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Review of  A Network Theory of Reference

Reviewer: Anne Reboul
Book Title: A Network Theory of Reference
Book Author: Kiyoshi Ishikawa
Publisher: IULC Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Book Announcement: 10.657

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Ishikawa, Kiyoshi, (1998) A Network Theory of Reference, Indiana University
Linguistics Club Publications, Bloomington, 139 pages,

Reviewed by Anne Reboul, ISC-CNRS, France

Ishikawa's book is a revised version of his Ph.D. dissertation at the
University of Tokyo. It addresses the subject of reference and outlines a
variety of Situation Semantics (i.e. a non-model-theoretic semantics; see
Barwise & Perry 1983) which aims to account for Donnellan's distinction
between attributive and referential uses of NPs (see Donnellan 1966, 1968),
abandonning the view according to which this distinction amounts to the
distinction between general and singular propositions and renouncing the
strong realism of Situation Semantics in favour of an epistemic and
"cognitive" approach to reference.


In defiance of model-theoretic semantics which accounts for natural
language meaning in terms of links between utterances and external reality,
the aim of Ishikawa's monograph is to outline and defend an alternative
account in terms of change in a cognitive agent's information state. On
this view, reference amounts to the ability of an agent to link characters
through different frames of individuation.

1. Introduction

Model-theoretic semantics sees meaning as a bridge between language and
reality, reality being conceived in set-theoretic terms as individuals,
properties and relations between individuals and being expressed through a
mathematically formulated model. Semantics in this perspective is
essentially truth-conditional and everything which is not belongs to
pragmatics. This view of meaning strongly implies a link between language
use and real individuals in the world through reference seen as introducing
these individuals into the propositions expressed. According to Ishikawa,
however, this view of reference is flawed in as much as it has more to do
with ontology (a philosophical and metaphysical concern) than with
cognition, information states and the communicative potential of language
which he views as central to reference. He proposes to outline an
alternative, non model-theoretic approach to reference, centered on
Donnellan's distinction between referential and attributive uses of NPs,
which would also account, in a compositional way, for attitude reports.
Ishilawa then proceeds with the examination of different variations on
models, purporting to show that failure of this or that version of
model-semantics is not enough to justify discarding the very notion of a
model-theoretic approach to meaning. Rather one should show that the
division of labor between semantics and pragmatics is inefficient and that
model-theoretic interpretation is not relevant to natural language
semantics. Finally, he argues that model-theoretic interpretation is not
equivalent to meaning, resting his case on the interpretation of deictics,
ambiguous proper names and concluding that meaning is not so much content
as a way to reach content.

2. The Referential/Attributive Distinction

Ishikawa begins his discussion of the distinction by outlining the
(different) distinction between general or quantified propositions (no
individual in the proposition) and singular propositions (individual(s) in
the proposition), based on the Russell-Strawson discussion of definite
descriptions. He then describes Donnellan's distinction between attributive
and referential uses as a challenge to the descriptions of definite
descriptions of both Russell and Strawson, Russell's analysis failing to
account for the referential use, while Strawson's fails to account for the
attributive use. He notes that, though Donnellan is not entirely explicit
on whether his distinction is semantic or pragmatic in nature, there seems
to be a general agreement on equating the attributive use of definite
descriptions with general propositions, while the referential use would
correspond to singular propositions. Under these terms the
attributive/referential distinction would amount to the fact that a given
NP is used referentially if a) its descriptive content is not part of what
is asserted, b) it introduces a real individual in the proposition ; it is
used attributively otherwise. He then examines several attempts to derive
the distinction through either pragmatic means (a gricean approach in terms
of word meaning and speaker's meaning) or semantic means (a scopal approach
which, however, leads to the postulation of a covert operator or a
situation-semantics approach in terms of convergence or divergence between
the described situation and the resource situation). All of these however
do not detract from the description of the referential/attributive
distinction in terms of singular/general propositions.

3. Scenarios for Definite Descriptions

In this chapter, Ishikawa combines the description of Donnellan's
distinction in terms of general/singular propositions with Russell's
principle which is an epistemic requirement on singular propositions making
the knowledge of which individual the proposition is about necessary to its
understanding. His aim is to show through scenarios that this combination
does not yield a convincing analysis of the referential/attributive
distinction. To do this he describes four scenarios involving mainly the
investigation by Holmes and Watson of Smith's murder, complete with the
definite description "Smith's murderer", with revision of beliefs, etc. For
reason of space, I refer the reader to Ishikawa's text. From these
scenarios and their analysis, Ishikawa draws what he calls " lessons " :
first, knowing who does not imply a referential use ; second, hearer's
ignorance does not imply attributive use ; third, speaker's ignorance does
not imply attributive use. Other lessons concern tests of the distinction :
inclusion of " whoever it is " or of " must " do not imply attributive use.

4. Further Scenarios

Ishikawa proposes to reject the combination of the singular/general
propositions distinction with Russell's principle and to keep only the
singular/general distinction. He puts it to the test with further
scenarios, implying not only definite descriptions but proper names. This
leads him to the conclusion not only that the singular/general distinction
fails to account for the referential/attributive distinction, but also that
the direct reference account of proper names should be rejected in an
analysis of natural language meaning.

5. The network theory

Chapter 5, which occupies the main part of the book, is where Ishikawa
introduces and describes his own theory of reference, the Network Theory.
His point of departure is a divorce between a theory of linguistic meaning
(his choice) and a theory of linguistic meaning as linked to non-linguistic
factors (model-theoretic semantics). The main problem which he sees himself
as having to account for is the fact that a given NP can be understood in
different ways.
Ishikawa begins by outlining a few basic tenets of his theory, among which
the notion of an individual as a bundle of identifying properties in
different frames. Referring is thus not reference to an outside individual
but reference to an internal bundle of properties which are believed to be
properties of the same outside individual. His system is based on the
notions of information state (which he sees as roughly equivalent to the
notion of belief state), facts (properties of individuals in different
situations) and frame of individuation (a group of fact). In a given frame
of individuation (or episode), the individuals individuated are roles
(which are relative to episodes : one role-one episode). In his view,
individuals are uniformities (bundles of roles) across episodes in a given
information state.
The modelization of an agent's information state advocated by Ishikawa is
done in terms of Situation Theory, a given information state being
considered as a model, implying the relativity of truth to information
states. There are five classes of propositions depending on whether they
describe facts, episodes, links, existence or quantification.
Fact-describing propositions imply situations (s) supporting relations,
roles and polarities (i.e. truth-values). Episode-describing propositions
imply an episode (EP) grouping fact-describing propositions.
Link-describing propositions imply a link (LINK) between roles, creating
equivalence classes (or nodes) and depending on the agent's belief that the
roles all pertain to the same individual. Existence-describing propositions
imply predicating existence (EXISTS) of a set of roles (i.e. an individual
existing in external reality, according to the agent's belief), this set
(or node) being obtained through LINK. Quantification-describing
propositions imply a quantificational relation (Q) and types whose
situations and individuals are roles. They are subject to the usual
constraints on quantification. Side by side with the formal description of
his system, Ishikawa introduces a graphical representation (in standard
boxological form, with links represented through nodes and lines between
specific roles).
Ishikawa then outlines some differences (not trivial ones) between his
Network Theory and standard Situation semantics. The main one is that
whereas Situation Semantics is realistic in that it implies real
individuals, Network Theory merely allows roles, that is perceptions of
individuals relative to episodes, i.e. cognitive entities. Given that
Ishikawa's theory is based on the idea of information states, it is natural
to analyze linguistic interpretation in terms of accommodation as a change
of information states (i.e. a change of models), which, in combination with
a version of HPSG, yields a compositional semantics. Ishikawa gives a few
examples of both lexical entries and semantic interpretations for definite
and indefinite NPs. He points out that given that roles are not equivalent
to real individuals, the old familiarity/novelty distinction for
indefinite/definite descriptions get a rather different analysis allowing
to account both for the novelty of the information without necessarily
implying the introduction of a new individual for indefinites, while
definite descriptions, though their descriptive content must be satisfied
by the role in the pre-update information state, can be linked to a role
which does not satisfy it in the post-update information state.
Ishikawa then turns to the referential/attributive distinction and notes
that Network Theory shares with Mental Spaces Theory and Situation
Semantics the advantage that the descriptive content of a definite
description and the predicate which is applied to it need not be satisfied
in the same episode (situation or mental space). The difference among
scenarios (described in chapters 3 and 4) can be accounted for through the
presence, absence or change of links between roles in different episodes,
thus accounting for the change of beliefs informally described or implied
by the scenarios, or through the addition of new information in a given
episode, while the EXISTS predication, together with negation, can account
for sentences such as " Smith was not murdered ". On the whole, this
amounts to a redescription of the referential/attributive distinction in
terms of the convergence or divergence between the descriptive content of
the NP and the predicate : if they are predicated of the same role, then
the definite description is used attributively ; otherwise, it is used
Ishikawa finally deals with " knowing who " or the " particular individual
" conception. He remarks that it can be accounted for through the
network-theoretic notions of nodes and links combined with the (intuitive)
notion of trustworthiness. He notes that this is near to the causal
analysis of direct reference through a historical chain.
He then turns to plugging what he calls " gaps " between network theory and
conventional semantics, i.e. quantification and model-theoretic
interpretation. He begins with quantification, insisting that his main
concern is to prevent scopal interaction between indexicals, proper names
and quantificational expressions. He gives a quantified example (" Every
woman likes John "), as well as the lexical entry for "every". His analysis
of this example requires that every woman role in an episode r has a link
with a role who likes John in episode s. Regarding model-theoretic
interpretations, Ishikawa remarks that some hard-core model-theoretic
semantics (which he thinks would be philosophers of language rather than
linguists) could see Network Theory as comparable to DRT. This concern with
outward reality, according to Ishikawa, pertains more to metaphysics than
to linguistics. In his own terms (in bold characters in his book), "
Semantics is not metaphysics " (95).
6. Attitude Reports
As Ishikawa points out in the introduction to this chapter, Network Theory,
being constructed on " mental terms " (97), should give a straightforward
account of attitude reports (restricted here to belief reports, Ishikawa's
conviction being that his account of belief reports can be extended to
other attitudes reports). According to him, belief reports are four ways
ambiguous, between speaker's description and reported speaker's description
and between attributive and referential readings, yielding inner
referential (reported speaker's description used in a referential way),
inner attributive (reported speaker's description used in an attributive
way), outer referential (speaker's description used in a referential way)
and outer attributive (speaker's description used in an attributive way).
To deal with belief reports, Ishikawa introduces a "bel(a,k)" relation (in
which a is a real individual and k a time point), which is recursive in
that it can itself include another belief episode "bel(x,k)".
Unsurprisingly, belief is treated as construction and revision of links
between roles in different episodes. Ishikawa then turns to the Twin
Problem, which is the opposite of Kripke's London problem (see Kripke
1979). Here the agent believes, not, as does Pierre in Kripke's puzzle,
that one individual is two individuals but that two actually different
individuals are one and the same. Again, this is treated in terms of the
presence or absence of links between roles in episodes. Finally, Ishikawa
examines the necessity vs. possibility of identity through two examples, "
Aristotle might not have been the teacher of Alexander the Great " and "
Aristotle might not have been Aristotle ", which have been analyzed,
notably by Kripke (1980), as being respectively true and necessarily false.
In Ishikawa's theory, they come out respectively as true and false (not
necessarily false), given that the predicative relation can be revised and
that the equative relation implies LINK and that LINK is reflexive.
7. Other Applications
Ishikawa, in chapter 7, applies Network Theory to cleft and pseudo-cleft
constructions, to indices, to the binding of indices and attitudes, and to
the construction of a computational epistemology. This chapter is very
short and does not give detailed analyses. Briefly, Ishikawa proposes to
analyze clefts in terms of different roles for the descriptive content of
the NP and the relation described in the VP, while indices (from binding
theory) could be seen as roles, and binding indices and attitudes would
depend on a sophisticated analysis of the attitudinal verb. On
computational epistemology, Ishikawa suggests that roles linking could be
language dependant. Network Theory, however, does not take into account
these discrepancies and could be viewed as an epistemologic theory of
cognitive agents sharing the same temporal and cultural spaces and thus
building the same links. This could be extended to phonology, given that
sounds could be analyzed as roles and nodes.
8. Concluding Remarks
In this final chapter, Ishikawa defends his analysis against Perry's
realism, against model-theoretic semantics, and against attitude-based
semantics. His arguments against the first two have already been described.
Against attitude-based semantics, he points out that roles in Network
Theory are modes of identification in the sense of attitude-based
semantics. He, rather surprisingly, ends his book with a (admittedly
limited) defense of realism, pointing out that Network Theory is a theory
of cognitive manipulation of information, but has no ontological
implication whatsoever.

Ishikawa's book should certainly be read by anyone interested in both
reference and attitudes. However, the putative reader should be warned that
the book is difficult to follow for several reasons : first of all, it is
rather badly organized: with some information given toward the middle of
the book when which would be more useful towards the beginning; second,
it assumes in the reader a rather thorough knowledge of both situation
semantics, including its formal apparatus (no detailed information is given
about Ishikawa's formalism and the reader is left to fend for him- or
herself, returning to Barwise and Perry (1983) to get through the formalism
- the same goes for the HPSG formalism); third, at the same time, the ideas
defended are fairly simple (the notions of roles, linking, etc.) and could
have been very clearly explained without resorting to the unnecessary
obscurities which, from time to time, Ishikawa resorts to. Thus, the final
impression is that this could have been a much better book had Ishikawa
assimilated, for instance, the lesson of Situation Semantics (see Barwise &
Perry 1983), which can be seen as a model of clarity and pedagogy, and had
he relied less on his reader's complete and detailed knowledge of most of
formal semantics for the past thirty to forty years.
While I take it for granted that Ishikawa wanted to not only
eschew model-theoretic semantics but also any type of semantics which has
any commitment to reality outside of language, it is a puzzle that he chose
as his anchor Situation Semantics (which, as he himself acknowledges, is a
strongly realistic - though not model-theoretic - approach.) What's more,
it is disturbing that his main hypothesis seems to be that language as a
part of cognition should be studied entirely apart from reality: in fact,
the most interesting question about cognition, language and reality is how
it is that cognition and language are so powerful tools for dealing with
reality, a question by the way which Barwise and Perry (1983) address in a
sophisticated and detailed way and of which Ishikawa seems blessedly
unaware. Finally, it is hard to see why a semantics based on mental
representations (which seems to be what Ishikawa has in mind) could not
also be used to relate linguistic use to reality through these mental
representations, relying, for instance on Dretske's concept of information
and on the notion of covariation(see Dretske 1981, 1995). There does not
seem to be any contradiction in such a program, however difficult it may
be, and it might be seen as a " more cognitive " approach to language use
than Network Theory with its rejection of external reality as irrelevant to
cognition. In other words, a cognitive approach to semantics can hardly
deal only with linguistic phenomena.

Barwise, J. & Perry, J. (1983) : Situations and Attitudes, Cambridge,
Mass., The MIT Press.
Donnellan, K . (1966) : "Reference and definite descriptions",
Philosophical Review 75, 281-304.
Donnellan, K. (1968) : "Putting Humpty Dumpty together again",
Philosophical Review 75, 203-215.
Dretske, F. (1981), Knowledge and the flow of information, Cambridge,
Mass., The MIT Press.
Dretske, F. (1995), Naturalizing the Mind, Cambridge, Mass., The MIT Press.
Kripke, S. (1979) : "A puzzle about belief", in A. Margalit (ed.) : Meaning
and Use, Dordrecht, Reidel, 239-283.
Kripke, S. (1980) : Naming and Necessity, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.

Reviewer : Anne Reboul, Research Fellow at CNRS (National Center for
Scientific Research), France. Ph.D. in Linguistics, Ph.D. in Philosophy,
currently working at The Institute of Cognitive Sciences in Lyon, in the
Linguistics team. Has written quite a few papers in French and English.
Author of Rh\233torique et stylistique de la fiction (1992, Nancy, PUN),
co-author of Dictionnaire Encyclop\233dique de Pragmatique (1994, Paris, Le
Seuil. English translation in preparation for Basil Blackwell, Oxford), of
La Pragmatique ajourd'hui (1998, Paris, Le Seuil) and of Pragmatique du
discours (1998, Paris, Armand Colin). Has been working on reference for the
past twelve years.

Anne Reboul
Institut des Sciences Cognitives-CNRS
67 bd Pinel
69675 Bron cedex


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