Discourse Analysis - Already but Not Yet

clayton stirling bartholomew c.s.bartholomew at worldnet.att.net
Tue Aug 1 17:12:56 EDT 2000

on 08/01/00 10:41 AM, CWestf5155 at aol.com wrote:

> And how do 
> you work at objectivity?  You try to include as much formal criteria in your
> methodology as possible.  For instance, in determining prominence, you look
> for zones of turbulence which contain marked grammatical forms as well as
> connectives and particles that are associated with foregrounding.  I actually
> think that you could feed this data into a computer and get a good idea of
> where prominence occurs.  However, prominence is used to do different things,
> and other factors must be weighed in.  You can do a lot formally, but
> interpretation is part of the language model, so you won't ever get rid of
> it. 


You said: (context given above)

>I actually 
> think that you could feed this data into a computer and get a good idea of
> where prominence occurs.

I worked for six months on a consulting project in the1979 with a woman who
was getting her Ph.D. in what she called "computational linguistics." She
kept talking about this stuff all the time and ever since then I have been
reading and thinking about the strengths and limitations of the
"computational" approach to natural language. In the 80's I had loads of
free time on the job to borrow and read books from the library at the
advanced technology center where I worked. There were whole rows of books
and journals on automated natural language processing dating from the early
1960's up to the present. This was not a formal study,  but just a random
exploration of the of the topic combined with occasional discussions with
several consultants from MIT and Bell Labs who just happened to be

One conclusion that came out of this long term but very casual investigation
was that as of about1990 we were a long way from being able to produce an
adequate computational model of the semantic structure of any natural
language. My most recent reading in R.E. Longacre* and Simon Dik** has not
changed my mind on this topic.

I am all in favor of looking at the formal features of a text but I don't
think that the semantic structure of a text is tied down hard and fast to
these formal features. This is where I leave the computational people
behind. I do not lay awake nights worrying that my analysis of a text might
be subjective. I am perfectly willing to live with subjectivity.


Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

 *Robert E. Longacre, <<The Grammar of Discourse>> (New York: Plenum Press,
2nd edition, 1996).

**Dik, Simon. The Theory of Functional Grammar (Part 1), Mouton de Gruyter

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