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Review of  Thematics

Reviewer: Dominic Forest
Book Title: Thematics
Book Author: Max Louwerse Willie van Peer
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 14.2171

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Date: Fri, 15 Aug 2003 12:26:34 -0400
From: Dominic Forest
Subject: Thematics: Interdisciplinary Studies

Louwerse, Max and Willie van Peer (2002) Thematics: Interdisciplinary
Studies, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Converging Evidence in
Language and Communication Research 3.

Dominic Forest, Université du Québec à Montréal


The aim of the book "Thematics: Interdisciplinary Studies" is to define,
from an interdisciplinary point of view, the concept of theme. The book
is composed of 22 essays (from various disciplines such as literature,
linguistics, psychology and cognitive sciences) grouped into two main
parts (each part is preceded by a useful, clear and concise introduction).

The first part, entitled "Structure and Processing", focuses on language
and linguistic aspects of thematic structures and processes. This first
part is divided into three sections.

The section "Theoretical approaches" discusses the concept of theme.
Graesser, Pomeroy and Craig (chapter 1) give an overview of
psychological and computational researches on theme comprehension. The
goal of their paper is to "investigate psychological theories that
explain how humans comprehend text" (p. 19). This goal can be achieved
in part by a better comprehension of how the reader identifies and
understands themes in a text. Zwaan, Radvansky and Written (chapter 2)
present a detailed examination of the situation models within the
framework of the Event-Indexing Model, focusing on their applications to
language comprehension. The authors argue that situation models are an
interesting strating point to explain how the readers extract themes
from stories, but those models seem not to be necessary and sufficient
for the abstraction of theme-motifs. Finally, Van Oostendorp, Otero and
Campanario (chapter 3) present an interesting explanation of how the
situation-models update during text processing.

The section "Experimental and corpus linguistic approaches" concerns the
relation between textual structures and theme emergence. The problem is
to identify the potential relation between specific linguistic
expressions and the emergence of themes in the reader's mind. From this
point of view, Shen (chapter 4) discusses the relation between the
concept of point structure theory of stories (where the point is defined
as the raison d'être of the story) and the affective state of the
reader. Similarly, Emmott (chapter 5) discusses the importance of
linguistic style in relation to thematic meaning in the context of
cohesive chains of referring expressions. Gernsbacher and Robertson
(chapter 6) defend the idea that the definite article "the" constitutes
a structural marker of thematic cohesion, a cue to map thematic
information. In the last chapter of this section, Kim (chapter 7)
demonstrates the interaction between Korean case markers and the
thematic structure of the discourse.

The section "Computational approaches" is dedicated to computer models
that, in various ways, process textual and linguistic elements to
retrieve themes in a text. Kintsch's (chapter 8) presents how the
knowledge used to understand a text can be presented in an algebraic
form. He presents a specific model of text comprehension (the
construction-integration (CI) theory). An important part of this paper
is dedicated to the presentation and discussion of the Latent Semantic
Analysis (LSA) and to the analysis of themes in terms of hierarchical
macrostructures. In chapter 9, Le presents an original point of view on
theme analysis based on the idea that units of text larger than the
sentence are composed of concepts and are therefore relevant to theme
analysis. Thus, she presents the grounds of thematic analysis and
organization based on discursive structures at the paragraph level. In
the last chapter of this section, Louwerse (chapter 10) presents and
evaluates a connectionist model of theme retrieval. The computer program
presented by Louwerse, called CoCon (Coherence Connectionist model), is
based on the concept of coherence in text. For Louwerse, the
referential, locational, causal and temporal coherence can help defining
what text is about, facilitating the retrieval of themes texts. The
evaluation of the model presented was done by comparing the results
obtained by the computer model and readers' summaries of the same text.
The results obtained showed the success of this approach in performing
relatively accurate summaries of texts and theme retrieval.

The second part, entitled "Content and Context", discusses the content
and context of thematic issues. This second section is also divided into
three sections: "Theoretical Approaches", "Interpretive Approaches" and
"Computational Approaches".

In the first section, "Theoretical Approaches", Sollors (chapter 11)
raises a few questions concerning the role of thematic approaches in
contemporary literary criticism. In the first part of his paper, the
author presents an overview of current perspective on theme analysis.
This clear and useful overview leads the author to discuss possibilities
regarding the problem of identifying themes in texts. In chapter 12,
Petterson gives an overview of recent studies in thematics. This
overview is developed through seven trends identified by the author.
These seven trends are: "Theme as unifying element", "focus on motif",
"focus on communicative and interpretive aspects", "theme as an
interrelation between text and world", "humanist thematic", "computer
content analysis" and "empirical thematics". Keeping these seven trends
in mind, the author concludes with a reflection on the future of
literary thematics. In the next chapter, Van Peer (chapter 13) gives
some relevant answers to the question of why there are themes in
literature. He argues that literary themes are to be considered
differently (and also operate differently) from themes in non-literary
texts. This distinction lies in the foregrounded nature of literary
themes. Also, literary themes are characterized by specific features
(their "meaning maximizing" potential and their emotional coloring, for
example) and their tendency toward intercultural and interperiodical
representation. Finally, he underlines the importance of an
interdisciplinary approach to the study of themes. In the last part of
this section, Roque (chapter 14) presents an explanation of thematics in
visual arts based on Panofsky's theory of visual meaning. His objective
is to demonstrate the importance of the artist's motives in order to
understand artisitic works.

The second section, "Interpretative approaches", is dedicated to
detailed analysis of specific themes from textual and cultural
perspectives. For instance, in her paper, Giora (chapter 15) explains
how some taboo themes in some cultures can only be exposed by means of
irony. Hjort (chapter 16) presents some important aspects of themes of
nation and argues that thematizations of nation usually imply elements
of self-deception, mythmaking and motivated irrationality. Daemmrich
(chapter 17) focuses on the theme of war in contemporary German
literature. He attempts to identify some of the textual elements by
which thematization of war is realized and the meaning of such a theme.
Finally, in the last chapter of this section, Wolf (chapter 18)
discusses the variance between the literary modes of presentation (often
characterized by its subjectivity and irrationality) and the
non-literary modes of presentation (often characterized by its
objectivity) of a theme. Tosupport his ideas, the author uses the theme
of "money" as example.

As Louwerse and van Peer point out in their introduction to part 2, one
important point about themes is that they "allow the grouping of
meanings into manageable chunks" and therefore text processing
technologies based on thematic analysis can be seen as a form of
"knowledge management". From this point of view, "Themes render the
multitude of information meaningful by streamlining individual pieces of
information into a meaningful whole which can then be processed more
efficiently and linked to ongoing cultural concerns" (p. 215). The last
section of this book, "Computational Approaches", is dedicated to this
topic of text processing techniques and their applications to thematic

In chapter 19, Hogenraad illustrates the potential of a text-mining
approach to identify themes (defined as groups or clusters of words) in
literary texts. Hogenraad also presents the results he obtained by using
the software PROTAN on Flaubert's "L'éducation sentimentale". Researches
using computer programs based on text-mining methods for theme
identification in textual corpus are upon the most promising one.
Similar recent work using text-mining techniques applied to thematic
analysis has also been done by Forest and Meunier (2000), Forest (2002)
and Forest, Meunier and Piron (2001). Martindale and West (chapter 20)
also defend the thesis that themes in texts can be identified by
clustering techniques. They describe a quantitative hermeneutical method
based on the Regressive Imagery Dictionary (used to categorize
documents) and using the COUNT computer program. In his chapter, Fortier
(chapter 21) presents how an analysis of lexical frequencies of texts
(identifying prototypes or rarity effects in word occurrences) can lead
to the identification of textual themes. Throughout the chapter,
examples from André Gide's "L'Immoraliste" are presented. In the last
chapter of the book (chapter 22), Meister focuses on the link between
psychological processes of theme identification and computational theme
discovery and analysis. Meister's aim is to find out whether or not the
emergence of themes in the mind of a reader can be identified by a
computational analysis of text.


"Thematics: Interdisciplinary Studies", edited by Max Louwerse and
Willie van Peer, is obviously an essential book for academics from
various disciplines concerned by thematics. The book is well balanced
between theoretical and practical aspects. It also demonstrates clearly
the importance of an interdisciplinary point of view to the study and
analysis of thematics. Furthermore, it presents a good overview of the
"classical" perspectives as well as a more recent computational
perspective to the problem of thematics. It allows the reader to
understand the importance and the complexity of the subject. Researchers
concerned by the computational approach to thematic analysis will find
in the section "Computational Approaches" very interesting methods of
analysis endorsed by relevant experiments.

On the other hand, some chapters of the book are very technical and deal
with very specific aspects of thematic analysis. Therefore, in our point
of view, these chapters can only be relevant to academics that are
already familiar with thematic analysis. To this respect, we would not
recommend this book as an introduction to this matter.

We also regret that this book does not mention Rastier's work on
thematic analysis. We think it would have been relevant to include in
this book a chapter presenting Rastier's work on thematic analysis
(Rastier, 2001; Rastier and Martin, 1995).

Nevertheless, we would definitely recommend this book to any researcher
concerned by thematics.


Forest, D. (2002). Lecture et analyse de textes philosophiques assistees
par ordinateur : application d'une approche classificatoire mathematique
a l'analyse thematique du Discours de la methode et des Meditations
metaphysiques de Descartes. Memoire de maitrise, Montreal, Universite du
Quebec a Montreal.

Forest, D., Meunier, J.-G. et Piron, S. (2001). From mathematical
classification to thematic analysis of philosophical texts. Actes du
colloque ACH/ALLC 2001, 13-16 juin 2001, New York University, New York,

Forest, D. et Meunier, J.-G. (2000). La classification mathematique des
textes : un outil d'assistance a la lecture et a l'analyse de textes
philosophiques. In Rajman, M. & Chappelier, J.-C. (eds.). Actes des 5es
Journees internationales d'Analyse statistique des Donnees Textuelles,
9-11 mars 2000, EPFL, Lausanne, Suisse. Volume 1, pages 325 à 329.

Rastier, F. (2001). Arts et sciences du texte. Paris : Presses
Universitaires de France.

Rastier, F. et Martin, E. (1995). L'analyse thematique des donnees
textuelles : l'exemple des sentiments. Paris : Didier Erudition.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER After completing a Master degree in philosophy on the application of computer technologies to thematical analysis of philosophical texts, Dominic Forest is now a doctorate candidate in the cognitive computer science program at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Since 1996, he is also a researcher at the Laboratoire d'ANalyse Cognitive de l'Information (LANCI). His research interests mainly concern computer-assisted reading and analysis of texts, analysis of textual data, text mining as well as the impacts and applications of computer technologies to knowledge management.