MODIFYING INFORMATION THEORY
Despite some diffuseness in its usage over the years, the term INFORMATION can
be taken to designate not the knowledge that provides the content of
communication, but rather the aspect of newness or variability that knowledge
has in some context (cf. Loftus & Loftus 1976; Gröben 1978). If the
actualization of a text system is constituted by a configuration of OCCURRENCES
(cf. 1.1.3.; 1.4.1), then the INFORMATIVITY of a particular occurrence is its
relative PROBABILITY (likelihood and predictability) as compared to other
ALTERNATIVES. The lower the probability of the occurrence, the higher the
informativity (cf. I.4.II.7).
In classical informational theory (Shannon & Weaver 1949), informativity
(information value) was formalized by statistical methods. Suppose we had a
language with a precisely enumerated set of possible elements (a 'finite-state
language'). We could select an element, say X, and look at every occurrence of X
in any chain. If we had a chain like W-X-Y etc., we could compare all these
occurrences and compute the TRANSITION PROBABILITY between W and X, that is, the
likelihood of X following W. A chain constituted according to this simple
computation of transition probabilities between immediately adjacent elements is
called a MARKOV CHAIN. It is questionable, however, whether Markov chains are a
useable model for natural language utterances. Natural languages do not have a
finite number of states, and the probability of any occurrence does not depend
solely on the immediately preceding occurrence.
I hold a flexible, modified version of information theory to be valuable for
theories of human communication via texts. The augmented transition networks I
have proposed as operational representations for processes of sequential
connectivity (II.2.12) and conceptual connectivity (III.4.7) bear a distant
resemblance to the old Markov chains, because the main task is predicting the
next link to a new node. Experiments inspired by the model of the augmented
transition network did show that language users have fairly uniform expectations
about how a sentence sequence will proceed from a given point (cf. II.2.14). A
large quantity of learning experiments were based on Markov models, due to their
mathematical simplicity (Kintsch 1977a: 82). But purely statistical models in
general, and Markov models in particular, would lead to COMBINATORIAL EXPLOSION
(II.1.2) for processes as intricate and varied as the utilization of texts: the
decision about an impending occurrence rests less upon frequencies between
adjacent items than upon the MOTIVATIONS the overall context supplies. Lcon
Brillouin (1956) suggests that the statistical approach ignores the whole aspect
Psychologically, statistics might be applicable to the aggregate of EPISODES a
person has in stored knowledge. Yet as episodic memory gradually feeds over into
CONCEPTUAL memory (III.3.16), exact frequencies would tend to become blurred and
unreliable for building expectations. To select an option at a given point
during the production or prediction of a text sequence, people presumably
consult all available CUES (signals for performing a processing action). The
availability of cues depends upon the FOCUS of ATTENTION, where “attention”
is defined as an expenditure of processing resources that limits the potential
for another task at the same time (Keele 1973). Cues would be especially helpful
if people were working with the various language systems in PARALLEL and merging
shared parts of hypotheses about those systems (cf. Woods 1978b: I 1; III.4.14).
Due to the various exigencies of communication, the occurrence of an element
could have quite different probabilities in different systems; it might, for
example, be syntactically probable and semantically improbable, or vice versa.
If we had PROBABILITY OPERATORS for the links of the grammatical and
conceptual/relational network — a feature I hope to include as soon as
sufficient empirical research makes it possible and reliable — the operators
on the same link would be opposed in the two networks. I suspect that the
PROBLEMATIC transition to the improbable element in one system (cf. 1.6.7) is
eased by a comparatively unproblematic transition in the other. Probable content
in a probable format would be uniformly easy to process and not informative.
Improbable content in an improbable format would be uniformly difficult to
process and intensely
But improbable content in a probable format, or probable content in an
improbable format would be challenging and yet not unreasonably problematic.
Literary and poetic texts (cf. VII.I.8.4-5) often manifest these last two
combinations (cf. Beaugrande 1978b, 1979e; Koch 1978, 1979). We should bear in
mind that the probabilities in virtual systems can beoverridden by those in
actual systems (cf.IV.1.23.4). People seem to be quite skillful in adapting
their expectations to an intricate pattern of actual episodic occurrences (cf.
Friedman, Burke, Cole, Estes, Keller, & Millward 1963). While it was found
that, when taken as abstract sentence patterns, the passive is harder to process
than the active (Coleman 1964), a text with nothing but passive constructions
removes the difficulty (Wright 1968).1
[1. The difficulty of passive sentences is exaggerated in many
experiments with samples where the roles are reversible (i.e. the agent might
reasonably also be the affected entity and vice-versa) and no determinate
contexts are given. Slobin (1966) demonstrated the importance of reversibility
in such measurements.]
It would be reasonable to distinguish various ranges on a scale of
informativity. I shall propose three ORDERS, with “order” used in the
mathematical sense: a higher-numbered order automatically subsumes the
lower-numbered ones. The order results from the extent of PROCESSING RESOURCES
that are expended upon input. The lower-order occurrences allow PROCESSING EASE,
that is, the linkage of the occurrences to previous ones is non-problematic. The
higher-order occurrences call for PROCESSING DEPTH (cf. III.3.5), because the
linkage is problematic, perhaps seriously so (cf. I.6.7 on “serious
problems'). The THRESHOLD OF
TERMINATION where processing is considered satisfactory and discontinued
(III.3.24) therefore moves along with the order of informativity.
The complexity of probabilities suggests that people could rely not only on
prediction, but on “postdiction” as well (Kintsch 1979a). The understander
would then notice an occurrence and seek some justification after the fact.
Reliance on postdiction would increase either (1) if there were a wide spread of
equally probable alternatives and a scarcity of determinate cues for selecting
any; or (2) if an occurrence seems quite outside the predicted range, so that no
cues are readily at hand. The second case doubtless requires a stronger focus of
attention, and can be strategically induced for that motive (see note 14 to
The mere selection of one available option in a context — an option provided
by any participating system — results in at least FIRST-ORDER INFORMATIVITY.
In the simplest instance (a rare one) where there seems to be only one option,
there are still two alternatives: occurrence versus non-occurrence. In a
restricted sequence where only two options are possible (as in many learning
experiments), there are the trivial alternatives of any occurrence being the
same as or different from its predecessors (a principle of the “text-score”
developed in Weinrich 1972).2 [2. Intriguingly people expect a
long series of the same occurrence to be broken for the sake of mere variety,
even when probabilities remain constant — a phenomenon called “gambler’s
fallacy’ (cf. Kintsch 1977a: 91f.). In
more realistic worlds with multiple alternatives, first-order informativity
applies when an option in the upper range of probability is selected. In all of
these domains, we have a low INTERESTINGNESS value: the degree of cognitive
involvement resulting from uncertainty (as well as from such factors as
emotivity and salience — see section IV.2).
Many selections required for the production of any text are of this trivial
first order. Given a conceptual configuration and the preferences for mapping it
onto surface expression (III.4.16), many decisions regarding surface structure
are made efficiently (cf. I.4.14). The effectiveness of certain formulations,
notably in poetry, arises from low probability in mapping. In its attempts to
set up a categorical, context-free grammar that stipulates what sentences can
and cannot occur, generative grammar implied the postulate that all potential
occurrences in a language system are of the first order, because specified by
categorical rules (cf. I.3.4.7). People’s difficulties with judging unusual
sentences (I.1.16) show that the variability of information orders should not be
ignored when constructing a grammar for sentences. My proposal to include the
notions of DEFAULT and PREFERENCE in a grammar for texts (cf. I.3.4.3) might
help resolve this matter.
A normal reaction to triviality would be to reduce one’s ATTENTION, i.e., the
concentration of processing resources on one object at the expense of others. In
any case, humans in communication are not likely to perform a thorough analysis
of all occurrences in all systems, such as a linguist might accomplish. I
suggested in III.4.15 that the intense utilization of surface structure would be
needed if there were numerous or evenly matched hypotheses about the underlying
conceptual/ relational structure. If the latter were immediately obvious, on the
other hand, people might do only “fuzzy parsing” on the surface. The
processor would leave sonic nodes or links unlabled (cf. Burton 1976: 80),
working along via approximative problem-solving. If it later emerges that the
unlabeled states are needed after all, but are no longer available in active
storage, problem-solving could become more detailed and rigorous to reconstruct
the lost material.3
[3. Some successful computer simulation of the processing of indistinct
or partial input uses precisely this approach (cf. Woods et al. 1976).] If this
outlook is plausible, then low-order informativity is a reliable signal that
fuzzy parsing is adequate in a given context.
The selection of an option in the middle or lower-middle degrees of probability
results in SECOND-ORDER INFORMATIVITY. Here, the strongest defaults and
preferences are noticeably overridden. The presence of at least some
second-order occurrences is presumably the usual standard for textual
communication, so that first-order occurrences could be UPGRADED (unless they
are accorded no further attention) and third-order occurrences could be
DOWNGRADED. The demands people make for informativity vary among types of texts
and situations. Conversations between married couples appear (in my view) to
function with very low informativity, while contemporary art works strive for
1.12 Occurrences construed as outside the range of more or
less probable options convey THIRD-ORDER INFORMATIVITY. These are unusual and
extremely interesting occurrences, and correspondingly hard to understand and
control. A SERIOUS PROBLEM in the sense of I.6.7 is present, because the linkage
of the new occurrence to what went before is endangered in an unexpected way,
and the probability of FAILURE is great. Major DISCONTINUITIES, GAPS, and
DISCREPANCIES as defined in I.6.9 are the usual types of third-order occurrences
and activate a MOTIVATION SEARCH to find out a source for the unexpected
material. The search returns some pathway which makes the third-order occurrence
accessible to its context and hence within the range of probable options after
all (cf. Lenat 1977: 1097). This process in effect DOWNGRADES the third-order
occurrence into the second order. Downgrading could have different
DIRECTIONALITY: (1) if people regress to occurrences of a considerably earlier
time to find the motivating pathway, they are doing BACKWARD downgrading; (2) if
they wait and look ahead to further occurrences, they are doing FORWARD
downgrading; (3) if they go outside the current context, they are doing OUTWARD
downgrading. A text producer who deliberately supplies third-order occurrences
may anticipate the directionality and results of the downgrading as part of the
plan toward a goal (cf. Beaugrande 1978b; VII.2.33). The assumption that
downgrading will be done is reliable (Berlyne [19601 suggests that “cognitive
conflict” creates “epistemic curiosity” to obtain knowledge).
The directionality of downgrading suggests the control flow for processing
third-order occurrences. In II.2.34, we considered what might ensue if a
sentence structure were so misleading that an unaccountable element was left
over at the end of parsing. The subsequent relabeling of the structure (Figures
9a and 9b) was an illustration of backward downgrading in the syntactic system.
For a structure that cannot be downgraded via syntax alone, such as Simmons’
sample of ‘The old man the boats’ (see (22) in II.2.32), a processor could
go outside to consult intonation or conceptual context (outward downgrading); or
could leave the structure temporarily uniabeled until the context became more
determinate later on (forward downgrading). If the processor interrupted the
speaker with a demand for explanation, we would have a convergence of outward
and forward downgrading.
These reasoning procedures doubtless extend far beyond the utilization of texts.
If we are arrested with no warning and for no visible motive, we have
encountered a third-order experience. We will be prone to react in the following
ways: (1) mentally retracing our recent actions to see if any of them could be
the ‘reason-of’ the arrest (backward downgrading); (2) waiting to be told
the reason by an officer of the law (forward); (3) trying to remember cases
where someone was arrested because of mistaken identity (outward). If
successful, these activities downgrade the arrest-event, and if not, we will be
unable to understand it. Meaninglessness, I would argue, results from the lack
of continuity and connectivity, and not from the undecidability of truth values
STRENGTH OF LINKAGE (III.3.15) in world-knowledge is relevant to informativity
orders. If a textual world asserts relations known to be DETERMINATE already, we
have the first order only. The assertion of TYPICAL relations brings more
informativity as typicalness decreases. The assertion of ACCIDENTAL relations is
by itself neutral for informativity, since accidents may range from the trivial
to the unique. The assertion of non-typical relations results in at least
second-order, and the contradiction of determinate relations results in
third-order informativity. If a tree in a textual world is assigned a trunk,
little interest is aroused, that being a stored determinate ‘part-of’ link.
If the tree has multiple trunks we are more interested, though not disoriented
(non-typical but allowed, hence second-order). If the tree has no trunk at all,
its branches hovering in mid-air, we are alarmed by a conflict with a
determinate link (third order) and expect an explanation or assume we are
dealing with a highly fictional text-world (downgrading).
The fictional text-world instructs the processor to relax the application of
real-world expectations. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll
1960), the initial plunge down an impossible rabbit-hole filled with cupboards
and bookshelves at once marks the textual world as not governed by the same
organization as the reader’s. After a series of strange occurrences, the
narrator remarks about a normal event (Carroll 1960: 33):
Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of- the-way
things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the
the Alice-world is by no means devoid of continuity and coherence. Many
real-world expectations still apply: gravity makes things fall, water makes
things wet, characters speak English, etc. Some domains are understandable via
opposition to the real-world: assignment of human roles to animals or
playing-cards, violation of politeness conventions, etc. The enduring
interestingness of the Alice books arises from experiencing a text-world whose
third-order occurrences are downgradable by discoverable principles (cf.
IV.1.23.1). During the activities of downgrading, readers discover by analogy
how the organization of the real-world is arbitrary and amusing (cf. ‘Vll. 1.
Original METAPHORS can constitute third-order occurrences. The fragment of Dylan
Thomas’(1971: 196) poem ‘In my craft or sullen art’ that runs:
In the still night, when only the moon rages
a totally non-expected action or emotion of the moon that no reader would have
in stored knowledge. To process the fragment, the reader must integrate the
problematic element, for example, by reasoning: (1) that the moon’s surface
resembles the face of a ‘raging’ person with staring eyes and open mouth;
(2) that the moon is traditionally believed to cause lunacy and hence
‘raging’ in people; (3) that the moon’s casting light in all directions
resembles a ‘raging’ person throwing things all around; and so forth. Hence,
the original metaphor elicits a resolvable discrepancy between text-presented
knowledge and previously stored knowledge. There need be no particular literal
expression that accomplishes the same thing as the metaphoring (Ortony 1978c).
The discrepancy is below surface structure, and its downgrading may be
undecidable, as we saw with the Thomas fragment. A literalized restatement could
be an impoverishment or even a mis- representation.
In recent times, literary texts are characterized by more numerous third-order
occurrences that are increasingly resistant against downgrading. That trend is
conspicuous even in the progression of James Joyce between Ulysses and Finnegan’s
Wake. In the earlier novel, the selective principles applied to language
options are periodically reorganized, calling forth an adaptation of
expectations. In the later novel, the author applies the far more complex
principle of simultaneous partial actualization of different options, many from
other languages besides English, so that no comprehensive expectations about
surface structure occurrences can be maintained, and even logical identities are
blurred. Experiments of the latter kind (also in the poetry of Hans G. Helms)
have an intrinsically limited acceptability as texts, because they run counter
to human processing strategies. Constant blocks against downgrading third-order
occurrences place an enormous strain on processing energy, which most readers
see no reason to sustain. For some readers, an enriching awareness results about
human reliance on expectations in ordinary communication. Yet the processing of
a text or situation where continuity is steadily at the break-down point is
internally paradoxical and is tolerable only for correspondingly pre-trained
readers. It is noteworthy that some literary critics have undertaken instead to
explicate Finnegan’s Wake in conventional language: perhaps the most
colossal downgrading in history.
The procedures of UPGRADING are also intriguing. If something is well-known or
even determined by standards of logic or science, people should have little
reason to assert it by means of a text. Here again, a MOTIVATION SEARCH
(IV.1.12) is likely to take place. Consider the example (in Beaugrande 1978b:
11) of a woman introducing her husband at a party with the utterance:
My husband is a human being.
assigns to a person a relation that should be stored already as a determinate
‘instance-of’ link for all people. Hearers will want to discover why the
woman makes the effort to say so, because communication is by default presumed
to have a reason (cf. Rieger 1975: 160). They could recast the utterance into an
expanded format with explicit motivation, such as:
My husband is so nondescript that one can’t say much about him except that he
is a human being
My husband is so much like a non-human object that his human status should be
asserted when meeting new people.
overturns the expectation that one ought to be able to say more than (38). (38b)
serves to signal that the ‘instance-of’ relation is in fact less probable
than might be assumed. These replacements of (38) with assumed alternative
versions illustrate outward upgrading of a first-order occurrence in the
conceptual/relational system. A demonstration of forward upgrading in that
system — not an uncommon procedure for the beginnings of texts — can be
found in this opening passage from a science textbook (quoted in Beaugrande
The sea is water only in the sense that water is the dominant substance present.
Actually, it is a solution of gases and salts […]
first-order informativity of the determinate “substance-of’ relation in
‘the sea is water’ is made upgradable by the subsequent assertion that this
piece of common knowledge is ‘actually’ not accurate and is hence not so
probable as it seems. The demands of informativity can even eliminate
alternative readings, as is shown by this headline (Gainesville Sun, Dec.
San Juan Gunfire Kills One
reading where ‘one’ is taken as an impersonal pronoun (hence: ‘San Juan
gunfire kills people’) is ruled out as uninformative (unless, of course,
gunfire in other Puerto Rican cities were not fatal) and hence not newsworthy.
If a given text allows more than one order of informativity, the second order
will presumably have preference over the first. In the final part of Antony’s
speech (Julius Caesar, Act V, Sc. v, 72-75):
His life was gentle, and the elements
mixed in him that Nature might stand up
say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’
audience will attribute more to the utterance ‘this was a man’ than a first-
order ‘instance-of’ relation. They will rather prefer an understanding such
as that this ‘man’ is an
infrequent class of humans who possessed the full range of ‘elements’
offered by ‘Nature’.
The considerations raised so far suggest an important factor of CYBERNETIC
REGULATION in regard to textual communication (cf. I.4.3). The absolute
stability of a textual system is guaranteed by a maximum of predictability,
because every transition is made rapidly and without effort. Yet this very
stability leads to such low informativity that communication lacks all
motivation and interest. It follows that textual communication can be envisioned
as the perpetual removal and restoration of stability. The dynamics of
communicative systems arises from an irresolvable antagonism of functional
principles. The normal workings of a textual system are therefore kept in the
range of second-order occurrences, a degree of moderate but not absolute
stability. Upgrading or downgrading of the other orders of informativity are
operations of cybernetic regulation in the most basic sense (like the classical
example of the thermostat).
If communication is composed of LEARNING SYSTEMS that adapt to their environment
(I.4.3), it follows that the immediate expectations of a context would override
those based on general knowledge. Over time, special utilization of systems
engenders evolution. For example, highly respected literary texts could serve to
expand the possibilities for conventional expression, or to propagate
alternative viewpoints about reality via the mode of fictionality (cf.
VII.1.8.4f.). Wolfgang Iser (I975: 302) observes that the literary text both
stabilizes and interferes with the operations of communicative systems.
To explore communicative probabilities in more detail, we need to classify
expectations into a hierarchy such as the following:
Stored knowledge and episodic experience lead people to see the world in a
certain way. The socially dominant model of the human situation and its
environment evolves into the notion of the REAL WORLD and is henceforth
privileged over all other models. Propositions judged to be true in this world
are conventionally called FACTS (cf. Schmidt 1979), and are entered into
socially shared BELIEF SYSTEMS (cf. Bruce 1975) as the most fundamental
assumptions about the organization of knowledge and experience. Some facts and
beliefs are so firmly established that they act as defaults pervading almost any
textual world that might be created: that causes have effects; that time can
move in only one direction; that matter cannot be totally destroyed; that
entities cannot be both existent and non-existent, present and absent, or
possible and impossible at the same time and under the same circumstances; and a
great deal more. A textual world in which such basic facts and beliefs are
countermanded, e.g., science fiction stories, must provide distinct cues in
relevant contexts. These cues are instructions that the text receivers should
make specified modifications in their expectations lest the textual world become
inaccessible and its organization unbearably problematic. On the few occasions
where Lewis Carroll does make use of the reversal principle derived from mirror
imagery in Through the Looking-Glass (Carroll 1960: 205, 249f., 290), he
is very emphatic. I suspect that strict adherence to such nonce facts in
fictional worlds would soon lose informativity as a corresponding set of
expectations is tailored to the occasion (cf. IV. 1. 5). The continuing
interestingness of the Alice world is upheld by the variety of its
principles for unconventional organization (cf. also IV. 1. 16).
People also have expectations about LANGUAGE, such as about sequencing (ch. II)
and conceptual connectivity (ch. III). People rely on this knowledge to deal
with predictable expressions. Users of English do not anticipate unpronounceable
clusters of consonants (except in abbreviations), so that when asked to “read
aloud’ a line on an eye-testing chart, such as:
PDZTLF (Snellen eye chart)4 [4. As a notorious prankster,
I have on occasion read these eye-chart lines as wards, only to elicit
confusion from the eye-doctor.]
do not attempt to pronounce the whole line as a unit. Radically disordered
syntax, such as:
Mat cat the sat the on. would
be processable in most contexts (always discounting discussions among
linguists). The insistence upon such third-order presentations would more likely
be taken as a signal of inability or refusal to communicate, as in Ziff’s
(1971: 6 1) grotesque example of an “irritable academic” responding to the
stupid questions of a military officer with an intentional non-text:
Ugh ugh blugh blugh ugh blug blug.5 [5. Ziff gives no
indication of possible phonological distinctions between ‘blug’ and ‘blugh’,
so that even the tagmemic method for mini-languages (cf. Pike 1967: 210ff.)
would fail to extract meaning.
Expectations also arise from the TEXT TYPE (cf. VII.I.5). The tolerance for
violations of expectations is very different for modern poetry than for
scientific reports. All fictional text-worlds have some freedom in their
organization, though not, as I have pointed out, absolute freedom. Readers are
not disturbed by the appearance of a unicorn in the Alice-world of Lewis
Carroll (1960: 283ff.). But a scientific report with a passage such as
(Beaugrande 1978b: 6):
The values obtained for white rates (ratus norvegicus) were correlated as
functions on Vincent curves with those for a control group of unicorns (equus
monoceros) as shown in Figure 3.
be deeply disturbing. A scientific-report-world is expected to conform to the
organization of the accepted real-world in all aspects. An intriguing hybrid is
‘science fiction’, as the name suggests, where the authority and
authenticity of science are borrowed to increase the effectiveness of a
deliberately impossible reorganized world.
The final type of expectations are those arising in the IMMEDIATE CONTEXT where
the text occurs or is utilized. I suggested in IV.1.22 that these expectations
can override more general ones in a manner analogous to the adaptation of a
learning system to its environment. Hence, the processes of ACTUALIZATION can
create a range of expectations which may be quite different from the
organization of VIRTUAL systems (cf. 126.96.36.199; IV.1.5). An illustration is the
phenomenon of STYLE: the characteristic selection and mapping of options among
contributing systems of a text (cf. 1.2.10). The attempts to characterize styles
of a single text, a single text producer, a corpus of texts, a text type, a
whole historical period, or even a whole language (cf. survey in Spillner 1974)
attest to the ability of language users to create specific expectations for
contexts of all sizes. If a text belongs to a highly specialized type, it may by
that very token become too predictable and be impelled to break out of the style
that it has itself established (cf. Riffaterre 1959, 1960). In such cases,
informativity arises from the mapping between systems rather than from the
transitions within a single System.
The divergency of sources for the expectations of text users helps account for
the notorious inconsistencies in informants’ judgments on the grammaticalness
of isolated sentences (cf. 1.1.16; IV.1.9). If people were indeed basing their
judgments on the availability of imaginable contexts (McCawley 1976), they would
naturally need more determinate cues about the uses of an utterance than were
provided by the artificial interview situation. If they took the trouble to
imagine very detailed contexts, they might accept utterances that would be
wholly undesirable for a grammar. Jerry Morgan (1973) notes that an utterance
Kissinger conjectures poached.
should hardly be allowed by a formal grammar of English, would be a perfectly
good reply in a situation where someone had asked:
(47) Anyone know how President Nixon likes his eggs?
types can also provide settings where the APPROPRIATENESS (in the sense of
1.4.14: mode in which the standards of textuality should be upheld) of
structures is clearly given, although the requirements of virtual syntax are not
upheld. Milton’s lines
(48) Thee, chantress, oft the woods among
I woo to hear thy evensong. (Il Penseroso, 63-64)
fully acceptable within the poetic diction of his time — which he himself did
much to create — and for those
familiar with his style, they are not even surprising. Surely the
‘competence” of language encompasses the ability to fit texts to contexts of
many kinds, and not in the ability to mark samples like (46) and (48) with
Expectations also apply to the uses of NEGATION in communication. Experiments
prove that people have extra trouble recalling negative sentences (Cornish &
Wason 1970) or judging their truth (Fillenbaum 1973; Frederiksen 1975). Usually,
there is no motive to negate anything unless people have a reason to believe or
expect it (cf. Wason 1965; Osgood 1971; Beaugrande 1978b; Givón 1978). In
actualization, a hearer or reader must first activate a knowledge space, and
then mark it as non-factual with respect to the textual world (cf. Carpenter
& Just 1975). Another account might be that people set up two alternative
spaces and then discard one. It is, in either case, evident that multiple
negations should be increasingly hard to produce or understand:
I never deny that this approach is not otherwise than the opposite of
In this section, I have looked into some issues that reveal the importance of
informativity for textual processes. I have suggested that problem-solving
techniques for maintaining connectivity of textual occurrences are tied to
probabilities for transitions in participating systems. When probable pathways
are chosen, efficiency increases, but interest sinks; the reverse is true for
improbable pathways. I concluded that there should be at least three orders of
informativity: a medium order where efficiency and effectiveness are balanced
against each other, and one order each for the extreme ranges where one heavily
outweighs the other. If the medium order is indeed the usual standard for
textual communication, then language users must have strategies for upgrading or
downgrading the extremes. I identified these factors with the principle of
cybernetic regulation, and speculated that textual communication functions by a
continual cycle of disturbing and restoring stability.
If text utilization interacts with other human abilities and sensory modes (cf.
III.3.18), we should investigate the nature of human apperception in general.
Humans must distribute attention selectively (IV.1.4) to notice and retain some
kinds of episodes and knowledge configurations better than others. The degree of
expectedness alone cannot account for all the phenomena involved. At least some
effects are due to the inherent nature of the material and some to general
processing strategies of apperception.
Psychologists have devoted considerable study to elementary LEARNING tasks,
following several main trends. Some claim that the
FREQUENCY of a presentation decides whether it is learned and utilized
(e.g. Ekstrand, Wallace, & Underwood 1966). Others see the basic mechanism
as TRANSFER of previously acquired skills to a particular task at hand (e.g.
Ferguson 1956). Still others stress the SALIENCE of the concrete cues in a
presentation, i.e., the force with which cues intrude on sensory apperception
(color, brightness, loudness, etc.) (e.g. Goldstein & Schecter 1941). And
some believe that portions of a presentation which are markedly DIFFERENT from
the rest are best noticed and recalled (e.g. Hull 1920; Hershberger & Terry
1965; Rundus 1971) — a phenomenon also called the “von Restorff effect”
(cf. von Restorff 1933; Wallace 1965). 5a [5a. This effect is
widely misunderstood by American psychologists who haven’t read von
Restorff’s dissertation (and maybe can’t read German at all). Working in the
gestalt tradition (IV.2.5), her thesis was not that differing elements simply
get more attention (positive effect), but that they hinder the formations of
unifying “gestalts’ (negative effect).]
In early work, it was hoped that only one of these factors could account for all
kinds of learning behaviour — an outlook which immensely simplified the design
and interpretation of experiments. More recently, it has become evident that
apperception and learning in realistic settings must operate via PROCESSING
INTERACTIONS of numerous factors such as those just mentioned. Moreover, these
general factors require further specification regarding the situations of
apperception and the strategies applied. Several factors merit consideration:
general criteria for ordering and organizing apperceptive material: from higher
to lower, from central to peripheral, from mobile to stationary, etc.;
extent of emotional involvement of the apperceiver (cf. Erdelyi 1974);
scales of variables with average versus extreme values;
changing input as opposed to unchanging;
match between current input and stored knowledge (cf. Petofi 1974);
current need to differentiate among the appereeivable entities, especially those
with inherent similarities;
current relevance of input to the appereeiver’s own situation, desires, and
plans (cf. ‘ego-seizing” in Ertel 1977).
The interactions of these factors are unquestionably intricate. Both the
appereeiver’s state and the organization of a presentation are subject to
mutable influences, so that it might be difficult to obtain a consensus.
Overreliance upon one factor could be misleading. For example, we would not
obtain a very sensible classification of most objects by grouping them according
to their salience alone: no one would think of classifying the word of a
language according to the loudness with which the current speaker utters them.
Moreover, the conflict between stability and informativity noted in I.1.21 may
emerge here as well: attention might be focused on the very factors that are
interesting because they are extreme and hence not reliable for purposes of
Within the tradition of ‘gestalt” psychology (e.g. Koffka 1935), a
distinction is drawn between FIGURE and GROUND. The “figure” is the portion
of an appereeptual presentation which receives the focus of attention, while the
“ground” is the background setting that receives only peripheral attention.
For instance, a moving object can appear as the figure, and its stationary
environment can appear as the ground (changing vs. unchanging input, cf.
IV.2.3.4). To a certain extent, however, the selection of figure and ground
depends less on the presentation than on the apperceiver’s internal
predisposition. It is sometimes hard to tell where the one ends and the other
begins; it is safe to say that the two interact in cognition of all kinds (cf.
Arnheim 1947; Neisser 1967). The presentation provides the input, but the
apperceiver must impose organization if the input is to be utilized as knowledge
(cf. Ausubel 1963; Keele 1973; Kintsch 1974).
There is already some evidence that the factors I have mentioned are also
relevant for textual processes. If so, a theory of text processing must be
integrated into a general theory of human information processing (Rumelhart
1977a). Such evidence includes the following:
The focus on some part of a scene, such as a mobile object on a stationary
background, does affect the format of a linguistic description of the scene (Huttenlocher
1968; Olson 1970; Osgood 1971; Osgood & Bock 1977). The ease of verifying
descriptive statements also varies along the same parameter (Olson & Filby
1972; Clark & Chase 1974). Robert E. Longaere (1970) applies the terms of
“figure” and ‘ground” directly to elements in sequences of sentences.
SALIENCE plays a role in speech, where priorities can be signaled by the
intensity of intonation in the voice. In general, the greatest stress falls on
unexpected elements, such as those contrasting with previously mentioned ones (Bolinger
1972; Brazil 1975; Grimes 1975: 280ff.; Coulthard 1977. 130ff.). Such stress
serves to draw attention, and hence to preclude anticipated misunderstandings
(Grimes 1975: 282). A rising intonation curve can indicate a lack of belief
(Coulthard 1977: 132). Salience also applies to the entities of the textual
world. The slaying of a dragon in a children’s story would be better noticed
than a description of the dragon (cf. Clark & Clark 1977: 238). Salience
also affects syntactic choices (Fillmore 1977: 75).
SCALES of VARIABLES can be influential too. Comparisons appear to be recalled
better than statements of equivalence (Clark & Card 1969). If a group of
objects differ along a scale, the one with the most extreme value serves as a
point of orientation in descriptive texts (Flores d’Arcais 1970). There is a
considerable literary tradition of text-worlds involving very small and very
large objects (Weinrich 1966b).
ORDERING of events and situations correlates with the order in which they are
expressed. In describing scenes, speakers were shown to move from the top
downward (DeSoto, London, & Handel 1965; Clark & Chase 1974). For event
sequences, narration moves from earlier to later (Clark & Clark 1968; E.
Clark 1971; Kintsch 1977a: 315). In describing apartments, people expressed
major rooms more often in subject positions of sentences; minor rooms emerged
more often in predicates (Linde & Labov 1975). Focus on either an agent or
an affected entity in a scene depicting an action has been found to correlate
with preferences for active versus passive sentence formats (Olson & Filby
DIFFERENTIATION among the components of a textual world determines the degree of
explicitness of descriptive references. The “basic” concepts apparently
follow a medium degree of specificity (Rosch, Simpson, & Miller 1976). If
there are many similar objects present, speakers use more modifiers in
mentioning them (Krauss & Weinheimer 1967; Olson 1970). Some researchers see
differentiation as a basic motive in the entire evolution of communicative
systems (e.g. Vygotskii 1962; Minsky 1977; cf. the overloaded notion of
“opposition” in Saussure 1916).
EMOTIONAL INVOLVEMENT of language users exerts controls on deciding what should
be expressed, and in what sequence. It has been suggested that entities having
the greatest degree of involvement for the speaker are preferentially placed
earlier in text production (cf. Osgood 1971), for instance, in the subject slot
of a sentence (cf. Ertel 1977). In return, other items outside the involvement
focus seem difficult to describe and express (cf. Erdelyi & Appelbaum 1973;
These findings are not yet fully reliable, since they were often obtained in
simplified situations. Doubtless, the correlations are less straightforward when
several factors apply at once, so that competition arises. Nonetheless, just as
we cannot successfully divorce language use from world knowledge (III.3.18), we
shall have to explore the relationships between the processes of producing or
understanding texts and those for utilizing apperceptive material in human
experience at large.
Even the fundamental question of how sounds or printed symbols are recognized
must be answered. Acoustic and visual input as raw material could hardly be
handled at the requisite speeds without extensive prior conditioning. Hearers
adapt to the characteristics of a particular voice (Ladefoged & Broadbent
1957). There appears to be a short-term sensory impression of sounds like an
echo of sorts which can be retained long enough to impose organization upon it
(cf. Neisser 1967; Crowder & Morton 1969; Darwin, Turvey, & Crowder
1972). A comparable ‘iconic’ impression is seemingly maintained for visual
input (Sperling 1960; Neisser 1967). Letters in words figure partly as images
and partly as confirmation of predicted patterns (Selfridge & Neisser 1960).
The letters that are contained in words are of course recognized better than
those which are not (Miller, Bruner, & Postman 1954). If a test word is
semantically related to an already identified one, its recognition is quicker
(Meyer, Schvaneveldt, & Ruddy 1974) — an effect that would also be
explainable as arising from spreading activation of concepts (III.3.24). Not
surprisingly, recognition is further aided for predictable words in sentences (Tuiving,
Mandler, & Baumal 1964). Increasing well-formedness of sentences makes their
recognition more resistant against noise disturbance (Miller & Isard 1963).
The interactions between text utilization and cognitive operations of all kinds
demand intensive research. I predict that the complexity of these issues may yet
be mastered to the extent that a limited number of efficient and very flexible
strategies may underlie a wide range of operations. It would be strange if there
should turn out to be a huge number of totally disparate and specialized
strategies working independently. The decisive argument in support of
interactive processing, as I have argued, is the NON- DETERMINACY of the
materials and configurations of textual communication if subdivided into levels
of tiny units and steps. As William S. Havens (1978: 2) puts it, cognitive
processing “must tolerate non-determinacy by exploiting context and allowing
multiple partial interpretations to be hypothesized and their confirmation
INFORMATIVITY WITHIN THE SENTENCE
The declarative sentence with its subject and predicate has traditionally been
regarded as a statement wherein “ speaker announces a topic and then says
something about it” (Hockett 1958: 301). However, this consideration was
downplayed in language models where sentences were treated as derived from
logical formulas. The sequential format of such formulas is inflexibly and
precisely fixed a priori by the construction of the type of logic being used.
One cannot arrange things in a special order just because they happen to be
expected or unexpected at any particular moment. To the extent that a logical
world is composed on discrete and atomistic principles (I.6.3), assertions could
influence each other only by certain rules, such as for ‘if - then’
conclusions. Assertions made in natural language, on the other hand, are often
built in a given way because what is already known can be compressed, while what
is not yet known or expected can be set into focus via special arrangements.
3.2 There are several options for treating informativity in logic-based linguistics. One can assign the labels of ‘topic” (already known) and “comment” (new) to fixed elements in a formula, e.g. Chomsky (1965: 221), who defines topic simply as ‘the leftmost NP immediately dominated by S in the surface structure’ and the comment as “the rest of the string.” Or, one can restructure the logical formulas themselves to obtain the desired correspondence between positioning and knownness (essentially the method of Sgall, Hajičová, & Benešová 1973). And finally, one can adopt the view that underlying logical formulas and the devices for indicating knownness or expectedness are mutually antagonistic, so that surface structure is misleading; such is the view of Robert P. Stockwell (1977: 168), when he writes:
after these focusing and compression devices have worked their destructive
way, some restitution must be made if only to give the hearer at
least a 50-50 chance of reconstructing the meaning of the sentence, the
underlying Logical Form. [all emphases added]
almost comical indignation at the perverse behavior of language users stands in
a venerable, stodgy tradition among logicians deploring the sloppiness of
Inspired by the work of Vilem Mathesius
(1924, 1928, 1929), a group of Czechoslovakian linguists have long been
concerned with “functional sentence perspective’: how sentence structures
can “function” in projecting a specific “perspective’ on the content
activated by particular elements (survey in Daneš [ed.] 1974; Jones 1977).
Their work was brought to the attention of western linguists in particular by
Halliday (1967a, 1967b, 1968) and Chafe (1970). There have been substantial
differences in the treatment of the issues, but the central distinction was
between “old’ or “given’ knowledge versus “new” or “focused”
knowledge.6. [6.1 Information is
defined as extent of unknownness, there could not strictly speaking be any
“old information,” but only “previous informing actions.” See VIll.1.8.]
In the multiplicity of terms and proposals (Chafe 1976 and Jones 1977 undertake
to sort them out), it has remained unclear precisely what phenomenon we are
the grammatical notions of “subject’ and “predicate” as structurally
defined positions for noun phrase and verb phrase, respectively;
the distinction between what has already been said or mentioned and what has
the totality of ‘presuppositions” entailed by an utterance;
the options for mapping concepts and relations onto sentence positions;
the rate of informativity as a sentence format is presented;
the staid notions of “psychological subject” as “the idea which appears
first in the consciousness of the speaker” and of ‘psychological
predicate” as whatever is added to that idea” (von der Gabelenz 1891, cited
in Gundel 1977: 19);
the means for signaling alternatives and contrasts;
the relevance of certain sentence formats as answers to specific questions;
the informativity of a textual element seen against the background of
probabilities and expectations.
I 0 the density of conceptual connectivity around some nodes in a text- world
model (c. g. ‘rocket’ as topic, cf. III.4.27).
The extent to which linguistic theories can or cannot deal with these phenomenon
varies according to the insistence upon a borderline between language and other
kinds of knowledge, and between a sentence and the contexts in which sentences
are utilized. A compromise has been drawn by many researchers who concern
themselves with PRESUPPOSITIONS (cf. Peöfi & Franck [eds.] 1974; Wilson
1975). Following the usual trends in linguistics, these presuppositions are
envisioned as sentences that could precede the sentence one wishes to analyze
(van Dijk 1972a: 73; Harweg 1974: 98). However, the ability to presuppose
something is more a matter of stored knowledge of the world than of an
enumeration of preceding sentences. So far, the conventional treatment of
presuppositions as sentences has not, in fact, been very successful. I see more
hope for a theory of the interaction between stored world knowledge and
text-presented knowledge (for some proposals in such a theory, cf. VII.3). At
the very least, we should investigate CO-TEXTS (textual environments, cf.
I.3.4.5) rather than sentences.
The need to take some notice of co-text was reflected in the popula “question
test” (cf, Daneš 1970; Sgall, Hajičová, & Benšová 1973). For
example, a statement such as this (Tampa Tribune, Oct. 8, 1978):
The Syrian command in Lebanon ordered a cease-fire Saturday.
a better answer to (51a) han to either (51b) or (51c):
What he Syrian command in Lebanon do?
Who ordered a cease-fire?
Which Syrian command ordered a cease-fire Saturday
difficulty here is that (50) would not normally be given as an answer to any of
(51a-c); the latter questions would — embarrassingly for stodgy grammarians — not be answered with
complete sentences at all, but rather like this:
Ordered a cease-fire Saturday.
The Syrian command in Lebanon.
The one in Lebanon.
further difficulty is that (50) could be an answer to questions that do not
suggest any detailed presuppositions about content, such as:
What’s new in the world? [to someone seen reading a newspaper]
If we start out from the questions rather than the answers, we still cannot
settle the matter. It is true that there are heavy constraints upon the
RELEVANCE (VII.2.8) of question-answer pairs, depending on context. If the
person giving the answer picks out some detail not in the questioner’s focus
of attention, the answer is irrelevant, e.g. in these exchanges:7 [7.
I italicize the elements I wish to point out within the samples.]
CLAUDIO: Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?
BENEDICK: I noted her not, but I look’d on her. (Much Ado
about Nothing, 1, i) 7
How you can sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this
horrible trouble, I can’t make out.
ALGERNON: Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The
butter would probably get on my cuffs. (The Importance of Being Earnest
[Wilde 1940: 4461)
realization of inappropriateness rests not on sentence structure, but on our
knowledge of purposes and motives in human interaction. The same can be said of
Labov’s (1970) example:
A: I feel hot today.
should be allowed to know for themselves if they are cold or hot. Yet this is
not always the case:
LADY CAROLINE: I think you had better come over here, John. It is more
SIR JOHN: I am quite comfortable, Caroline.
LADY CAROLINE: I think not, John. You had better sit beside me. (A
Woman of No Importance [Wilde 1940: 31 If.])
Caroline may not know if her husband is cold, but she does know that she wants
to watch over him at close range all the time.
Another technique for identifying topicl/comment formats is to construct
follow-up statements that might be fitting responses (“commentations”) to
the sample (R. Posner 1972). The witness’s response to (58.1) and (59. 1) is
precisely the same, yet it protests against different content (Posner 1973:
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Before the defendant emptied the safe, he shot down
WITNESS: That’s not true!
ATTORNEY: After the defendant shot down the watchman, he emptied the safe.
WITNESS: That’s not true!.
observes that the truth of the content expressed in the subordinate clauses is
neither asserted nor denied. He concludes that formatting thus signals a
GRADATION of RELEVANCE (here, relevant to the task of denial, cf. VII.2.8). The
informativity of more highly relevant material would be more readily noticed.
The issues raised here should perhaps be better treated within a model of
conversational interaction such as I outline in Chapter VIII. In general, the
mechanics of topic and comment seem to be based on the ways in which a
world-model from a previously produced text can be expanded into a jointly
developed DISCOURSE MODEL. The TOPIC is that portion of the on-going discourse
model to which the next speaker adds on material such that density of linkage
results (cf. III.4.27). In an exchange like this:
LEONATO: Don Pedro hath bestowed much honour on a young Florentine named
MESSENGER: Much deserved on his part. (Much Ado about Nothing, 1,i)
“comment” of the first utterance becomes the “topic” for the next-the
most neutral sort of topic/ comment flow (cf. Firbas 1966). The messenger’s
text picks upon a “reason-of” relation for connecting ‘deserve’ to
‘bestow’. World knowledge makes it unnecessary to specify the co-referent
for ‘his’(cf. V.4.1 1), there being only one person in the topic the
messenger would logically be commenting upon.
For efficient communication, it is sensible to present material already
established before making additions or modifications. It follows that the early
portion of a sentence would be preferentially used for mapping what is
previously known. In English, the subject slot betrays a preference for
containing old knowledge, but as pointed out by Firbas (I966), by no means
obligatorily. By the same token, new or focused knowedge would be strategically
well positioned in the predicate (cf. Chafe 1970: ch. 15). For
special focus, marked sentence structures can be employed. The “cleft”
sentence (Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, & Svartvik 1972: 95 1; Leech &
Svartvik 1975: I 80f.), in which a dummy ‘it’ and a form of
‘be’ are followed by a focused element and then a relative clause
whose content is known or expected, can exert focus on practically any material,
while the usual declarative sentence format is better for focusing the verb
phrase or a noun phrase after the verb. If focus were needed for attribute,
location, or time (e.g., because of possible confusion with alternatives), then
(61a), (61b), or (61c) respectively, could be used:
It was the Syrian command that ordered a cease-fire Saturday (not the Lebanese).
It was in Lebanon that the Syrian command ordered a cease-fire (not in Syria).
It was on Saturday that the Syrian command ordered a cease-fire (not on Friday).
terms of processing, the cleft sentence is effective because of the way it
distributes attention. The first part is a mere dummy subject and verb whose
sole function is to create a predicate slot where the intended material can have
maximal focus. In exchange, the rest of the material falls into a dependent
clause, which, as we saw from (58-59), tends to have reduced focus. Hence, the
formats of (61) would only be fitting if the material following ‘that’ in
each case were presumed already known and not in dispute.
Another focusing device is the so-called “pseudo-cleft” construction (Quirk
et al. 1972: 954f.). This one entails beginning with a relative pro-form of the
‘wh-’ sort, as in:
What the Syrian command did was order a cease-fire.
What the Syrian command ordered was a cease-fire.
opening can also contain a pro-form like ‘one’ or a very general expression
such as ‘thing’.
The one who ordered the cease-fire was the Syrian command.
The thing the Syrian command did was to order a cease-fire.
the cleft construction, the pseudo-cleft can be used when most of the material
is presumed known or expected. The pseudo-cleft withholds the focused element
until the very end of the sentence, creating particular suspense; the appearance
of the ‘wh-’ items even conveys a distant impression of a question being
posed and then answered. Notice that the arrangement of the pseudo-cleft
construction renders it useful if some context is to be supplied. For instance,
following a lecture at the University of Florida, this utterance was heard:
What bothered me was how you used that first example.
statement uses the opening stretch to pick out certain content from a large
framework and to establish that the speaker wishes to protest. The cleft
It was your use of the first example that bothered me.
work better if some indication of protest had already been given.
The volume and variety of potential expectations sometimes make it expedient to
deny things that might be assumed. REPUDIATION — the explicit rejection of
stated or implied content (cf. Halliday & Hasan 1976) — is available to
handle such cases. In the remark cited below, the follow-up sentence suggests a
repudiation of ‘family’ via a construction that looks like a cleft with the
relative clause left unexpressed:
I was in hopes he would have married Lady Kelso. But I believe he said her
family was too large. Or was it her feet? (A Woman of No Importance
[Wilde 1940: 310])
deictic (i.e. pointing) expression like ‘that’ can be used to indicate what
content is repudiated (MAD Magazine, Jan. 1979, 42):
Suddenly a strange metamorphosis took place.
Well, not that strange. After all, I could’ve changed into Wonder
speaker can preface his or her remarks with a repudiation of conclusions that a
hearer might draw:
Lady Bracknell, I hate to seem inquisitive, but would you kindly inform
me who I am?
I am known for the gentleness of my disposition, and the extraordinary
sweetness of my nature, but I warn you, Miss Cardew, you may go too far. (both
from The Importance of Being Earnest [Wilde 1940: 456 and 444])
uses might be called FORWARD repudiation, as opposed to the BACKWARD repudiation
in (66) and (67). We could also have OUTWARD repudiation, if people want to deny
material that is not part of the discourse model, but is probably assumed, as in
the common American saying:
It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing!
especially when (as usual) it is the money that annoys the speaker. Many
of our examples show negation, which is by and large employed for repudiation in
natural communication (cf. IV.1.25), whatever its uses in formal logic.
The relationships between degrees of informativity and sentence structure appear
from these examples to be highly sensitive to context. “Functional sentence
perspective” might very well be termed “functional text perspective” as a
control upon the formatting of sentences along with many other factors (cf.
Dressler 1974a; Jones 1977; Palková & Palek 1978). We need not expect every
sentence to have its own “topic” as distinct from a “comment” — unless
we decide to define these notions in terms of sentence positions to begin with
(e.g. Chomsky 1965; Halliday 1967a); in that case, we are no longer dealing with
informativity. At most, we could explore “local topics” and “global
topics” (cf. Grimes 1975: 103), without explicit commitment to sentence-length
fragments (cf. VIII.I.9).
If spreading activation applies to sequences of utterances, very little of what
people say is likely to be truly ‘new.’ Francis Bacon (1869 edition: 268f.)
even denies that we can invent anything new when we speak:
invention of speech or argument is not properly an invention: for to invent is
to discover that we know not, and not to recover or resummon that which we
already know; and the use of this invention is no other but out of the knowledge
whereof our mind is already possessed, to draw forth or call before us that
which may be pertinent to the purpose which we take into our consideration.
might not be too fanciful to see in Bacon’s sixteenth-century outlook an
anticipation of the modem theory of problem-solving. The elements of knowledge
are considered already present in the mind, and the task is to decide how to
connect them together to suit a plan and a topic. As textual communication
proceeds, more and more material becomes active, and much of it may not be
“pertinent.” The task of communicating is then not to fill other people’s
minds with content, but to instruct them how to limit and select among the
content they already have in their minds. That task is aided by the surface
formats of sentences that signal focus vs. background (cf. “figure and
ground” in IV.2.5). There ought to be mapping preferences here also (cf.
III.4.16) between the surface and the underlying organization. The greater ease
of the cleft construction for focusing modifiers and nouns makes it more
suitable for drawing attention to objects, attributes, times, locations, and the
like, as in (61a-61c); the pseudo-cleft construction handles verb and verb
phrases better, and so is more expedient for drawing attention to actions and
events, as in (62a), (62b), (63b), and (64) (cf. Quirk et al. 1972: 95Iff.). But
such preferences can be circumvented if need be, for instance, by mapping an
event or action onto a noun, as in (65).
The construction of sentences must presumably have some relationship to the
relative PROBABILITIES within a context. The notion of “communicative
dynamism” advanced by Firbas (1971) is one of the few reflections of that
factor in sentence linguistics. Third-order informativity of occurrences like
discrepancies or discontinuities (IV.1.12) would correspond to the highest
“communicative dynamism.” For normal occurrences in languages with fairly
free word sequencing, the progression of a sentence should reflect much of this
scale (Sgall et al. 1973: 237). In English, however, constraints on sequencing
are forthcoming from many other factors, the more so as there are few
inflections within the individual words to signal grammatical dependencies
(contrasted with, say, Czech).
The conclusion is that we will not clarify these matters by working from inside
the sentence as a bounded unit. In doing that, we would be taking as given
something we ought to explain: how people decide how much knowledge forms a unit
and how much to load onto a surface format (cf. II. 1. 12). Question-answer
pairs, or statement-commentary sequences, are composed of utterances whose
nature is fully textual and only partly sentential. As Jerry Morgan (1975: 434)
notes, topics are not noun phrases in sentences, but items of knowledge used by
If we move to deeper levels than sentences, we may eventually hit upon the
UNIVERSALS of language after all, though not much like the ones linguists
usually look for (cf. Greenberg [ed.] 1963). Instead, they may be along these
lines (cf. the list of skills in IX.1.4):
capacities for INFERRING the problem-solving and planning activities of other
3.17.4 capacities for GENERATING, TESTING, and REVISING
HYPOTHESES about current input and its relevance to larger contexts;
processing EASE for expected or probable output and input;
processing DEPTH for non-expected or improbable output and input;
processing LIMITATIONS regarding COMPLEXITY (cf. VIII.2. 1 5);
capacities for REDUCING COMPLEXITY;
capacities for selective FOCUS of ATTENTION;
capacities for maintaining CONTINUITY of EXPERIENCE.
As already suggested in 1.5.6, 1 believe that INTELLIGENCE arises from the
independence of these capacities from the details of using them in specific
instances. The most powerful and flexible application of these capacities will
thus lead to the highest intelligence. It follows that research on textual
communication may reach far beyond establishing the inter- disciplinary nature
of a science of texts; there will be significant implications for the
development of human intelligence at large (cf. IX. 1.5).
A NEWSPAPER ARTICLE
The task of the journalist is an intriguing one: to find an interesting and
informative format for presenting content which may range from events affecting
the world situation all the way down to the most trivial and irrelevant
episodes. Accordingly, journalistic texts ought to show highly developed
techniques for controlling the focus of attention and upholding interest and
effectiveness. The following sample demonstrates, the techniques involved (Gainesville
Sun, Oct. 8, 1978):
It was three years ago when Dr. Tony Pfeiffer first met Larry. (71.2.1)
Larry, a native of Sierra Leone, Africa, was an adolescent big for his
age. (71.2.2) He didn't know how to run. (71.2.3) He couldn't bear to be
touched. (71.2.4) He opened and closed his hands and rocked back and forth in
the characteristic fashion of a psychotic. (71.3. 1) Dr. Pfeiffer is an
anthropologist. (71.3.2) Larry is a chimpanzee driven more or less crazy by
years of confinement in dark, antiseptic cages of medical laboratories.
article concludes by noting that experimentation has placed chimpanzees on the
list of endangered species, so that Dr. Pfeiffer was given funds to rehabilitate
these animals on a small island in Florida.
The mere appearance of the text on the page is revealing. The short paragraphs
allow reading with a short span of active storage. The content of the first and
second paragraphs is so closely related that no division is actually necessary.
Yet the division elicits expectations of newness and informativity that accord
well with other tendencies in the same text.
The text begins with a cleft construction (cf. IV.3.10), although a non- cleft
version could contain the same material:
Dr. Pfeiffer first met Tony three years ago.
does not create comparable focus on time. Actually, this time designation is not
important knowledge. But it launches the reader into the article with increased
attention and serves the writer’s plan of withholding more crucial knowledge
for strategic motives.
Like many text beginnings, (71.1) has no given knowledge as its background. It
announces as new both ‘three years ago’ and ‘first met Larry’ in the two
predicate slots. The second piece of knowledge becomes topical for the entire
following paragraph (71.2).8 [8. The positioning of this
knowledge in the cleft construction suggests it should have been previously
mentioned— another overturning of conventional usage to draw the reader into
the text-world.] Its sentence subjects are all co-referent with Larry, and no
confusion of the pronoun ‘he’ is likely, since the TOPIC acts as a control
center to attract otherwise undecidable material (cf. III.4.27). A pattern is
established in these sentences, especially in the PARALLELISM between (71.2.2)
and (71.2.3). The effectiveness of grammatical parallelism lies in freeing
attention away from parsing surface structures, so that conceptual-relational
content can receive greater concentration. The cognitive principle is the
contrast of changing input being more intensively processed than unchanging
(IV.2.3.4). The concluding sentence (71.2.4) breaks the pattern with a junctive
predicate whose extended second constituent leads up to the focused final
element ‘psychotic’. An arrangement which ran like this:
In the characteristic fashion of a psychotic, Larry opened and closed his hands
draw much less attention to that same element.
We see that the entire second paragraph is built according to the preference
strategy of placing established knowledge early in each sentence format
(grammatical subject) and leading up to new material toward the sentence
conclusion. In each case, the new material is most specific and crucial at the
very end: ‘big for his age’ (71.2.1); ‘run’ (71.2.2), ‘touched’
(71.2.3), and ‘psychotic’ (71.2.4). The sentence formatting of the third
paragraph follows the same pattern: subjects are again expressions for
previously activated conceptual entities, while the predicates provide
new characterizations (assignment of instances to classes). Such similarities of
structuring could be utilized via TEXT-INTERNAL PATTERN- MATCHING (cf. V.7.1;
Superposed on these recurrent sequencing techniques is a calculated activating
and subsequent overturning of reader expectations on the conceptual level. The
proper names in the opening sentence (71.1) are revealing. ‘Dr. Pfeiffer’
will be taken as a member of the class of ‘doctors’ and via spreading
activation, ‘Larry’ as a member of the class of ‘patients’. This subtle
class assignment encourages putting Larry into the superclass of ‘human
beings’ at the same time. That assignment can be upheld throughout the second
paragraph with terms like ‘native’, ‘adolescent’, ‘hands’, and
‘psychotic’ that all apply preferentially to humans, not animals. (It would
be easy to eliminate this ambiguity with expressions like ‘paws’ rather than
‘hands’, or ‘imported from’ rather than ‘a native of. Larry’s actual
‘age’, if given, could also show non-human status, since the chimpanzee
matures much more rapidly than the human.) Following this preparation, some
occurrences of the third paragraph convey third-order informativity that is
easily subjected to backward downgrading. The reader will regress and discover
that the hypothesis ‘Larry-instance of-human beings’ was founded on typical
but not determinate concepts and relations.
The flow of informativity inside the second paragraph is itself noteworthy.
After learning that Larry ‘was an adolescent big for his age’, the reader
does not expect to find that Larry still doesn’t ‘know how to run’ —
hence that ‘meeting’ a doctor would have the “reason-of” Larry’s being
abnormal (backward plus outward downgrading). The hypothesized “state-of”
‘abnormal’ is carried forward and strengthened by the content underlying the
next sentence, whose surface structure is moreover parallel — a mapping of
expectedness on two levels. In the final sentence (71.2.4), the actions as
motions of opening and closing the hands and rocking back and forth, in
themselves not necessarily ominous, are brought into line with the
‘abnormal’ hypothesis when the key concept ‘psychotic’ arrives to
subsume what has been communicated so far. We have an instantiation of a FRAME
of knowledge (see Chapter VI) which could be labelled ‘actions and states of
the psychotic’. Via spreading activation, Dr. Pfeiffer is assigned via
“specification” to the class ‘psychotherapist’ rather than ‘doctor’.
4.8 It is clear how the material of the second paragraph is so arranged and presented that the material of the third one bits the reader quite unprepared. I tested the effects on a group of 20 University of Florida undergraduates. Using a technique developed especially by Rumelhart (1978), I interrupted their reading at various points and asked them to describe how they envisioned Larry and Dr. Pfeiffer. All 20 said after the first one-sentence paragraph that they were thinking of a doctor and patient. The first-name designation led 14 to assume that Larry was substantially younger than the doctor. The latter assumption was of course strengthened by the appearance of ‘adolescent’ in (71.2.1). After (71.2.2), all 20 assumed that Larry was an abnormal youngster, and that Pfeiffer was called in to treat him for that reason. This view remained stable for the rest of the second paragraph.
After reading (71.3.1), the students became disoriented, wondering why an
anthropologist would be doing what seemed to be the work of a psychotherapist.
When pressed for an explanation, I reasoned that an anthropologist might have
discovered a new method of treating mental disorders, and that this discovery
would be the point of the article; five more said that in a remote part of the
world like Sierra Leone, and anthropologist might be doing the work of other
specialists; and the rest ventured no opinion. When the final sentence (71.3.2)
of this excerpt was read, all 20 subjects said they had been fooled, and several
had trouble believing that they hadn’t actually read the material they had
supposed. Four mentioned that the ‘anthropologist’ made better sense then.
One said she ‘had been kinda wondering about that ‘anthropologist’ but
‘didn’t worry too much about it at the time.
The comprehension process had clearly been guided by inferences based on what is
TYPICAL, e.g. that ‘hands’ are more typical of humans than animals. The
writer has carefully avoided stating DETERMINATE material that would have
precluded the ambiguity. The author has another goal besides the usual
journalistic one of making presentations interesting and surprising. By forcing
the readers to confuse humans and chimpanzees, the author leads us to a dramatic
realization of how similar these two classes are. In that perspective, the
motivation for rehabilitating animals driven insane by humans seems much
greater. This technique of introducing disturbances into communication and yet
providing strong motivation for them can contribute much to intensifying
writer-reader interaction (cf. Beaugrande 1979c; Kintsch 1979a), and thus to
impelling the reader to accept the writer’s outlook. In extreme cases, the
reader must adopt that outlook just to process the text at all.
For samples such as our article, it is necessary to envision a text-world model
undergoing REVISION during the construction processes. We would have a fairly
consistent model for the knowledge spaces underlying the first and second
paragraphs, as shown in Figure 20. I include the
material (in square brackets) that subsequently proves to be erroneous: the
classes ‘psychotherapist’ and ‘human.’ On encountering the third
paragraph, this model space undergoes a “clash” (cf. Fahlman 1977: 33). The
inferred nodes must be tossed out to make room for the explicitly activated
‘anthropologist’ and ‘chimpanzee’ nodes. The operations involved are
actually rather small, yielding a configuration such as shown in Figure 21.
was observed in the case of sequencing in II.2.34, the network modeling is quite
suitable for changes due to subsequent discoveries (cf. Burton 1976: 44f.). In a
model where concepts have to be derived from a branching hierarchy of features
(e.g. Katz & Fodor 1963), extensive rearrangement would be demanded on
finding that the most general class concept ‘human’ had been mistakenly
utilized. Networks are pledged to connectivity only, and context-dependent
revisions can thus be more economically represented.
This demonstration text points up the eminent role of text-activated
expectations for processing (cf. IV. 1.23.4). EFFICIENCY is upheld by a DESIGN
presenting old knowledge before new in short stretches, and surface structuring
is analogous from stretch to stretch. A carefully planned-out mapping of options
among levels controls the flow of informativity, such that this efficiency can
be reconciled with the EFFECTIVENESS of sudden, non- expected occurrences at
strategic points. This design is effective in the sense of I.4.14 in furthering
the text producer’s plan toward a goal (empathy with chimpanzees and a concern
for their fate). The design is APPROPRIATE because it is cohesive, coherent, and
plan-oriented in precisely the mode established for communication via newspaper
reporting. Hence, the three criteria advocated for the evaluation of structural
design (I.4.14) all assign a favorable rating to our text.
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