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Review of  Information Structure in a Cross-linguistic Perspective.

Reviewer: Anna-Maria De Cesare Greenwald
Book Title: Information Structure in a Cross-linguistic Perspective.
Book Author: Hilde Hasselgård Stig Johansson Bergljot Behrens Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Norwegian Bokmål
Language Family(ies): Germanic
New English
Issue Number: 14.1485

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Date: Wed, 21 May 2003 10:12:14 -0500 (CDT)
From: Anna Maria De Cesare
Subject: Hasselgard et al, eds (2002). Information Structure

Hasselgard, Hilde, Johansson, Stig, Behrens, Bergljot, Fabricius-Hansen,
Cathrine eds. (2002) Information Structure in a Cross-Linguistic
Perspective. Rodopi, xiii + 228 pp., Hardback ISBN 90 420 1469 5, 55.00
Eur, 61.00 USD

This book is vol. 39 in the collection "Language and Computers: Studies in
Practical Linguistics", edited by Jan Aarts and Willem Mejis

Book announcement on Linguist 14.426

Anna-Maria De Cesare, University of Chicago

Purpose of the book

The book "Information Structure in a Cross-Linguistic Perspective"
presents the results of the Symposium on Information Structure in a
Cross-linguistic Perspective held at the University of Oslo in 2000. Its
intent is to discuss 'information structure', which is, as the editors
claim, a rather vague concept that can be applied to many different areas
of linguistic description. Information structure can be studied at the
level of the phrase, the clause, the text, or the context. This concept is
essential in text production, since "it involves the way in which a
speaker/writer chooses to present a message in terms of given/new
information, focus, cohesion, and point of view" (ix).

With this book, the editors not only present current research in the field
of information structure but also hope that the readers "will be inspired
to give more thought to this problematic, but linguistically challenging
area of cross-linguistic study" (xiii).

Book Content

The book begins with a brief introduction by the editors in which the
goals and structure of the book are presented and defined (ix-xiii). The
book consists of 13 papers, which "do not converge on a common topic"
(xiii). The papers, however, have been organized according to their topics
and approaches. As the editors note "Information structure has been
approached in a variety of ways ... Some of the articles may be seen as
direct attempts to define text-linguistic constraints on sentence
structuring across languages" (x).

In the first paper, "Interpreting concessive adverbial markers in English
and Norwegian discourse" (1-19), Thorstein Fretheim compares concessive
markers in English and Norwegian. Specifically, Fretheim considers the
fact that Norwegian 'likevel' covers the whole range of functions of
English markers, including 'nevertheless/nonetheless', 'even so', 'after
all'. In order to account for the polyfunctionnality of 'likevel',
Fretheim argues that 'likevel' has a univocal meaning and that its
context-dependent interpretation involves enrichment as proposed in
Sperber and Wilson's Relevance Theory. In the second part of the paper,
Fretheim discusses the scope of the concessive marker 'for det' and shows
that, contrary to the established idea that concessive markers take a wide
scope, 'for det' does not. It is inside the scope of the negation.

The goal of Bengt Altenberg's paper "Concessive markers in English and
Swedish" (21-41) is to define what relations can be identified in a
corpus-based study of concessive markers involving English and Swedish.
The paper compares the types and functions of adverbial concessive
connectors in the two languages on the basis of 'bidirectional translation
data' from the English-Swedish Parallel Corpus. The comparison proposed
involves three steps, based on the 'Semantic Mirror approach' (55) devised
by Helge Dyvik at the University of Bergen (1998). Altenberg identifies
and discusses the Swedish translation of 'yet', the English equivalents of
Swedish 'anda', and finally the Swedish equivalents of 'after all',
'anyway' and 'at least'. This new strategy allows Altenberg to identify
the main paradigm of concessive connectors in both languages.

Bergljot Behrens and Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen, in their paper
"Connectives in contrast: A discourse semantic study of Elaboration based
on corpus research" (46-61), present primary conclusions of a research
project of the theoretical as well as practical questions related to
translation studies, and specifically the concept of 'elaboration'. As in
the previous article, the focus of interest is on connectives and the way
they are translated. This paper provides a Corpus-based approach aiming at
identifying some structural differences between English, German and
Norwegian. The 'Semantic Mirror approach' is used again in this paper.

Carlota S. Smith's paper, "Perspective and point of view: Accounting for
subjectivity" (63-79), is theoretical in nature as it discusses the
fundamental categories that contribute to 'subjectivity'. Specifically,
Smith attempts to sort out the different uses of the terms 'point of view'
and 'perspective'. Two main uses of these concepts are distinguished:
expressions of 'communication', 'content of mind' and 'evaluation', which
convey 'point of view', and expressions of 'perception' and 'perspective',
which convey 'perspective'.

Ralph Salkie's contribution, "Probability and necessity in English and
German" (82-95), considers modality in English and German and focuses
specifically on modal verbs. Salkie begins by considering two recent
analyses of the English terms 'should' and 'must', and asks whether they
can be applied to German modals. His goal is to provide a framework for
modality, which combines "the detailed empirical coverage of monolingual
analyses with the cross-linguistic validity of broader studies" (82). This
paper employs a corpus-based approach to compare translation equivalents
of English and German.

Karin Aijmer's essay analyzes "Modal adverbs of certainty and uncertainty
in an English-Swedish perspective" (97-112). Her study focuses on
'surely', 'certainly' and 'no doubt' and employs the Parallel corpus of
the Oslo Multilingual Corpus. Aijmer acknowledges that expressions of
certainty in English and Swedish can also express uncertainty. The
translations in the Oslo Multilingual Corpus are then used as a tool to
disambiguate the meanings of "strong and week certainty" in the source
language. The methodology employed is again the 'Semantic Mirror approach'
(first the Swedish equivalents of 'surely', 'certainly' and 'no doubt' are
provided and discussed, then the English equivalents of
'sakert'). Finally, Aijmer provides an account of the polyfunctionnality
of the modal adverbs analyzed in terms of their grammaticalization.

Jeanette Gundel's article discusses "Information structure and the use of
cleft sentences in English and Norwegian" (113-128). Specifically, on the
basis of the analysis of a section of a Norwegian novel and its English
translation, Gundel demonstrates that cleft sentences are more commonly
found in Norwegian than in English. Gundel argues that this difference
arises from a stronger tendency to map information structure directly onto
syntactic structure in Norwegian. Consequently, she claims that this
difference cannot be accounted for by a difference in discourse
distribution or by structural properties of the cleft sentences in the two

Geert-Jan Kruijff's paper, "Formulating a category of
informativity" (129-145), is typological in nature. Its goal is to
formulate the first steps towards an account of information structure
throughout languages. Specifically, it formulates several typological
hypotheses that predict when languages use word order, tune, or a
combination of both to realize information structure. The paper provides
examples of a wide variety of languages and language groups, including
English, Turkish, Japanese and Hungarian.

In "Contrast - from a contrastive perspective" (147-161), Valeria Molnar
discusses the link between the concept of 'contrast' and two major notions
related to information structure, 'topic' and 'focus'. In this article,
she argues that 'contrast' should be treated as an autonomous concept of
information structuring rather than as a feature of topicality and
focusing. According to Molnar, 'contrast' must be established "as a
further category of information structure, superimposed on topic and
focus" (160).

In her contribution "Accent and the notion of contrast: A cross-linguistic
approach" (163-178), Jorunn Hetland discusses 'contrast' from an
intonational perspective. This paper demonstrates how contrast is related
to pitch accent, and in particular the 'fall-rise' accent. On the basis of
English, German, Hungarian and Korean data, Hetland argues that only the
'fall-rise accent' can express a contrast in a context in which no trace
of contrast is present. The fall-rise accent alone signals that a
constituent belongs to a certain set from which it is singled out.

Christiane von Stutterheim, Ralf Nuese and Jorge Murcia-Serra's paper,
"Cross-linguistic differences in the conceptualization of
events" (179-198), reports on a series of empirical studies in which
language-specific patterns in the construal of events are
investigated. Specifically, this paper demonstrates how German, English
and Spanish, three languages varying with regard to the category of
'aspect' (English and Spanish having grammaticised aspectual categories),
verbalize an event through different elicitation tests. The authors argue
that the differences observed in the elicitation tests are a consequence
of the different grammatical properties of the languages investigated.

The paper "Maintenance and convergence in covert translation
English-German" (199-211), by Juliane House, presents results from a
research project currently under way at the University of Hamburg. This
project investigates whether German written textual norms are adapting to
American and British norms, following the important impact on German of
English lexical items borrowing. One possible change entails
"Anglicization" of the information structure or word order. On the basis
of the comparison of 30 German and English translational pairs, House
demonstrates that the structure of both languages is still quite different
with regard to information structure. According to House, however, some
changes, possibly related to the interpersonal functional component, seem
to be under way.

Finally, Erich Steiner's paper, "Grammatical metaphor in translation -
some methods for corpus-based investigations" (213-228), focuses on the
textual properties of translations, especially in the English-German
language pair. The paper first recognizes that an additional property of
translated texts is 'grammatical de-metaphorization', which implies
rewording and rendering explicit implicit information. This unpacking of
grammatical metaphor in turn has an effect on the information structure of
the translated text. In the second part of the paper, Steiner suggests
quantitative methods to test the de-metaphorization property of
translation texts.


The book "Information Structure in a Cross-Linguistic Perspective" is an
important contribution to the linguistic literature, as it investigates
the field of information structure through corpus-based approaches. The
book contains papers from some of the most important researchers in the
field of both Corpus Linguistics and Information Structure and presents
results of research projects that are mostly under way.

The significance of the book stems from the cross-linguistic perspective
on information structure, and the various methodologies that the authors
employ. First, the authors use a variety of materials. Some contributors
employ authentic corpus material, and in particular material from a
parallel corpus (such as the Oslo Multilingual Corpus), while others
primarily analyze created examples (Kruijff). The authors also use a
variety of methods in discussing information structure in a
cross-linguistic perspective. The three papers of Altenberg, Behrens /
Fabricius-Hansen and Aijmer, for instance, present groundbreaking methods
based on a bidirectional translation corpus. I find the 'Semantic Mirror
approach', the technique devised by Dyvik (1998), to be particularly
fruitful. The use of bidirectional translation corpus and the 'Semantic
Mirror approach' that such a corpus provides, "open up new possibilities
of research" (Altenberg) that will cast light on phenomena that are
related to information structure.

While the book "Information Structure in a Cross-Linguistic
Perspective" is significant and useful in a variety of ways, my main
reservation is that some of the papers address the question of information
structure only indirectly. I found this to be the case with the papers of
Altenberg, Smith, Aijmer, Salkie, and Steiner. Additionally, although some
of the other papers deal extensively with information structure, they do
not adopt a corpus-based approach as they primarily use created examples
(see for instance Kruijff, Molnar). I was expecting more papers that do

Finally, it seems to me that the discussion of information structure was
sometimes quite insensitive to the differences between spoken and written
data. Although the papers included in the book were primarily focused on
the spoken language (see Gundel, p. 113), the analyses of the papers rely
upon either written or constructed data (Hetland). With a few exceptions
(such as House), the papers included in the book do not make their choice
of code explicit. It is only through the examples given and the factors
mentioned (intonation, for instance), that I was able to understand which
code the paper analyzed. This distinction is important given the
differences between spoken and written texts. For example, the
phonological means of marking the focus is typical of spoken texts, and
does not at all have the same importance in written texts. One would
therefore expect spoken and written texts to show differences in
information structure, and thus in both word order and markers used to
identify the topic, focus, etc. of a sentence.

To conclude, I highly recommend the book "Information Structure in a
Cross-Linguistic Perspective" to anyone interested in information
structure, corpus linguistics and contrastive linguistics. It includes
some very interesting results of the latest linguistic research comparing
two or more languages. Moreover, the book presents some new and very
promising techniques for analyzing text, text structures, and information
structure, which are based on authentic corpus material.

Dyvik, H. (1998), A Translational basis for semantics, in S. Johansson and
S. Oksefjell (eds.), Corpora and Crosslinguistic Research: Theory, Method,
and Case Studies, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 51-86.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER Anna-Maria De Cesare holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Geneva, Switzerland and is currently a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago. Her academic interests include lexical semantics (adverbs and particles), contrastive linguistics (Italian compared to French and English) and corpus linguistics. She is currently working on a specialized Italian-English dictionary of adverbs and particles. i