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Review of  Interpreting Motion

Reviewer: Dorothea Hoffmann
Book Title: Interpreting Motion
Book Author: Inderjeet Mani James Pustejovsky
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.3587

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AUTHORS: Mani, Inderjeet; Pustejovsky, James
TITLE: Interpreting Motion
SUBTITLE: Grounded Representations for Spatial Language
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2012

Dorothea Hoffmann, The University Chicago, USA


The monograph ‘Interpreting Motion’ sets out to describe a new approach in
computational linguistics to understand and map natural language descriptions of
motion. The authors aim to “offer an integrated perspective on how language
structures concepts of motion, and how the world shapes the way in which motion
is linguistically expressed” (5). Therefore, the novelty of the approach lies in
the attempt to describe an interdisciplinary method of combining research on the
semantics of motion verbs and locative constructions from a cross-linguistic
perspective with qualitative spatial reasoning. The aim is to develop a model
for computational linguistics based on mapping spatial and temporal relations to
represent motion in natural language. Within this approach, topological,
orientation and distance relations are analyzed as being expressed in verb,
adverbial and prepositional phrases. Ultimately, the approach is meant to lead
to mapping text to data representations with practical consequences.

The first chapter introduces the topic, outlines the technical approach and
situates the publication within other works on spatial prepositions and motion
verbs. In particular, some challenges of a computational approach to natural
language analysis are introduced, such as considering typological
characteristics of languages, making use of diverse corpora, and some issues of
human and machine annotation. Additionally, consequences of combining linguistic
description and theory with computational specifications are addressed. For
example, Talmy’s (1985, 2000a, 2000b, 2007, 2009) typological distinction of
verb- and satellite-framed languages with the addition of Slobin’s (1996, 2004,
2006) equipollently-framed ones results in a formal distinction of location-
(path) and action-based (manner) predicates, as well as a combination of the
two, for the latter type in qualitative reasoning.

Specifically, the authors proclaim essential desiderata for their approach in
this chapter. These include that semantic representations need to be expressive
enough for natural language. The aim is to develop a denotational semantic
theory, and a compositional analysis. Additionally, all representations need to
support qualitative reasoning and all systems need to be accurate and efficient
enough to support practical applications.

Concerning the theoretical background of linguistic descriptions of motion, the
authors provide a comprehensive summary of previous studies on spatial
prepositions and motion verbs. These, for example, classify spatial prepositions
as locative or directional (Miller and Johnson-Laird, 1976). Within cognitive
linguistics, they are termed by such concepts as ‘contact’ and ‘inclusion’
(Evans et al., 2007), while Jackendoff (1983) defines them within his theory of
Lexical Conceptual Structure (LCS). Finally, spatial prepositions have been
analyzed as vector-representations mapping sets of points in accordance with
semantic content (Zwarts and Winter, 2000, Zwarts, 2003). Mani and Pustejovsky
come to the conclusion that this research is of no use for their computational
approach since it lacks corpus-based evidence. Regarding motion verbs, various
approaches are discussed, including Langacker’s (1987) topological view of
motion verbs, Jackendoff’s LCS, Word Net's (Fellbaum, 1998) ranking senses of
words based on corpora, Verb Net's (Kipper et al., 2006) ability to provide
syntactic and semantic information about verbs, Frame Net's (Bake et al., 2003)
reliance on the theory of Frame Semantics (Fillmore, 1976), various approaches
to verb classification based on qualitative reasoning, and compositional
semantics. Overall, the authors conclude that none of these approaches is
consistent with the desiderata set out to govern their methodology.

Finally, some limitations of the study are briefly addressed. Pragmatic and
psycholinguistic considerations are not part of the book’s content since it is
primarily concerned with semantic theory. Finally, the authors do not claim to
provide a thorough survey of the field, rather choosing to only introduce select
relevant literature.

The second chapter discusses how motion is expressed in natural language by
developing a framework for analyzing different parameters of spatial meaning.
First, static spatial relations are briefly discussed, including topological
(e.g. “on”, “in”), orientational (e.g. “over”, “under”), topometric (e.g.
“near”, “far”), and topo-orientational relations (e.g. “on the wall”, “hang over
the desk”). Particular emphasis is laid on “the domain of points, lines,
regions, and the relations between them” (31). Following this, a discussion of
motion includes argument structure and role selection, event structure, path and
manner of motion verbs, paths and orientation, and measuring distance. Based on
the ‘Region Connection Calculus 8’ (RCC 8) (Randell et al., 1982) the model is
enriched to deal with orientation and distance as well as motion. The RCC 8 is a
calculus of relations of eight jointly exhaustive and pairwise disjoint
relations used to analyze static spatial descriptions involving prepositions in
natural language.

Path verbs are discussed in some detail and an additional path element is
assumed in lexical argument structure. Motion is then represented in terms of
transitions in spatial configurations, along with particular temporal
constraints. In contrast, manner verbs are analyzed as indicating motion alone,
without a path element within the verb. In line with Talmy’s typology, manner
verbs require a path adjunct and path verbs may add a manner adjunct. The
foundations for a semantics of motion laid out in the chapter then form the
basis for a logic of motion, ‘Dynamic Interval Temporal Logic’ (DITL), allowing
the authors to model events and states as programs.

In Chapter 3, spatial and temporal representations and inference methods are
examined with regards to qualitative reasoning and are applied to spatial
phenomena in languages involving topological and orientation relations.
Particular emphasis is laid on qualitative representations of ‘Topology’ and
‘Frames of Reference’ (FoR) (Levinson, 2003, Levinson and Wilkins, 2006a,
Pederson et al., 1998). Topological relations are analyzed with the already
mentioned RCC-8 relations mapped onto interval calculus (Allan, 1984) relations
to combine spatial and temporal relations with one another. Furthermore, for
intrinsic FoR, the ‘Oriented Point Relational Algebra’ (OPRA) (Moratz et al.,
2005) is used to describe the relation between oriented points when size and
shape of the ground is of no importance. Absolute FoR is analyzed using the
‘Cardinal Direction Calculus’ (CDC) (Goyal and Egenhofer, 2000, Skiadopoulous
and Koubarakis, 2005) for relations between objects when each is positioned in
terms of a coordinate system. Finally, relative FoR makes use of the ‘Double
Cross Calculus’ (DCC) (Freksa, 1992), describing the position of the Figure
relative to the Ground as seen by an observer. In conclusion, the authors state
that for a sufficient qualitative analysis of topological and FoR relations, the
individual calculi mentioned are not enough. A combination of these remains a
challenge for future work.

Chapter 4 applies the methods discussed in Chapters 2 and 3 to the concept of
motion. Generally, motion expressions are analyzed within a cognitively inspired
spatiotemporal model of change. In this approach, Talmy’s distinction can be
modeled based on ‘Dynamic Interval Temporal Logic’ (DITL) (Pustejovsky and
Moszkowicz, 2011), in which prepositional, verb and noun meanings are integrated
together compositionally. This “combines mechanisms from temporal logic with the
ability to update state information from dynamic logic” (90). Generally, the
authors aim to fulfill two criteria, namely, discussing how each component of a
basic motion frame is semantically grounded, as well as how these
representations map to a compositional interpretation of the motion expression
in a language. Some path and manner of motion verbs are discussed in detail and
provided with a DITL definition.

Chapter 5 introduces a practical methodology for humans in annotating linguistic
text corpora with information on motion to allow for automatic text to sketch
mapping by a computer. To achieve reliable human annotation, best practices for
spatial annotation (including toponyms) are examined alongside motion
annotation. While some of these issues are well-discussed problems, the
extraction for topological and orientation relations has not been as developed.
Following ‘ISO Space’ (Pustejovsky et al., 2010) which has rich representations
of paths and distinguishes between manner and path verbs, in addition to
subclasses of motion events, the authors conclude that in general, capabilities
of assembling automatic motion tracking from natural language narratives are
well underway.

Finally, Chapter 6 summarizes the authors’ approach of using representations
based on qualitative reasoning to describe the meaning of motion verbs and
spatial expressions. Additionally, the chapter discusses potential advantages as
well as practical application options. These can be found in route navigation,
mapping travel narratives and multimedia tagging of static images, audio, video,
question-answering, communicating with artificial agents, and rendering scenes
from text. Additionally, some open issues are mentioned. These include, for
example, the problem of ‘Fictive Motion’, adequately capturing cross-linguistic
variation, integrating 3D representations of spatial entities, the challenges of
developing methods to quickly generate training data, and data preparation methods.


The main aim of the authors is to provide an interdisciplinary approach to
combining linguistic analysis of motion event descriptions with qualitative
spatial reasoning to develop a computational model for the mapping of motion
events in natural language. The monograph succeeds in carefully laying out
essential issues in both fields of interest and in providing an excellent
overview of current developments and trends. In an easy to follow, step-by-step
discussion, the authors sensibly add components to examine this highly complex
issue. While open questions and problems remain at the end of the book,
‘Interpreting Motion’ provides an excellent discussion of the problems of
mapping motion from natural language aimed primarily at a computational linguist
audience. However, because of the well-structured summaries and explanations of
the many calculi and intervals used in the model, the book might also be useful
to a non-expert audience of linguists interested in text-to-data mapping of
static spatial and dynamic language.

Chapter 2 is particularly compelling in presenting an excellent overview of
issues in spatial and motion linguistics and pointing out direct links to
existing computational models of relevance to the aims of the monograph. This
kind of discussion gives the reader the opportunity to directly reflect on and
evaluate the current state of the art with regards to both disciplines – the
semantics of spatial language, and computational models for their description.
Furthermore, the authors succeed in guiding the reader through the discussion
without overly simplifying the complex features of either field. Especially
useful in this chapter are numerous exemplary analyses of path as well as manner
of motion verbs, which provide the theoretical underpinnings with helpful

Additionally, Chapter 5 is also particularly convincing in postulating highly
valuable practical guidelines for developing and expanding procedures in
semantic annotation. This discussion is able to provide useful parameters for
human as well as automated linguistic annotation that go beyond the topic of the
monograph. As a result, the authors accomplish improving best practices of
annotation as well as expanding the outreach of their study.

The main criticism of the monograph comes from a certain inconsistency in
including issues of cross-linguistic variation in the semantics of spatial and
motion event descriptions without adequately discussing these in relation to a
computational approach. While the authors show some detailed knowledge of the
typological literature on the topic, this is not further exploited in the later
stages of the book. Additionally, some terminology, such as ‘orientation’ for
‘FoR’ is not chosen well, especially when considering that a number of recent
typological publications on languages distinguish between ‘orientation’ (e.g.
“he is facing the tree”) and ‘FoR’ (e.g. “he is in front of the tree”)
(Bohnemeyer and O'Meara, 2012, Terrill and Burenhult, 2008).

Additionally, Mani and Pustejovsky appear to leave out some important
distinctions of motion event literature. For example, ‘change of location’ is
equalized with ‘motion’, however, Levinson and Wilkins (2006b) describe clear
distinctions in the verbal semantics between translocational movement (e.g. “he
went from the garden to the house”), change of location (e.g. “he left the
garden and arrived at the house”) and change of locative relation (e.g. “he
ended up in the house”). Furthermore, while issues concerning the lexicalization
of ‘source’ and ‘goal’ are discussed, ‘passed grounds’ (i.e. ‘via’) are left out
of the examination.

All in all, the monograph is a good source for computational linguists and
others interested in text-to-sketch mappings of spatial and motion events and
provides some well-grounded discussions of relevant and detailed problems and


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Dorothea Hoffmann received her PhD from the University of Manchester, Great Britain in 2011. She is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago on a language documentation project of MalakMalak, an endangered language of the Daly River Area in Australia, funded by the Endangered Language Documentation Programme. Her research interests include typology, lexical semantics, language contact, narrative structure, cognitive linguistics, Australian indigenous languages and culture, as well as discourse-based studies of space and motion.

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ISBN-13: 9780199601240
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