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LINGUIST List 18.114

Fri Jan 12 2007

Diss: Discourse Analysis/Psycholing/Semantics: Mendes: 'The Semanti...'

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        1.    vicente mendes, The Semantics-Pragmatics of Route Directions

Message 1: The Semantics-Pragmatics of Route Directions
Date: 11-Jan-2007
From: vicente mendes <vicentesantosmendesgmail.com>
Subject: The Semantics-Pragmatics of Route Directions

Institution: University of Hamburg
Program: Department of General Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2005

Author: Vicente Santos Mendes

Dissertation Title: The Semantics-Pragmatics of Route Directions

Dissertation URL: http://www.sub.uni-hamburg.de/opus/volltexte/2005/2410/

Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
                            Linguistic Theories
                            Text/Corpus Linguistics

Dissertation Director:
Christopher Habel
Klaus-Uwe Panther

Dissertation Abstract:

Human beings are unique creatures in that they acquire and deploy natural language. They also manage to deal with spatial reasoning most of the time. As verbal written route directions (RD) combine these two vital traits of our cognitive skills, they consist in a window to the mechanisms of the mind that urges continuous investigation. The main thesis of this dissertation is that the semantics-pragmatics of RD integrates non-linguistic as well as linguistic aspects. The former have to do with a psychologically oriented knowledge model of the way we apprehend the external world. The latter subsume a discourse model and a dialog model of RD qua verbal behavior.

A knowledge model is needed because, from the language production point of view, the RD' informant must convey visuospatial/propositional representations of movement around a specific environment retrieved from memory into a verbal message. This will induce the RD' user to convert the linguistic expressions back into the propositional/visuospatial representations of the motion event at hand. By doing so, the RD' user can retrace the stretch to be covered from starting point to destination. Here we build on experimental findings in cognitive psychology on the conceptualization of RD (e.g. Denis 1997, Daniel & Denis 1998, Denis et al. 2001). Based on the distinction between 'prototypical Landmarks' and 'Paths proper' we introduce, we propose an alternative to the Denisian categorization of 'informational units'. The scheme affords parsing the tokens of the corpus and sorting them as clear and unclear guiding devices as linguistic means to provide navigational assistance.

A discourse model is needed because language use does not happen in isolated sentences. Hence RD must be investigated at the textual level too. We accomplish that by dissecting them in terms of 'speech bubbles' / 'conceptual worlds' RD' informant and user erect in their minds to agree on the symbolization of the route at hand, according to a context-anchored cognitive discourse grammar we elaborate on the sketch Werth (1999) advances. The framework, from the point of view of the language interpreter, accounts for the internal dynamics underlying RD' understanding with respect to 'argument structure', explicitly conveyed, and 'Frame activation' plus 'inferential reasoning', implicitly conveyed. The outline we put forward fares better than the mental spaces theory in cognitive linguistics (e.g. Fauconnier 1994, 1997) from which it originates: It manages to go beyond the sentential level of analysis. It copes with the task of taking a true global approach to linguistic performance. Our explication of RD foregrounds the importance of large-scale linguistic representations.

A dialog model is needed because situated discourse invariably encompasses a partnership between two sides at the communication process: One at the generation end, another one at the reception end. Even though the material
we gathered pertains to the written language modality, we demonstrate that a specific informant produces the RD to a particular addressee qua 'imaginal props' (H. Clark & Van Der Wege 2002). The presence of this 'virtual partner' (H. Clark 1999) - the RD' user - albeit immaterial, still contributes to the semiotic construction of the narrative-like message in question. This collaborative teamwork shows an interactive layer of the instances in the corpus that surpasses the data's strictly monological appearance. The discovery takes the psycholinguistic insights just mentioned a step further, since it points to the essential role imagination plays also in virtual interactions mediated by primarily instructive written language, such as the RD presently under scrutiny. We then extend Clark & Krych's (2004) rationale to our object of inquiry in order to make more concretely a case for how the virtual partner's immaterial presence influences a RD' token's surface text.

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