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Applying discourse semantics and pragmatics to co-reference in picture sequences

Dr. Dorit Abusch

Tuesday, December 04, 2012, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

Cornell University, Department of Linguistics

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Pictorial representation, and in particular sequential art (i.e. comics) can function as a counterpoint for natural language semantics and pragmatics, where information is conveyed in a very different way, but where nevertheless phenomena recur that are familiar from natural language. A pure case is provided by sequential art without speech bubbles, thought bubbles, or captions, what I call “silent comics”. This presentation will focus on issues of co-reference.
A basic operation in understanding a comic is parsing the pictures into parts denoting individuals, and identifying these individuals across frames.  Starting with a denotational conception of the information content of an individual picture as being a set of possible situations, I suggest adding discourse referents and identity predications among them to produce a DRT-like representation.  Discourse referents are modeled as areas of pictures.  The representation is comparable both to indexing and discourse representation in linguistic theory, and perceptual indexing in vision.  It comes out in the semantic model that discourse referents for individuals depicted in different pictures are existentially quantified, and co-indexing is purely pragmatic. This is compared to the situation in languages such as Chinese without definiteness marking.  It is usually assumed in theoretical accounts of such languages that a definiteness feature is present syntactically, or is added in the syntax-semantics interface.  Finally I look at continuous and conflated narrative, where one area of a picture depicts an object or individual in two or more temporally separate but spatially overlapping scenes. I argue that this provides represented coindexing.

Dr. Dorit Abusch