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Review of  Semantic and Pragmatic Issues in Discourse and Dialogue: Experimenting with Current Dynamic Theories

Reviewer: Thora Tenbrink
Book Title: Semantic and Pragmatic Issues in Discourse and Dialogue: Experimenting with Current Dynamic Theories
Book Author: Myriam Bras Laure Vieu
Publisher: Elsevier Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Book Announcement: 14.1086

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Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2003 12:42:11 +0200
From: Thora Tenbrink
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.

Thora Tenbrink, University of Bremen, Germany


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.


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

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

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.


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

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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