Preliminary Discussion Forum for the 3rd MIC Sorbonne workshop (Paris, Nov. 15-16, 2012)

New Standards for Language Studies
Nouveaux Standards pour les Sciences du Langage

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#1 06/04/12 22:12

Wlodarczyk H

MIC Meta-Informative Centering Theory

At the beginning of the 21st century, the study of communication in human languages still remains under the influence of Information Structure theories (Mathesius 1937, Lambrecht 1998 etc.) which elaborate on the concepts of “theme”, “rheme”, and “communicative perspective”. The Meta-Informative Centering (MIC) theory is an alternative framework based on the concepts of “meta-information”, “meta-informative status" and “centre of attention” (Wlodarczyk A. & H., 2006a, b, 2008). In the MIC-theoretical approach, the meta-informative status of utterances is not simply an added value with respect to its syntactic and semantic dimensions but it underlies the syntactic phenomena (word order, diathesis, ellipsis etc.), focuses on valence schemata and points to the core semantic and pragmatic structures which are only partially expressed by utterances. Indeed, the information proper, understood as mere semantic content is on the one hand never expressed totally,  but on the other hand  is enriched by meta-informative "pointers" (intonation, word order etc.) which rely on focusing attention. Therefore, according to the MIC theory it is impossible to build utterances that are not driven by attentional processes. Thus, utterances are modelled following the ready to use schemata which are chosen by the speaker in order to communicate  'old' or 'new' information or, in other words, to assign an 'old' or 'new' meta-informative status to it.

     Although the importance of attention for cognitive functions of the brain has also been emphasised  by neuropsychologists (most recently Cowan N., 2008), it is Oakley T. (2009), a cognitive linguist, who has directly linked attention to semantics. In the MIC theory, however, attention is a true component of pragmatics. Consequently, in the MIC approach, since the semantic content of linguistic messages is not directly accessible, the interpretation of the truth value of utterances needs to be postponed (unlike in Classical Logic) and what is solved solely concerns the meta-informative status of communicated chunks of information. In other words, in linguistic communication, truth validation of an utterance takes place only after the meta-informative old or new status has been assigned using such means of expression as intonation, word order, particles, verbal modality and aspect, nominal determination etc.

Last edited by Wlodarczyk H (03/07/12 12:37)


#2 03/10/12 17:32

Stachowiak F

Re: MIC Meta-Informative Centering Theory

Just a question to the following remarks in your paper "SUBJECT in the Meta-Informative Centering Theory" by André & Hélène WLODARCZYK

                                  Situation Types                           Situation Occurrences
                                  Generic > General                     Specific > Particular
                                  Potential > Habitual                 Actual > Occasional

                Table 2. Common knowledge-based informative motivation of aboutness

     The distinction semantic situation type vs. semantic situation occurrence can be compared to what is known as continuant and fluent entities in philosophical ontology, or persistent and transient information in information science. Needless to say that the generic/specific distinction recalls the Universal and Existential logical quantifiers.

     Your differentiation between Situation Types and Situation Occurrences comes close to the distinction between Semantic Memory and Episodic Memory. I personally think that a “type” can become an entry in your brain, i.e. in long term memory either if it is learnt as a fact ( thus I can learn that the Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world without having any personal experience with it, much of our knowledge is learnt like this) or if it results  as a kind of script from instances of personal experience, i.e. from the collection of episodes in episodic memory and my evaluation of these events (we always judge events as to their efficiency, emotional effects, social relevance etc.).
What linguists call the semantics of a sentence or a text derives from the linguistic signs and (as you say)  from the pragmatics. In neuropsychology unfortunately no distinction is made between linguistic meaning and knowledge of generic facts when psychologists speak of Semantic Memory. However, we know as linguists that the semantic processing of linguistic signs requires  more than what psychologists call Semantic Memory. It requires the activity of our language system, in particular parts of the temporal lobe around Wernicke´s centre and the application of certain (semantic) verbal processing strategies and mechanisms. Nevertheless, the distinction between Semantic and Episodic memory seems to be useful. It is part of what you call the ontology to which language refers.

      The question for me is: how is episodic memory structured and does this structure offer itself to retrieve (in speaking or writing) easily the CAs which make up part of the metainformative structure of language? I hope I have expressed this question correctly. One possible structural aspect of episodic memory could be given in the way how ethnographic analysis is performed. See in the link: and the attached paper with its 18 factors. Such factors might be organizational principles of episodic memory. The question is: which of these factors lend themselves easily to identify the CAs. I let some students write a short report on their first day at this university. Have not evaluated it yet, but it might turn out that one can recognize in such report about personal events (stored in episodic memory) certain structural elements that are good candidates for CAs ( it might well be that everything could become a Ca, but I can imagine that the activities are the core for that). I found some related aspects in a book edited by Nagy in an article by Ando and attach a few pages from that book as pdf from Nagy. Maybe you know it anyway, as the series metalinguistica is edited by Kertesz. In the article Ando refers to Labov´s model of narrative analysis.

     Your MIC theory is much more precise. I try to relate the notions of it to the reality of processes in the brain. What we know for sure is that episodic memory can be disturbed (as in Alzheimer etc.) whereas Semantic Memory is intact. Brain imaging shows different localizations or neuronal networks for the two. The hippocampus is essential to form new entries in episodic memory. The most famous case is the case of HM described in the fifties, when the distinction between episodic and semantic memory was not yet made. Tulving came up with the notion of episodic memory.

     What kind of information is kept in episodic memory and what its relation is to semantic memory is, however,  still a scientific riddle. Thus when I say that the 18 factors described in the article above SocSettings maybe be organizing principles it is still speculation. In any case, I saw such an interesting case: a teacher who had lost all his episodic memory due to a thalamus lesion after heart arrest at the age of 42, whereas his semantic memory was largely intact (it was also disturbed). I found a conjecture in the literature that much of semantic memory as used in verbal expressions such as “A laundry dryer is used to dry wet clothes” or something like this is overlearned, used so frequently and over a long life span that it is not as susceptible to loss as episodic memory is. If we ask ourselves which kinds of discussions took place about which topics at the last Prehart meeting, we will certainly remember the lively ones but certainly not all of them. I remember the event and the hotel, but if I go back further and try to remember in which hotel I stayed for this or that conference I can´t remember. This information might have decayed as it was not really relevant for later events. But my knowledge probably increased as I learnt interesting new facts, and some of it is now part of my semantic memory although I am not able to pinpoint it.

     We had a young patient once who had been operated on a brain tumor or angioma. She was 15 years old. She made good progress in speech therapy and one could clearly observe that she had learnt or relearnt certain verbal abilities (maybe in naming things and constructing sentences – I have forgotten) during speech therapy. But she could not remember to have received therapy. Thus after leaving the therapy room the memory of this episode of her life was gone. If you asked her whether she had had speech therapy she simply could not answer, did not know. But if you then tested her on what she had learnt in that session you could clearly see that she had made progress and learnt things. This might be due to the fact that she was learning verbal procedures. And procedural knowledge is often retained while episodic memory is gone. The teacher above knew exactly the rules of soccer and like to see matches. But he had completely lost any knowledge about any important matches like the world championship finals or national championships or even the names of players, they were all gone. But the rules, like what is a corner etc., were still there.

Last edited by Stachowiak F (03/10/12 17:40)


#3 05/10/12 19:50

Stachowiak F

Re: MIC Meta-Informative Centering Theory

I forgot to make one remark on Semantic Memory. As it is knowledge of facts, it should contain mostly “old” information. Of course one can draw the attention to old information, to shed new light on it (Elisabeth II is “still” the Queen of the United Kingdom”) or give it a particular connotation etc. But generally speaking I ask myself whether it would be plausible to assume that semantic memory is the fundus for old information, whereas episodic memory is the fundus for new information. New information is usually processed by the hippocampus before it is passed on into long term memory.


#4 16/10/12 16:49

Stachowiak F

Re: MIC Meta-Informative Centering Theory

This article deals with familiarity and new/old information and their relationship to semantic memory. The experiments are not too close to language processing but nevertheless show that at certain processing stages measured in msec these factors play a role.
Structured semantic (therefore probably rather 'old') information can be recollected or processed more easily. No wonder to put this at the beginning of a sentence, which means that the continuant processing is not hampered by too much difficulty from what was said in the start. How this relates to the CAs and Attention-driven Phrases is probably part of your theory. (...)

In any case, we are here in a field where years of new research and experiments are possible.


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