IRCS Technical Reports Series

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Technical Report

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University of Pennsylvania Institute for Research in Cognitive Science Technical Report No. IRCS-93-38.


Even though the relevance of non-truth conditional notions like ‘topic’ and ‘focus’ in sentence structure and interpretation has long been recognized, there is little agreement on the exact nature of these notions and their role in a model of linguistic competence. Following the information packaging approach (Chafe 1976, Prince 1986), this study argues that these notions are primitive elements in the informational component of language. This component, informatics, is responsible for the articulation of sentences qua information, where information is defined as that part of propositional content which constitutes a contribution of knowledge to the hearer's knowledge-store. Informational primitives combine into four possible distinct information packaging instructions, which direct hearers to retrieve the information of a sentence and enter it into their knowledge-store in a specific way.

After a discussion of previous approaches to the informational articulation of the sentence, a hierarchical articulation is proposed: sentences are divided into the focus, which is the only information of the sentence, and the ground, which specifies how that information fits in the hearer's knowledge-store. The ground is further divided into the link, which denotes an address in the hearer's knowledge-store under which s/he is instructed to enter the information, and the tail, which provides further directions on how the information must be entered under a given address.

Empirical support for this representation of information packaging comes especially from the surface encoding of instructions in Catalan, which is then contrasted with that of English. Using a multistratal syntactic theory, it is then proposed that information packaging is structurally and purely represented at the abstract level of IS, which acts as an interface with informatics. Finally, in order to further argue for informatics as an autonomous linguistic component, some proposals that attempt to include informational notions under logical semantics are reviewed and countered.

This study is an effort to gain insight into one subdomain of pragmatics by integrating it into the larger process of language understanding. This is done by giving otherwise elusive informational notions a specific role in the component responsible for the entry of information into the hearer's knowledge-store.



Date Posted: 19 September 2006