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Review of  Shifting the Focus

Reviewer: Tatiana Yu. Sazonova
Book Title: Shifting the Focus
Book Author: Daniel Wedgwood
Publisher: Elsevier Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 16.3584

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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

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

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.

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.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0080445772
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 312
Prices: U.K. £ 62.99
U.S. $ 99.95