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Review of  Recontextualizing Context

Reviewer: Roser Morante
Book Title: Recontextualizing Context
Book Author: Anita Fetzer
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.755

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Date: Fri, 11 Mar 2005 16:40:11 +0100
From: Roser Morante
Subject: Recontextualizing Context: Grammaticality Meets Appropriateness

AUTHOR: Anita Fetzer
TITLE: Recontextualizing Context
SUBTITLE: Grammaticality Meets Appropriateness
SERIES: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 121
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Roser Morante, Computational Linguistics, Faculty of Arts, Tilburg University

Recontextualizing Context: Grammaticality meets appropriateness by Anita
Fetzer can be recommended both to readers interested in linguistics in
general, and to readers with special interest in the areas of semantics,
pragmatics, sociopragmatics, dialogue, and psycholinguistics. Although it is
necessary to have a minimum background knowledge about linguistics, it is
not necessary to have specialised knowledge in order to take profit of all
the possible readings that the book might have. This does not mean that
the book is not interesting for specialised readers. On the contrary, it is a
book that makes a deep analysis of essential concepts in linguistics, apart
from context (grammaticality, acceptability, appropriateness, grammar) and
tackles topics that are central for the further development of linguistic
theories, like for example what should be the unit of investigation. This is
why it is a book with many readings.

Anita Fetzer starts with the following quotation: "Context is one of those
linguistics terms which is constantly used in all kinds of context but never
explained." (Asher 1994:731)

It is well known that context is one of those frequently used concepts, like
word, that, in spite of their frequency of use, lack a precise definition.
Context has become more and more protagonist in the current linguistic
panorama, as the series of conferences about it (CONTEXT'99, CONTEXT'01,
CONTEXT'03) indicate. Possibly one of the reasons why the concept is being
highlighted nowadays, is that the linguistic community has become aware,
among others, of the following phenomena: the sentence might not be the
ideal unit of investigation if we really want to explain what language is
about - cognition ; language, as a means of communication, is usually an
oral event, so dialogues seem to be the more natural situations for
language to happen; language is not only an abstract object, but something
that happens everywhere and in everyday life, and thus it has a social
dimension. In addition, the computational treatment of language has shown
that rules are not so efficient for linguistic analysis, because natural
languages are qualitatively different from formal languages, which consists
of collection of rules. Although it might useful to use the metaphor of the
computer for didactic purposes, we know that the human mind is more
complex than that and that, language being a distinct human capability, we
should not expect to try to describe it without taking its complexity into
consideration. Context plays a central role in the explanation of complexity,
as this book shows. By focusing on examining the connectedness between
grammaticality and context, and between context and appropriateness, and
by analysing the notion of context the author explains why it is necessary to
change from a sentence grammar to a dialogue grammar, which is where
grammaticality meets appropriateness .

The book is written from a network perspective to the investigation of
language and communication (Givón 1999, MacWhinney 1999, Miikkulainen
1993, Searle 1995), which permits the accommodation of different contexts
and conceives of communication and language firmly anchored to context,
and as embedded in context. "It is based on the premise that discourse is
produced and processed both in a bottom-up and in a top-down manner.
Hence, discursive meaning is not an inherent feature of the discourse, but
rather is inferred, constructed and calculated by the coparticipants."

The book is divided into 4 chapters, the content of which I summarize
following closely the useful summaries that the author provides.

Chapter 1. Introduction

The introduction analyzes the concept of context "in the heterogeneous
field of linguistics". Different types of context are defined from a pragmatic
perspective and in relation to meaning: "context is the anchor of any
pragmatic theory and the accommodation of context is a necessary
condition for both a pragmatic and a sociopragmatic perspective on
language and language use." Next the author compares, contrasts, and
relates the different types of context to the concepts of grammaticality, well-
formedness, acceptability and appropriateness.

Chapter 2. Grammaticality and context

This chapter looks at the connectedness between context and
grammaticality. It begins by comparing and contrasting the notions of
grammaticality, well-formedness and acceptability, and it discusses the
relevant premises of grammaticality judgement, native speaker and
linguistic competence. In the next sections the author analyzes the relations
between context and different linguistic levels. Section 2.2 explores the
connectedness between syntax and context, by examining the necessary
and sufficient conditions for grammatical, well-formed and acceptable
sentences of the English language. Section 2.3 deals with the status of
context in morphology and focuses on the grammaticality, well-formedness
and acceptability of English word formation. Section 2.4 looks at the
connectedness between phonology and context, and pays special attention
to combinatory and prosodic phenomena with regard to their
grammaticality, well-formedness and acceptability. Section 2.5 is devoted to
the status of context in semantics/pragmatics; it examines the question
whether grammaticality, well-formedness and acceptability are reasonable
notions for the analysis of the particularities of the English language.
Special consideration is given to the differentiation between context-
dependent and context-independent meanings. In section 2.6 a summary
of the results is presented and sets up the basis for the subsequent part on
context and appropriateness.

Chapter 3. Context and appropriateness

This chapter tackles the connectedness between context and
appropriateness, which is defined as a discursive concept anchored to a
dialogue grammar. Section 3.2 analyses the connectedness between speech
act and context by focusing on the question of how the social construct of
appropriateness is conceived of in speech act theory. It gives special
attention to the questions of how things are done with words, of what acts
are intentional, and of whether speech act theory is a product- or a process-
oriented approach to communication. It closes with the fundamental
question of how a speech act is formulated and linguistically represented.
Section 3.3 looks at the interdependence of an utterance and context and
differentiates between linguistic, social and sociocultural contexts. It
compares and contrasts utterances and sentences in context, utterances
and speech acts in context, and utterances, turns and turn-constructional
units in contexts. Special attention is given to the questions of how
meaning is constructed in the framework of the English language and of
how linguistic and sociocultural contexts are accommodated. Section 3.4
investigates the connectedness between dialogue and context, and
supplements the differentiation between cognitive, linguistic, social and
sociocultural contexts with the categories of local and global contexts. It
critically examines the question of whether utterances and speech acts are
reasonable units of investigation.

Chapter 4. Conclusion: Sentence grammar and dialogue grammar revisited.

The final part refines the notions of grammaticality, well-formedness,
acceptability and appropriateness and adapts them to the constraints and
requirements of dialogue. It compares and contrasts a sentence grammar
with a dialogue grammar, and highlights new findings and insights.


Asher, R. E. (1994) The Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics. Oxford:
Pergamon Press.

Givón, T. (1999) "Generativity and variation: the notion of 'rule grammar'
revisited". In MacWhinney (1999), pp. 81-114.

MacWhinney, B. (1999) The Emergence of Language. Mahwah: Lawrence

Miikkulainen, R. (1993) Subsymbolic Natural Language Processing: An
Integrated Model of Scripts, Lexicon, and Memory. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Searle, J. R. (1995) The Construction of Social Reality. New York: The Free


Roser Morante is currently doing a PhD in Computational Linguistics at
Tilburg University. Her areas of research are computational pragmatics and
dialogue systems. In her current project her goal is to define how context
can be formalized for dialogue management purposes.