Discourse Analysis - Already but Not Yet

CWestf5155 at aol.com CWestf5155 at aol.com
Tue Aug 1 21:22:36 EDT 2000

In a message dated 8/1/00 3:16:39 PM Mountain Daylight Time, 
c.s.bartholomew at worldnet.att.net writes:

 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'm far from claiming that you could have an adequate computational model of 
semantic structure!  But on very unambitious terms, I know that the formal 
linguistic criteria for markers of prominence and marked grammatical features 
could be entered in a computer and traced through a discourse.  On the other 
hand, I'm just as sure that I can track them fairly well without.  It is 
helpful and interesting to see print-outs, and there is the occasional 
pattern that a computer picks up that I miss.  So, I've gotten an insight or 
two from a print-out, though most that I have seen deal with topic and 
semantic domains.  I'm convinced myself that the computer will yield only so 
much, but on the other hand, computational statistics can be a strong 
confirmation and affirmation to some claims. 
<< 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.

Yes, I think the objective would be to not let subjectivity or any single 
consideration (as often happens in content analysis) to overrule the formal 
patterns and signposts in the text--so the best starting point is the formal 
analysis, and then the interpretation follows.  

Any system that did not include interpretation would be a sham as a model.  
It is the major role of the receptor.

Cindy Westfall
PhD Student, Roehampton  

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