Issues in the meaning-text theory

Selected lexical and grammatical issues in the meaning-text theory: In honour of Igor Mel’čuk. Ed. by Leo Wanner. (Studies in language companion series 84.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2007. Pp. xviii, 380. ISBN 9789027230942. $188 (Hb).

Reviewed by Sandra Becker, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Because of his pioneering use of meaning-text theory (MTT) for research on machine translation, this volume is in honor of Igor Mel’čuk. Although some of the papers address lexical issues, others discuss the nature of the units in a linguistic model, the linguistic structures themselves, and how these structures are processed.

Following a brief introduction by Leo Wanner, David Beck asks ‘What to do with the ideophones? A problem in lexical classification from Upper Necaxa Totonac’. Beck identifies a set of properties that distinguish ideophones from other words in the lexicon. He argues that in Upper Necaxa Totonac, ideophones resist classification as adverbs because they seem to reveal more complex linguistic aspects. In ‘Lexical function standardness’, Alain Polguère contrasts standard and nonstandard lexical functions and examines fuzzy aspects of lexical functions.

Several contributors discuss collocations—a complex epiphenomenon in any language. Margarita Alonso Ramos breaks new ground on the distribution of the syntactic actants in ‘Towards the synthesis of support verb constructions’. In ‘Motivation of lexical association in collocations: The case of intensifiers for “nouns of joy”’, Francis Grossmann and Agnès Tutin investigate the correlation between the semantics of a lexeme and the collocations in which the lexeme occurs. Using collocational associations in French, they demonstrate that ‘the collocability between pairs of words is also partially predictable’ (140). Methodological issues are raised by Marie-Claude L’Homme in ‘Using explanatory and combinatorial lexicology to describe terms’. Her substantial contribution may lead to a significant change in how researchers approach the description of specialized terms. In ‘Lexical functions in actual NLP-applications’, Jury D. Apresjan, Igor M. Boguslavsky, Leonid L. Iomdin, and Leonid L. Tsinman use MTT devices of sentence representation and the notion of lexical function to present a promising computer-aided learning system. Leo Wanner and Bernd Bohnet explore patterns for the automatic classification of collocations in ‘Automatic recognition of lexical function instances’.

The final papers summarize the results of several experiments on paraphrasing. In ‘Semantic equivalence rules in MT-paraphrasing’, Jasmina Milićević tackles questions raised by the production of paraphrases or (quasi-)synonymous sentences. She proposes new rules that ‘would allow for a better division of labor between semantic and deep-syntactic equivalences rules, leaving to syntax what can reasonably be treated in syntax and using semantics for the rest’ (292). Kim Gerdes and Sylvain Kahane’s ‘Phrasing it differently’ uses German grammar to present an interface between syntactic structures and topological phrase structures. Finally, Alexis Nasr proposes ‘A generative approach to parsing in the framework of the meaning–text theory’.

This volume provides a clear and elegant collection of investigations. Each paper provides the ground for new reflections, critical debates, and investigations in the field. Together, the contributors broaden and sharpen the understanding of the nature of meaning.