphora

Garnham, Alan (2001) Mental Models and the Interpretation of Anaphora,
Psychology Press Ltd.

Announced at

Umarani Pappuswamy, Research Associate, Learning Research and
Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, USA.


The origin of the term 'mental model' can be traced back to Kenneth
Craik (1943). Craik pointed out that the mind constructs ''small-scale
models'' of reality that it uses to translate external events into
internal models and also reason about these representations. There has
been a considerable amount of research in this area following Craik.
Some of the significant works are by cognitive scientists such as
Miller, Galanter and Pribram 1960, Newell and Simon 1976,
Johnson-Laird 1980, Johnson-Laird and Garnham 1986, Garnham, Oakhill,
and Johnson- Laird 1982, Marr 1982 Garnham 1987, Garnham and Oakhill
1989. Though all these studies (from visual perception to discourse
processing) have their own diversities, they all invoke the
mental-model hypothesis in various forms. In processing a discourse,
it is very important to have a better comprehension of a text in order
to make inferences necessary for a coherent interpretation. Humans
construct 'mental models' of the situations in the discourse as they
perceive them. The mental model, thus constructed, should be able to
resolve an anaphoric expression, if any, present in the discourse.
The research outlined in this book presents an overview of the
author's research on anaphor interpretation set within the context of
mental models on anaphora from the disciplines of psycholinguistics,
philosophy, linguistics, and computational linguistics. He argues that
'..the notion of a mental model is essential in the detailed
description of the processes of anaphor resolution' (p. ix).

The entire book is presented in eleven chapters. A brief
description/summary about the chapters are given below:

Chapter 1: This chapter gives an introduction to the theme of the
book. The author talks about Marr (1982)'s theory of visual
processing and compares his own goals with that of Marr's with regard
to mental processing. Marr focussed on visual processing whereas
Garnham concentrates on text comprehension. The main focus is about
the interpretation of anaphoric expressions in text, such as definite
and indefinite pronouns, and elliptical verb phrases. The author
claims that in the interpretation of anaphoric expressions, the
construction of a representation of part of a world is essential. Marr
attempted to focus on the ''what'' of visual processing though he does
give some hints about his answer to the ''why''. Garnham, on the other
hand, tries to seek answers for both these questions in his book.

Chapter 2: Garnham studies the nature of mental representations of a
text, and in particular, the question of what components they are
built from. The chapter discusses at length as what constitutes a
'mental model' of a text and what kinds of things are represented in
the mental model. He turns to linguistic semantics for answers
starting from Montague (1973)'s model of formal semantics. For
Montague, texts are about individuals, and entity and truth values (e
& t) are the two fundamental semantic types. After a critical
observation of these types, Garnham points out that Montague has not
given importance to 'events and properties' as basic semantic
types. Though Montague did not deny the existence of properties, he
regarded it be derivative (from e & t), and he did not have a place
for events in his system. Montague's system is based only on
individual sentences. This approach seems to be inadequate and this
reviewer also agrees with Garnham on this aspect. The author also
provides evidences from various other scholars, Davidson (1967) and
Parsons (1990) to argue that Montague's model is inadequate when
discourse is considered. He quotes Prior (1968), Kamp (1978), Kamp and
Rohrer (1983) and emphasizes that both properties and events are
represented directly in mental models. He also provides facts that
events are related to one another (spatial, temporal, logical, causal,
intention and moral) to support his claim.

Chapter 3: This chapter introduces mental models theory as a
psychological theory, focussing on its application to language
processing. As is well known, many aspects of language use depends on
an individual's cognitive ability. Garnham discusses the scope, the
symbolic nature, and assumptions of mental models theory. In addition
to the assumptions of mental models theory, he describes some
assumptions that are particular to the theory as applied to language
processing (incremental processing). A theory of comprehension is
worked out - the detailed mechanisms that extract information from the
current piece of text, and add it to the mental model should be
specified. This interpretation keeps on updating the model and
provides the context for interpreting the next piece of text. This
forms the core of the book in interpreting anaphoric expressions. The
author points out that 'integration' and 'construction' are two
important aspects in text comprehension and that mental models are
considered to be central to both these aspects. He also gives an
outline of what a theory of language processing should explain:
'explicit content of a text, orgranisation of knowledge to make
inferences'. He also hints at the complexities involved in
constructing mental models with syntactic and semantic knowledge of
the text in a study.

Chapter 4: In this chapter, the author presents an overview of
linguistic approaches to anaphora. He looks into the way linguists
handle nominal and verbal anaphora, and states that the goals and
methods/approaches to anaphora of psycholinguists differ from
linguists in many ways. The psychologistic approach should explain why
sometimes people use anaphoric expressions in ways that linguistic
descriptions forbid. He also discusses the morphological and
syntactic issues related to anaphora and cataphora using English
language as an example. The syntactic constraints and discourse
constraints on anaphora are also examined at depth.

Chapter 5: The fifth chapter introduces the methodologies used in the
psycholinguistic analysis of anaphors. It discusses the techniques
such as self-paced reading, eye-movement monitoring, and
priming. According to Garnham, self-paced techniques are
straightforward to set up and the analyses can be carried out in a
much easier way than the other methods. Eye-monitoring technique has
an advantage over self-paced reading in that the text can be presented
in a normal form to the user. Priming and paper-pencil tests are also
mentioned here. He feels that all these techniques have their own
problems and suggests that it is very secure to use a combination of
several techniques in studying anaphoric expressions of a text than
using a single technique. The author also makes an attempt to study
the processing of anaphoric expressions on a corpus ,collected by
himself and Jane Oakhill, over a period of years from published and
publicly ''broadcast'' material. The results of the study showed that
'many uses of anaphoric expressions fall foul of linguistic
prescriptions, but do not cause overt difficulties in comprehension'
(p. 63). it was concluded that there is no straightforward relation
between linguistic prescription about how anaphoric expressions should
be used and the way they are interpreted.

Chapter 6: This chapter focuses on various empirical studies on
anaphora from a psycholinguistic perspective. He turns his attention
to three important aspects to the interpretation of anaphoric
expressions as outlined by him in 1987: 1. identifying the anaphor
2. recognizing the context under which the anaphor occurs and
3. deriving the meaning of the anaphor from its semantic content and
from the associated context. Once the anaphoric expression has been
identified, it is easy to fix the appropriate meaning to it based on
the context using linguistic cues. Psycholinguists have observed many
factors that influenze the interpretation of anaphors. These include
morphosyntactic factors (gender, number, case and animacy, and the
binding relations of syntactic theories) Stylistic factors,
discourse-based factors (local and global foci), Clause and sentence
boundaries and knowledge-based (pragmatic) factors. It should be noted
that the author talks only about the interpretation of 'pronominal'
anaphors, and that too only 'definite' pronouns and nouns. Abstract
anaphors such as 'this, that and it' may pose challenging issues for
constructing appropriate mental models for resolving the same.

Chapter 7 discusses the two classes of anaphoric expressions (deep and
surface) linguists use. The linguistic theory behind this postulated
by Sag and Hankamer (1984) is presented in detail. They renamed
'surface anaphors' as 'ellipses' and 'deep anaphors' as
'model-interpretive' anaphors. The criterion under which these
anaphors can be distinguished from each other is outlined . Garnham
presents summaries of some of the psycholinguistic studies on deep and
surface anaphors and also observes that though the linguistic theory
provides a good account of grammaticality judgement, there is no
adequate experimental evidence to support the processing theory (as
laid out by Sag and Hankamer ).

Chapter 8 discusses anaphoric islands. Referring back to Ross (1967)
and Postal (1969), the author provides explanation for the notion of
an anaphoric island. This kind of situation arises only when a
definite pronoun, has a meaning that does not correspond in a
straightforward way to the meaning of another expression in the
surrounding text. The author summarizes works of Postal and other
linguists, each emphasizing morphological or syntactic or semantic or
a combination of these processes to account for the acceptability of
the references. Postal (1969)'s arguments were from a generative
semantic point of view and his claim was that references into
anaphoric islands were always unacceptable, even when the intended
interpretation of the anaphor and the antecedent are morphologically
related (cf. this author, p. 112). However, Corum 1973, Lakoff & Ross
1972 counter-argued Postal's claim. Furthermore, Lakoff and Ross also
argue that the acceptance of an anaphoric reference relied on the
syntactic relation between the antecedent and the anaphor in addition
to their morphological relation. Browne (1974) showed that reference
into an anaphoric island required a semantic relation between the
anaphoric island and the natural interpretation of the pronoun besides
their morphological relation (contrary to Postal's and Corum's claims,
as a part-whole relation between the meaning of the anaphor and the
antecedent trigger). Mohanan (1986) explained the anaphoric island
data within the theories of lexical morphology and phonology. The
author also summarizes many other works related to this concept (see
the chapter for details).

Chapter 9: Garnham presents a neat overview of the notion of implicit
causality and empirical studies on the same. 'Implicity causality' was
first introduced by Garvey and Caramazza (1974) who suggested that
this phenomenon was primary associated with verbs and using sentence
completions they divided the verbs into three categories (p. 124).
Although Garvey et. al (1975) considered, and rejected, the use of
Fillmore's case roles to explain this phenomenon for two reasons (the
effect of social status and the effects of passivisation cannot be
explained by case roles) other authors like Brown and Fish (1983) used
'semantic roles' to describe them. They identified two patterns:
action verbs impute causes to their agents, rather than their
patients, and that mental state verbs impute causes to their stimuli,
rather than to the experiencer (p. 126). Both approaches have their
own limitations. The rest of the chapter summarizes the empirical
studies (including his own studies) related to consistency between
implicit and exlicit causes, the notion of early and late effects of
implicit causality and a section on implicit consequentiality.

Chapter 10: This chapter is about stereotypes in texts. 'There are a
set of nouns that, while not specifying the sex of the person that
they apply to as part of their meaning, more commonly apply to people
of one sex than the other, nouns such as ''nurse'' and
''engineer''. Such nouns can be referred to as
stereotyped. (p.140)''. Garnham presents the results of many studies
(including his own) on stereotyping whose claim was to show that, when
a text containing a stereotyped noun was introduced, a following
clause containing the pronoun that matches the stereotype noun is read
more quickly than one in which the pronoun does not match the

The final chapter, namely, Chapter 11 reviews some of the themes
associated with the mental models theory of anaphoric interpretations
of text presented in the earlier chapters. It concludes by saying that
mental models are a crucial component of the theory of text
comprehension, and they indeed play a significant role in the
interpretation of anaphoric expressions.

Lastly, the author presents a neat compilation of the references
running from pages 149 - 162, followed by an Author Index and a
Subject Index.


There is no doubt that this book is an excellent source of
psycholinguistic research within the context of anaphoric
interpretation of texts. All the chapters are well-written with a good
coverage of a broad range of the topics and empirical studies (if any)
related to the subject matter. Each chapter can be read and understood
independently. The author also provides a short summary at the end of
each chapter. There are no footnotes or endnotes (which of course,
doesn't make the reader to see the end of the page or flip pages to
continue the thread of comprehension). It would have been wonderful if
co-indexing of pronouns with the possible antecedents was made (as
found in most of the works related to anaphoric resolution). This work
focuses only on pronominal anaphors - one or two chapters on the
resolution of abstract entity anaphors (this, that and it) would have
thrown some light on how the theory of mental models can be applied to
the interpretation of texts involving abstract objects. However, this
reviewer feels that this book has a lot to offer and will be of
interest to linguists, psycholinguists, philosophers and cognitive
scientists working in this field of research. This book is also a
good source of information for a lay person - to be more precise, the
review and originality of the works presented here are accessible to
those not already familiar with the subject content, and would
definitely prove to be a stepping stone for further research in this
area. It could also be used as a text book in psycholinguistic


(I list only the references cited under the section 'Book's purpose
and content'. All other references cited in the body of this review
can be found in the book).

Craik, K. 1943. The nature of explanation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press.

Garnham, A., Oakhill, J. V., and Johnson-Laird, P. N. 1982.
Referential continuity and the coherence of discourse. Cognition 1:

Garnham, A.1987. Mental Models as Representations of Discourse and
Text. Chichester: Ellis Horwood.

Garnham, A., and Oakhill, J. V.1989. The everyday use of anaphoric
expressions: Implications for the 'Mental Models' theory of text
comprehension. In N.E. Sharkey ed., Modelling Cognition: All Annual
Review of Cognitive Sciences. Vol. 2. Norwood, NJ:Ablex.

Johnson-Laird, P. N. 1986. Conditionals and mental models: In
E. C. Traugott, A. ter Meulen, J. S. Reilly and C. A. Ferguson,
eds. On Conditionals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Johnson-Laird, P. N., and Garnham, B. G. 1980. Descriptions and
discourse models. Linguistics and Philosophy 3:371-393.

Marr, D. 1982. Vision: A Computational Investigation in the Human
Representation of Visual Information. San Francisco: Freeman.

Miller, G.A. , Galanter, E., and Pribram,K. 1960. Plans and the
Structure of Behaviour. New York: Holt, Reihart, and Winston.

Newell, A., and Simon, H. A. 1976. Computer science as empirical
inquiry: Symbols and search. Communications of the ACM 19:113-126.


Dr. Umarani Pappuswamy is a research associate at LRDC, University of
Pittsburgh, USA. She has a Ph.D. in Linguistics with specialization in
computational linguistics. Her main areas of research interests are:
computational semantics - knowledge representation and knowledge
reasoning, discourse analysis, typology - syntax, morphology and
semantics, and corpus linguistics.
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