Date: Sun, 11 Dec 2005 21:08:15 +0300 (Russian Standard Time) From: Tatiana Sazonova Subject: Shifting the Focus: From Static Structures to the Dynamics of Interpretation
AUTHOR: Wedgwood, Daniel TITLE: Shifting the Focus SUBTITLE: From Static Structures to the Dynamics of Interpretation PUBLISHER: Elsevier Ltd. YEAR: 2005
Tatiana Yu. Sazonova, Kursk State University, Russia
Two key questions open a fascinating discussion introduced by Daniel Wedgwood's ''Shifting the Focus: From Static Structures to the Dynamics of Interpretation''. The first is how are we to delimit the object of study of semantic and syntactic competence and produce realistic models if not taking into account extra-linguistic cognitive capacities? The second is what kind of theory is required to give the analyst the access to all potentially significant extra-linguistic factors? Stating that pragmatics is typically not given nearly its due as a source of explanation of linguistic phenomena Daniel Wedgwood suggests a very elegant and profound theoretical model to explain meaning construction during parsing which involves significant pragmatic enrichment. By pragmatics the author means general inferential processes which participate in meaning construction and interpretation. The book opens with two chapters of theoretical discussion while chapters 3-8 provide illustration to thorough linguistic analysis of what is called ''focus position'' of Hungarian.
Chapter 1 ''Language and Meaning'': This chapter challenges some fundamental assumptions of conventional analytical approaches that attempt to explain the relationship between natural languages and meanings they convey. Frameworks maintaining a traditional notion of syntax-semantics interface are argued to be incoherent. Throughout the chapter the author discusses the approaches to pragmatics and its place in the study of grammar; semantics and its role in the interpretation of natural language; and argues that the assumption (as conventionally construed) of compositionality is conceptually inappropriate to the study of natural languages. The author provides the theoretical and empirical considerations to show that approaches which explain grammar mechanisms of translating word-strings into compositional derivations of propositional meanings lead to unnecessary and undesirable over-complication of the grammar itself. By introducing the considerable evidence for the widespread existence of ''pragmatic intrusion'' the author suggests abandoning of conventional conception of the syntax-semantics interface as a direct mapping from one set of static structures to another. The approach logically presumes to revise and more precisely define the term ''semantics''.
Chapter 2 ''Relevance Theory and Implications for Linguistic Structure'' gives a brief overview of Relevance Theory (RT) as the most well- grounded of available inferential pragmatic approaches to account for inferential side of the construction of meaning. RT recognizes that interpreting a linguistic act practically always involves a mixture of decoding and inference, it provides a way of reasoning about what the scope of encoding within a generative framework should be. The author emphasizes the fact, that owing a considerable historical debt to Grice's work, the actual mechanisms of RT and the drawing of the semantic-pragmatic distinction are significantly different to those of Grice and his followers. Stating that little work in RT has addressed the question of inference during parsing an utterance, the author suggests a 'dynamic' approach which views the surface structures of natural language as consisting of incrementally processed 'instructions' to the interpreter to build certain kinds of structured propositional form. From the 'dynamic' perspective, the construction of propositional meaning should be modelled in terms of building partial representations during the incremental parse of a string of words which makes hierarchical syntactic representations not logically necessary on the assumption that linguistic objects encode significant amounts of procedural information.
Chapter 3 ''The Hungarian Data'' gives a brief overview of the main trends in the analysis of PV phenomena under mainstream syntactic approaches. Introducing the basic data the author characterizes the basic positions of the Hungarian sentence, immediately pre-verbal position, verbal modifiers, and other PV elements. The syntactic accounts of the data discussed do not provide relevant explanation between VMs, syntactic foci, etc., because they rely on a considerable number of highly abstract elements, many of which encode semantic effects. By analyzing the notion of focus itself the author proves that introducing pragmatic theory to explain syntactic effects should undoubtedly help the researchers to overcome the limitations set by compositional semantics and static representations of syntactic structure.
Chapter 4 ''Focus and Grammar'' begins with some comments regarding the notion of focus and brief reviews of existing approaches to focus. It shows that the common analysis of the Hungarian 'focus position' based on compositional semantic view leads to incorrect empirical predictions. Introducing Szabolcsi's arguments for the exhaustivity operator approach the author shows that the supposedly encoded exhaustive reading arise as the unmarked reading of narrow foci in both Hungarian and English, despite their different ways of expressing focus. Non-exhaustive narrow foci require special forms of signaling in both languages. Another important contribution of this chapter is to show that standard forms of pragmatic reasoning -- specifically, 'quantity implicature' -- straightforwardly predict the unmarked exhaustive reading to narrow foci. The relevant notion of 'narrow focus' is considered briefly in this chapter and suggestions are made for a more adequate definition with reference to the existence of a particular presupposed eventuality in accordance with pragmatic reasoning about the derivation of exhaustive readings.
Chapter 5 ''Focus and Quantifier Distribution'' aims at resolving one further important issue that revolves around the use of the PV position for the expression of narrow focus. This is the question of how quantified noun phrases are distributed across PV and the other linearly pre-verbal positions of the Hungarian sentence. This chapter investigates quantificational data to provide further illustration of the negative consequences of conventional assumptions about the syntax- semantics interface and the concomitant under-use of inferential pragmatics. Adding to the arguments of the previous chapter, the analysis of QNP's provides a further illustration of how compositional encoding accounts for the exhaustive reading associated with PV leads to an unsustainable analysis. The author suggests the analysis which follows from re-interpreting Szabolcsi's insight that different 'semantic assessment procedures' are encoded in the different pre-verbal positions, such that these procedures are taken to be reflections of the cognitive perspective taken on different pieces of information conveyed by parts of the sentence.
Chapter 6 ''Dynamic Structured meaning: Predication and Information Structure'' develops the idea that a 'syntactically focused' expression is in fact a predicate over a logical subject that is formed out of the rest of the sentence and it forms the basis for a formal analysis of the PV position In the current chapter the basis of the analysis is put through the continued investigation of the information-structure significance of PV. The emphasis is on the connection between the narrow focus and the creation of ''topic : comment'' readings, in which the tensed verb is not preceded by a PV expression and its denotation is understood to be part of the (broad) focused part of the utterance, that is the analysis is centered around the role of the verb in the relation to the discourse. The resulting account brings together narrow foci and the 'comment-initial' verbs of topic : comment sentences via the notion of 'main predication', a term coined by the author for the act of predication that creates a propositional form out of a non-truth-conditional representation. The procedure is represented using a flat, neo-Davidsonian semantics, in combination with the epsilon calculus.
Chapter 7 ''Verbal Modifiers and Main Prediction''. In this chapter it is shown that that VMs share with VM-less verbs the property of introducing certain key elements of structure into the eventuality and that this is the basis of the ability to be an unmarked main predicate. Such structure must be introduced at the point of main predication or it can not be introduced at all, other than by presupposition. The behavior of VNs both in the presence of narrow foci and in 'neutral' sentences is shown to follow from the dynamics of the main predication analysis, being fundamentally a matter of the order in which different expressions are processed, relative to each other and to crucial point of procedural encoding. This proves once again that a processing-based, inferentially informed approach gives an explanatory analysis and as such introduces great clarity into a model of linguistic competence.
Chapter 8 ''Aspectual Constructions' and Negation''. At issue of this chapter are two 'aspectual' constructions that are often claimed to encode aspectual semantics. These are the so-called 'progressive construction' (PC) and 'existential' or 'evidential' construction (EC). The last major issue is the distribution of the Hungarian negative particle nem. PC is shown to be a simple case of main prediction by the main verb, under which the analysis the necessarily inferential interpretation of a post-verbal VN is predicted without further stipulation/ EC on the other hand involves tense itself acting as main predicate. The negation particle nem is given a new analysis as a consistently local operator, converting an act of predication into one of negative predication. Thus, once again, this phenomenon demonstrates how the dynamic, pragmatically informed approach to linguistic analysis produces an explanatory theory of natural language processing phenomena.
Chapter 9 ''Summary and Conclusions'' encompasses the most important theoretical implications of the book and outlines the perspective on further research.
This book brings together a variety of approaches, theoretical as well as practical, for dealing with focus position in Hungarian. Rejecting the idea of direct mapping between linguistic structures and their interpretations Daniel Wedgwood extends current ideas from frameworks such as Relevance theory and Dynamic Syntax to introduce a new approach to modeling linguistic competence. As the author remarks in his book the ideas of his theory stem from some very basic observations about the nature of human language.
Most of such observations found their explanation in research on natural language processing. The last decades suggested different approaches to explain the mechanisms of natural language processing. The current debate on natural language processing is not restricted to Linguistics, but also takes place in Psychology, philosophy, Neurosciences, and related disciplines. The present book is another contribution to this domain, as it brings evidence from the language of a very rich morphology, Hungarian.
The author's approach corresponds to interactive models which treat the mental lexicon as a dynamic functional system and an integral part of human cognitive abilities. Under interactive approach the items in the mental lexicon are viewed as the products of a complex interaction of perceptual, cognitive, emotional and verbal experience stored in one's memory and simultaneously utilized at different levels of consciousness when a word provides access to interconnected fragments of the personal knowledge and world image. In his book Daniel Wedgwood presents a very impressive and broad linguistic analysis and very convincing explanation of a complex set of syntactico-semantic analysis of predication, quantification, negation, etc. however, what might be even more important, he sets a new perspective for modeling linguistic competence. The attempt to model the processes involved in this complex activity may present quite a challenge to other researchers. The book cools the heat existing in debate on natural language processing existing between linguists and psycholinguists who approach linguistic phenomena from a language user's perspective, and is a valuable reading for the specialists in the field of linguistics, psycholinguistics, artificial intelligence, and language philosophy.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Tatiana Sazonova (PhD in General Linguistics, Academy of Science, Moscow, Russia, 2000) holds the Chair of General Linguistics at Kursk State University in Kursk, Russia. Her current research focuses on modeling the processes of word identification in communication to account how words are used to access the interconnected fragments of knowledge stored in one's memory. The theory of word identification is a part of the cognitive theory of language understanding. The strategic model was suggested to account for multiple effect of the interaction of semantic, syntactic, phonetic/phonemic graphemic, and morphological representations in the natural language processing. Her work has appeared in a variety of edited volumes and journals.