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Review of  Cognitive Modeling and Verbal Semantics

Reviewer: Milena Slavcheva
Book Title: Cognitive Modeling and Verbal Semantics
Book Author: Andrea C. Schalley
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
Cognitive Science
Book Announcement: 16.2059

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Date: Fri, 1 Jul 2005 16:48:08 +0200
From: Milena Slavcheva <>
Subject: Cognitive Modeling and Verbal Semantics: A
Representational Framework Based on UML

AUTHOR: Schalley, Andrea C.
TITLE: Cognitive Modeling and Verbal Semantics
SUBTITLE: A Representational Framework Based on UML
SERIES: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 154
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Milena Slavcheva, Linguistic Modeling Department, Institute for
Parallel Information Processing, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia


The book is a monograph that introduces a representational
framework for verbal semantics, the Unified Eventity Representation
(UER). The approach is rather innovative, since it introduces object-
orientation as a new paradigm to linguistic semantics, and proposes
graphical representation based on the Unified Modeling Language
(UML) -- "the current lingua franca for the design of object-oriented
systems in computer science" (p.1). The approach is a cognitive one
and the semantic representation is elaborated from a theoretical
perspective. The aim is to develop a framework for the modeling and
description of verbal semantics, which is intuitive and formal at the
same time.

The monograph consists of ten chapters, an appendix (containing the
notational elements of the UER), extensive notes, a list of references,
an index of names, an UER index, and a subject index. A preface, a
list of figures and a list of tables are also provided at the beginning of
the book.


Chapter 1 is a short introduction where Andrea Schalley points out the
main objectives of the proposed representational framework and
summarizes the content of the book chapters.

In Chapter 2, "Survey of research positions", A. Schalley overviews
the most prominent linguistic research positions relevant for the UER
and presents the UER's positioning with regard to the issues
discussed. She considers approaches to the lexical semantics of
verbs, thus elaborating on and comparing key concepts and
representational devices like semantic features, semantic markers,
stereotypes, prototypes, semantic roles and protoroles. Aktionsart and
its relation to verb classification are also discussed. The structural
relations within the lexicon are represented by their notable
manifestations like sense relation, polisemy, and lexical fields. A.
Schalley discusses five different approaches to decompositional
semantics, starting with the older and rather influential Generative
Semantics, and continuing with the prominent Jackendoff's
Conceptual Semantics, Fillmore's Frame Semantics, Wunderlich's
Lexical Decomposition Grammar and Pustejovsky's Generative
Lexicon. Another topic relevant to the UER and included in Chapter 2
is that of semantic primitives or semantic primes and the Natural
Semantic Metalanguage originated by Wierzbicka.

Chapter 3, "Introducing the UER", outlines the foundation of UER as a
graphical formalism, which adopts basic constructs from the Unified
Modeling Language (UML), but also makes adaptations and
extensions to UML to ensure the linguistic applicability of UER. The
UER architecture is defined as a hierarchy of abstraction layers.

Chapter 4, "Basic concepts of the UER" introduces general-purpose
mechanisms that provide the extensibility devices for the UER. The
basic UER concepts are represented. From one side, there are the
static structure elements that typically model ineventities (entities
which typically occur as participants in an eventity, that is, generally
speaking, an event). On the other side, there are the dynamic
structure elements that model the dynamic, behavioral aspects of
eventities (i.e., events).

Chapter 5 presents advanced concepts of the UER, which meet the
requirements of the linguistic application domain. The syntax and
semantics of each modeling element are provided together with an
example for illustration. The fundamental UER concept of EVENTITY
FRAME is introduced, as well as elements modeling semantic relations
among the members of the eventity concept.

Chapter 6 provides an interpretation of UER concepts, presenting
motivations and reasons for certain design decisions. The fairly
permissive character of UER is pointed out which means that "the
different concepts' member sets are not definitely specified" (p.181)
and it is a matter of further typological research to establish these sets
in order to handle different linguistic phenomena. A. Schalley makes
proposals for handling key phenomena discussing EVENTITY
FRAMES as central cognitive units, ATTRIBUTES as semantic
features of participants, CLASSES as descriptors for sets of
OBJECTS, that is "sets or collections of entities with similar structure,
behavior, and relationships" (p.193), PARTICIPANT TYPES as
references to ontological categories, GENERALIZATIONS as
inheritance relationship promoters and taxonomy builders, and so

Chapters 1-6 (summarized up to now) provide the formal specification
of the UER, while Chapters 7-9 make account of its application.

In Chapter 7 general issues are discussed concerning the modeling
capacity of UER. Directions for further research are also indicated.
Along the lines of the UER decompositional approach to verbal
semantics, the significant issue of the definition and utilization of
semantic primitives is considered, as well as the devices used for
modeling granularity and constraining the representation of verbal
semantics. A very important point in this chapter is the vision for
extending UER in order to account for compositional semantics. The
author is aware of the great amount of work to be done in this
direction, but nevertheless she marks the milestones of the potential

Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 demonstrate two different applications of the
UER, in theoretical and in descriptive linguistics respectively. The first
application, deployed in Chapter 8, is "a preliminary development of a
linguistically relevant eventity classification based on the UER"
(p.251). The classification systematizes cognitively primary classes,
reflects fundamental Aktionsart distinctions, and takes advantage of
the graphical representation of abstracted semantic content. Chapter
9, entitled "Application II: The polysemy of German "setzen" is an
attempt to demonstrate the "broad applicability and potential of the
UER as a valuable tool for semantic analysis and semantic
representation" (p.325). First the eventity concept encoded in the
English verb "put" is represented by the respective UER diagrams.
Then the polysemous readings of the German verb 'setzen' are
described employing the modeling devices of the UER formalism.

Chapter 10 is an epilog where A. Schalley recapitulates the
characteristics of UER and stresses upon the main qualities that the
representational framework strives to achieve: expressiveness,
universality, cognitive adequacy and, where possible, practicability.


A. Schalley's monograph is distinguished for its originality and
innovation. The approach is attractive because it utilizes the thinking
and the design of object orientation -- at present the most prominent
paradigm in programming languages. The approach to verbal
semantics is a cognitive one and thus relies on intuition and world
adequate conceptualization. At the same time UER is formally
adequate, the syntax and semantics of its modeling elements are
explicitly specified, a metalanguage guarantees the well-formedness
of the building blocks of the representation. The formal soundness is
further guaranteed by the utilization of representational devices from
the Unified Modeling Language (UML) as formulated in the UML
specifications, to which the UER linguistically suitable adaptations and
extensions also conform. In such a way, although the complete formal
semantics of UER has not been fully elaborated (as is also the case
with the still developing UML standard), the UER conforms to the
requirement for formal correctness and reliability.

UER is a graphical formalism, "a mixture of graphical, two-dimensional
elements as well as elements expressed in either natural or logical
languages and thus linear textual constructs" (p.80). I agree with A.
Schalley's statement that such formalism provides for linguists an
intuitive and at the same conceptually rigorous modeling device. The
object- oriented modeling together with the application of UML, the
nearly established (i.e., officially published in the near future) standard
for design, visual representation and documentation of object-oriented
systems in computer science, bring the UER models near to the most
up-to-date implementation, although the investigation presented in the
monograph does not deal directly with implementation.

The approach, as presented in the monograph, is purely theoretical
and purely semantic. Being a practitioner, I feel a bit uneasy about the
amount of efforts necessary to put the UER into practice. I am also
concerned about the interface to syntax, that is, to the anchors of real
life language productions. But I am well aware of the fact that this is
the case with all emerging linguistic theories and formalisms. After all
the present investigation is the necessary theoretical foundation of a
newly developed representational framework of semantics. A. Schalley
herself conceives the UER as a first step towards a broader treatment
of language data and elaboration of applications.

A special merit of the UER is the possibility to capture variable
granularity of the semantic description. The UER metamodel with its
multiple layers of abstraction guarantees the deployment of a type
hierarchy and makes use of the distinction between type and instance,
which is vital to building effective linguistic models allocated to
applications in computer systems. The generalization mechanism is a
fundamental one and allows the user to adjust the granularity of the
linguistic modeling depending on the application requirements.

The last two sentences in the last chapter of A. Schalley's monograph
say: "However, many topics were still beyond the scope of this
investigation, and it was not possible to test the UER for several
different languages. We hope that investigations that use the UER will
be carried out, thereby closing the gaps and stimulating further
development of the UER." (p.328)

I think that it is worth trying to apply this promising representational


The reviewer, Milena Slavcheva, is a specialist in building formal
models of language for software applications and in producing large-
scale language resources (lexicons and corpora). She is interested in
the study and formal representation of verb-centered structures at
different levels of linguistic analysis, as well as in the development of
real linguistic components utilizable in the automatic processing of

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