A3: "Frame Theory and Semantics" (Sebastian Löbner)

Mon 14.15-15.45, Tue 16.15-17.45, Thu 9.15-10.45, Fri 11.15-12.45
Room: 0.02


In recent years, a new theory of frames has begun to emerge that builds upon earlier developments in artificial intelligence and psychology from the 1960s and 70s. Grounded in the theory of cognitive representation by the psychologist Lawrence Barsalou [1], the new approach to frame theory aims at a rigid formalization and empirical exploration of frames as a candidate for a universal format of representation across linguistic levels of description (semantics, syntax, morphology, phonology) [2] and even beyond linguistics. One major area of application is semantics, with a focus on lexical semantics. Frame semantics, i.e. semantics as part of the frame-theoretic approach, offers a general framework for systematic lexical decomposition of different parts of speech, including nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Lexical meanings can be spelt out in a way that explains similarity of meaning, meaning relations, logical properties and compositional potential of lexical items. The frame representations can be translated in a canonical way into predicate logic, and receive model-theoretic interpretation within a general model, called ontology. Thus, the frame approach to semantics exhibits the degree of precision that is standard in formal semantics.

Frames are recursive attribute-value structures with strictly functional attributes. Unlimited recursivity distinguishes the new approach from earlier ones such as Fillmore’s. Model-theoretic semantics and ontological foundation carry it beyond former AVM approaches in formalisms such as HPSG. Attributes, rather than types is what a frame ontology is based on: the frame approach aims at representing semantic/conceptual information exclusively in terms of functional attributes and the type of value they take on. This constraint is a guiding principle in lexical decomposition and in composition. Committed to cognitive plausibility and the foundation of frame theory in cognitive psychology, the approach provides an innovative way of bridging the gap between formal semantics and cognition.

The course will not be a lecture, but rather take the form of a working group. For each session, the participants will prepare reading texts and thinking about questions and examples. The texts will be distributed by email to the enlisted participants.

In eight sessions, the course will start from original work by Lawrence Barsalou, to proceed to the development of frame theory and its applications that is currently emerging at the CRC 991 at Düsseldorf.

The introduction includes a formal definition of frames, the general format of the underlying ontology, and the canonical way of translating frames into predicate logic, thereby providing a model-theoretic semantics. We will discuss different formats of frames designed to represent various conceptual types of meanings such as meanings of sortal vs. relational vs. functional nouns, frames for various types of verbs, and frames for adjectives. Applications will comprise frame analyses of metonymy, of mechanisms of word formation (derivation of nouns form verbs, noun-noun compounds), and examples of “close composition” such as adjectival noun modification. It is these applications where the frame approach offers innovative analyses superior to what is possible within the limitations of truth-conditional approaches.

Preparatory reading:

Lecturer: Sebstian Löbner, Universität Düsseldorf