24.399, Review: Applied Linguistics; Computational Linguistics; Semantics: Plastina (2012)
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Subject: 24.399, Review: Applied Linguistics; Computational Linguistics; Semantics: Plastina (2012)
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Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2013 19:09:09
From: Sandra Petroni [sandra.petroni at alice.it]
Subject: Applied Linguistics and Semantic Web Apps: Cases of Mediated Discursive Practices
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3114.html
AUTHOR: Anna Franca Plastina
TITLE: Applied Linguistics and Semantic Web Apps: Cases of Mediated Discursive Practices
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Semantics
PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH
REVIEWER: Sandra Petroni, University of Roma - Tor Vergata
“Applied Linguistics and Semantic Web Apps” provides a general analysis of
Semantic Web Apps through which new discursive practices are mediated in
digital environments. The three case studies presented show how Applied
Linguistics research can be integrated into Semantic Web enquiry. In fact, the
main research question posited by the author is: “How would an Applied
Linguist respond to discursive practices mediated through Semantic Web Apps?”
The book includes eight chapters, preceded by a list of figures, tables, and a
list of Semantic Web Apps. These chapters are organized in two main parts,
preceded in turn by an introduction.
The first part, ‘Sharpening Research in Applied Linguistics: the Role of
Semantic Web Apps’ (pp. 21-73), is composed of three chapters and each chapter
includes an exhaustive and well supported presentation of the topics. The
second part, ‘Mediated Discursive Practices on the Semantic Web’ (pp. 75-173),
is composed of five chapters. With the exception of Chapters 4 and 8, the
chapters provide both the theoretical background and the research issue in
terms of research methodology, tools, method and procedure; show findings on
each single simulation; offer comments on data triangulation; and conclude by
describing the implications for mediated practices. The book ends with
Chapter 1, ‘Applying Linguistics’ (pp. 23-36), traces the evolution of Applied
Linguistics over the past few decades. The author makes reference to
Weidemann’s (2003) classification of the six generations of this discipline to
illustrate its diverse models and traditions - such as the behaviourist model,
linguistic extended paradigm model, multi-disciplinary model, second language
acquisition research, constructivism, and post-modernism - with their specific
approaches and consequential changes. As the author states, thanks to the
sixth generation, “the work of applied linguistics [is conceived of] as
directed both towards investigation on language learning/teaching in all its
different facets, and as committed to research in a multi-disciplinary
perspective” (p. 28). Thus, the pivotal aspects of Applied Linguistics are
“openness” deriving from “the permeable boundaries of the discipline”;
“interdisciplinarity” in terms of “interdisciplinary collaboration and
integration with other different disciplines”; and “real-world enquiry” that
is “its engagement in solving real-world language-based problems” (p. 28). All
these three facets have made the osmosis between applied linguistics and
computational linguistics not only possible but also necessary. Apart from the
fully-integrated use of computers in language learning/teaching and the rise
of new branches, such as Internet Linguistics or Netlinguistics, the author
underlines that the attention of applied linguists should be directed to the
new emergent semantic web technologies that have been decidedly affecting
Chapter 2, ‘The Semantic Web’ (pp. 37-51), posits two main issues: to motivate
the need to design an ‘intelligent’ Semantic Web and to identify those main
components that can have a significant impact on Applied Linguistics. The
first issue delineates a topic that has been analysed from different points of
view in the last decades: information overload, or rather, “the overwhelming
amount of unstructured information [that] hinders effective information
retrieval and management” due to the fact that “on the one hand, this
exponential quantity of information is currently intelligible only to humans,
while on the other, it is only processable by machines” (p. 51). After
depicting the evolution and the mission of the Semantic Web, the second issue
identifies its components, i.e. Natural Language Processing (NLP),
machine-based learning and reasoning, and intelligent applications. The author
offers an exhaustive explanation of these three areas of investigation mostly
related to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Computer Science.
Chapter 3, ‘Semantic Web Apps: Text Mining’ (pp. 53-73), focuses on the role
played by Semantic Web Apps, their main purposes of use and operational
effectiveness. As the author states, “[…], a key feature of all these
applications is that they attempt to determine the meaning of texts and/or of
other data in order to create connections which are meaningful to users” (p.
54). Their functions then are to process and manage information and to
facilitate and optimize information retrieval in terms of time and
effectiveness. In order to meet the last condition, two main factors are
necessary: the availability of ontologies, “frameworks of knowledge
representation, describing a specific area of knowledge through the concepts
of the domain, and their properties and relationships” (p. 58); and the
potentialities of semantic search engines that, differently from the common
search engines, exploit semantics to generate more appropriate results by
disambiguating polysemy and synonymy. Text mining permits these Semantic Web
Apps to “semantize” (p. 72) information and to examine meaning at different
language levels (e.g., a Web annotation app for information extraction implies
operating at the morphological level; a text clouding app for text
summarization works on the semantic level; a sentiment classification app for
sentiment analysis looks at the pragmatic level).
Chapter 4, ‘Setting up Research Enquiry’ (pp. 78-95), provides “a detailed
description of how research enquiry was set up to conduct mediated practices
with Semantic Web Apps for language-related enquiry” (p. 78). Based on a
semantic-web app approach - rather than the NLP approach, the corpus-based
approach, the Web-as-Corpus approach, and the search engine approach -
research enquiry can move beyond the classical fields of computational
linguistics, corpus linguistics and lexicography, can access resources
directly online and make use of open-source tools. The research framework
utilized here starts from the following research question: “To which extent
does the use of Semantic Web Apps add new theoretical insight into
language-based enquiry in different sub-fields of applied linguistics?” (p.
82). Computer simulation is used as research method and qualitative empirical
investigation is undertaken as research methodology. The research procedure
follows three phases: Orientation (selection of strands of Applied
Linguistics, refinement of research questions, selection of Semantic Web
Apps); Focused Exploration (collection of data); Verification (data
triangulation). The rigorous respect that the author has for this research
framework aims at legitimating research processes.
Chapter 5, ‘Enhancing Consumer Health Vocabulary: The Case of Ontology-based
Searches’ (pp. 97-122), focuses on mediated discursive practices grounded in
professional and specialised domains (health communication in this case). The
author hypothesises that, first, an ontology-based approach to health consumer
queries helps users improve their knowledge of specialised terminology, and,
second, it offers more effective semantic results than those offered by common
search engines (e.g. Google).The theoretical background provided then by the
author is based on Frame Semantics (Fillmore 1982, 1985) and Frame-Based
Terminology (Faber et al. 2005). Research tools are respectively a sample
medical transcription of a discharge summary, including clinical information,
and NLMplus (http://nlmplus.com), a semantic search engine which make use of
60 medical ontologies related to verbal and visual resources. The author shows
that the Focused Exploration phase (selecting ‘obscure’ medical terms and
simulating semantic searches in NLMplus) confirms the first hypothesis, and
the Verification phase (simulating the same queries in Google and comparing
data with results of the previous phase) confirms the second hypothesis.
Findings demonstrate that “NLMplus is a powerful Semantic Web App as it is
capable of extracting biomedical concepts across different specialized
ontologies, ensuring trust and reliability” (p. 113), more than online
dictionaries or Wikipedia. The author calls attention to some limitations to
this approach, i.e. the user’s digital and medical literacy and his/her
English language competence.
Chapter 6, ‘Developing L2 Readers’ Comprehension Strategies: The Case of the
Text Clouding Approach’ (pp. 123-144), “seeks to understand how learners can
manipulate English L2 texts via Semantic Web Apps in order to develop their
cognitive strategies for better reading comprehension” (p. 125). The author
posits two hypotheses: first, Semantic Web Apps based on the text-clouding
technique can be used as “effective scaffolds for the development of EFL
readers’ higher-level reading comprehension strategies” (p. 131); second, this
technique is more effectual than linear post-reading activities. The
theoretical background here is based, on the one hand, on Dual Coding Theory
(Paivio 1986, 2006) that claims that human cognition works simultaneously on
two subsystems (verbal for language processing and visual for imagery
processing); on the other hand, on Text Visualization, the transformation of
written texts into graphical representations. Research tools are respectively
a sample reading text (Common European Framework B1 level) with five
traditional post-reading activities and VocabGrabber
(www.visualthesaurus.com/vocabgrabber), an online word cloud generator. The
Focused Exploration phase (learners interact and familiarise themselves with
the learning context; they transform the text into a word cloud; they are
engaged in speculating on the visual representation) aims at confirming the
first hypothesis while the Verification phase (learners analyse the new output
for comprehension and then they are requested to report on the essential
meaning of the text) confirms the second one. Findings reveal that
text-clouding supports L2 students in reading the original text by visualizing
the cloud of keywords, in identifying main ideas through the options of
relevance and occurrence provided by the app, and in expanding schemata. Last
but not least, as stated by the author, text-clouding develops students’
Chapter 7, ‘Attitude Detection in Hotel Reviews: The Case of Sentiment
Analyzers’ (pp. 145-168), deals with mediated discursive practices where
emotional experience plays a strategic role. For this reason, the author
focuses on the language of emotion and appraisal used in textual practice,
such as hotel reviews available online, and on the opportunity to detect it
computationally. The hypotheses of this enquiry then are: first, sentiment
detection can be effective if the Semantic Web Apps involved are based on
Appraisal Theory and in particular on the appraisal Framework; second, this
approach allows users to discriminate biased or unbiased stances present
respectively in hotel homepages or reviews. As theoretical background, the
author refers to Aronson et al. (2005) for Appraisal Theory and to Martin
(2000) and Martin & White (2005) for the Appraisal Framework. Affective
Computing (Picard 1997) is briefly mentioned. Research tools are,
respectively, a corpus of customer reviews taken from Booking.com and an
online sentiment analyzer, OpenDover (http://opendover.nl/), whose automatic
tasks are: classifying features of opinionated text by positioning them along
a continuum between sentiment polarities, such as negative/positive appraisal;
extracting the components or attributes of the attitude in terms of
lexicogrammatical token (noun, verb, adverb, adjective); labelling features
according to the attitudes comprised in the Appraisal Framework (affect,
judgment, appreciation). The Focused Exploration phase is sustained by these
tasks and confirms the first hypothesis. The Verification phase shows data
triangulation and the comparative analysis to confirm the second hypothesis.
The author concludes that “sentiment analyzers open doors for advanced uses of
techniques already adopted in information extraction and text analysis in
different disciplinary domains” (p. 168).
Chapter 8, ‘Reflections on Discursive Practices Mediated by Semantic Web Apps’
(pp. 169-173), briefly summarizes the main issues of this work and offers
insights not only into how discursive practices on the Web produce meaning
but also “how the global context of the Web is providing more interactional
resources which enable a wider audience to craft new meaningful discursive
processes” (p. 171). Future work needs to look at language-related facets
regarding Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 phenomena such as multiple-authored texts,
mashup applications, and intelligent personal agents.
“Applied Linguistics and Semantics Web Apps” is an authoritative and rigorous
inquiry in two fields of study: Applied Linguistics and Semantic Web, two
territories that in the age of the Web 2.0 - but 3.0 and 4.0 very shortly -
necessitate a reciprocal osmosis since they are ancillary to each other. Most
discursive practices, in fact, occur on the Web and Semantic Web Apps can play
a strategic role of ‘sharpening applied linguistics research’. This innovative
hypothesis is widely discussed across the seven chapters, both theoretically
and practically. The first part of the book shows an extensive knowledge of
the major issues and theories as well as theoretical approaches to the two
research fields. The second part tests the hypotheses by putting into practice
theoretical concepts via three different but meaningful case studies.
In addition to being written in a clear and accessible style, the book
provides the reader with all necessary tools, including resources available
free online, data, tables, examples, screenshots, and finally an extensive
bibliography to orient the reader within the enquiry. A specialised glossary
and/or indexes of name and subject at the end of the book would have added to
The book will appeal to scholars and researchers in Applied Linguistics,
Psycholinguistics, Corpus Linguistics and Computational Linguistics. It can
also be used by language and content engineers as a theoretical and practical
source thanks to which future innovations of web technology could be exploited
to improve Natural Language Processing systems. Furthermore, the book provides
an excellent and much needed resource for post-graduate students and teachers
who already possess a well-developed digital literacy.
One of two slight limitations lies in this last claim. The scope of this
research enquiry and especially its practical applications require the reader
to be digitally ‘literate’ (or “multiliterate” as Lemke 1998 puts it) in order
to use, apply and interpret Semantic Web Apps in professional, educational and
social contexts. The author herself underlines this problem in Chapter 5 (p.
120). It is therefore necessary to make a distinction between potential
addressees of these apps whose aim is to speculate on language use and
representation on the Web (e.g., applied linguists) and those whose aim is
simply to search for information on the Internet (e.g., patients or hotel
consumers). Conversely, the exploitation of Semantic Web Apps technology in
educational settings is more innovative and challenging for all participants
involved, i.e. students, teachers, applied linguists and, last but not least,
The second limitation is that a more detailed investigation on Affective
Computing models in Chapter 7 would have been complementary to the sentiment
detection approach and would have offered a wider perspective as they have
been widely influencing many areas of research, such as education, L2
learning/teaching, medicine, professional training, marketing, entertainment,
etc. (cf. Picard 2000; Picard et al. 2001, 2004; Wehrle 2000; Woolf et al.
2009; Kopecek 2000).
To conclude, “Applied Linguistics and Semantics Web Apps” is noteworthy in its
combination of density and breadth of topics. Its novelty lies in having shown
the interesting challenge of integrating two different and apparently distant
fields of research and exploring the potential for cross-permeability between
Applied Linguistics and Semantic Web.
Aronson, E., Wilson, T.D., Akert, R.M. 2005. Social Psychology. 7th ed. Upper
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journal, 50, no. 4.
Fillmore, C.J. 1982. Frame Semantics. The Linguistic Society of Korea (ed.).
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Fillmore, C.J. 1985. Frames and the Semantics of Understanding. Quaderni di
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Kopecek, I. 2000. Emotions and Prosody in Dialogues: An Algebraic Approach
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sandra Petroni is a tenured researcher in English Language and Linguistics.
She teaches at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Rome “Tor
Vergata”, on the Languages in the Information Society Degree Course. She is
the author of several research articles and two books, Self-Study. La
multimedialità e l'apprendimento della lingua inglese nel nuovo sistema
universitario italiano (2004) and Language in the Multimodal Web Domain
(2011). She is also a member of national and international Scientific
Associations. Her research fields are: multimodality, specialized discourse -
in particular the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) domain,
cognitive semiotics and psycholinguistics.
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