Accessibility of Referents in Discourse Semantics

Sai Qian 1
1 SEMAGRAMME - Semantic Analysis of Natural Language
Inria Nancy - Grand Est, LORIA - NLPKD - Department of Natural Language Processing & Knowledge Discovery
Abstract : Anaphora is a ubiquitous linguistic phenomenon whereby the interpretation of one ex- pression, called the anaphor, depends on that of another, called the antecedent. This thesis studies the semantics of one particular sort of anaphora: pronominal anaphora, where both anaphor and antecedent are singular noun phrases. More specifically, the thesis deals with the accessibility of discourse referents using a formal system of dynamic semantics. Our central concerns are the factors which determine the “antecedent poten- tial” of a noun phrase, namely, the conditions under which a noun phrase may act as antecedent of a particular anaphoric expression. Due to the pioneering work of Tarski and Montague in the last century, it has been shown that natural language, in particular English, can be interpreted as a formal lan- guage. However, Montague Grammar (MG) is designed to account for the semantics of isolated sentences. But we are also interested in discourse which is more than a random collection of unrelated sentences. MG is empirically problematic for a series of discourse phenomena, such as the inter-sentential anaphora and the donkey anaphora. Since the 1980s, a number of semantic theories have been established for the seman- tics of discourses, e.g., Discourse Representation Theory (DRT), File Change Semantics (FCS), and Dynamic Predicate Logic (DPL). These theories are subsumed under dynamic semantics because they propose a novel point of view: the meaning of an expression is identified with its potential to change the context, rather than its truth conditions (as in MG). However, the classical dynamic theories are not completely satisfactory. For instance, DRT relies on an indispensable level of representational structure, hence the Fregean and Montagovian tradition of compositionality is not restored. As for DPL, although its syntax is the one of standard predicate logic, which is a non-classical seman- tics. Further more, both DRT and DPL suffer from the so-called destructive assignment problem. More recently, De Groote proposes another dynamic framework called Type Theoretic Dynamic Logic (TTDL), which lays the theoretical foundation of this thesis. This frame- work follows the Montagovian tradition and is completely compositional. It only makes use of well-established mathematical and logical tools, such as λ-calculus and theory of types. In TTDL, the notion of left and right context are introduced in order to achieve dynamics: the left context consists of a list of accessible variables for future reference, and the right context is its continuation. The lift-span of a discourse referent in TTDL is boiled down to its existence in the left context. Despite the valuable insights yielded by the classical theories of discourse semantics, there is a wide range of exceptional phenomena that they fail to address, e.g., anaphora under double negation and modality. Concentrating on these two exceptions, this thesis provides a corresponding adaptation of TTDL for each case. Briefly speaking, for the problem of double negation, we propose to encapsulate both the affirmative representation and the negative representation of an expression in its semantics. Negation is treated as an operation which switches the positions of the two representations. Thus a second negation will switch the positions again as if no negation had ever occurred. In this way, a double negation can be eliminated and the desired referent accessibility is modeled. As for anaphora under modality, we propose to enrich the TTDL left context with the notion of modal base, which is proposed by Kratzer. The possible world model is integrated in the semantic representation as well. Moreover, we show how the different adaptations could work in an unified framework.
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Sai Qian. Accessibility of Referents in Discourse Semantics. Computation and Language [cs.CL]. Université de Lorraine, 2014. English. ⟨NNT : 2014LORR0138⟩. ⟨tel-01750993v2⟩

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