Relativity Theory of Information and Communication in Natural Language

Relativity Theory of Information and Communication in Natural Language

Graziella Tonfoni


The present paper is meant to summarize and enlighten the theoretical implications of the twin theories of Text Comprehension and of Text Compression (Tonfoni, 1989-94, 1995). Compatibility and non exclusiveness of particlelike analysis of language (Chomsky, 1957)and wavelike analysis of intentionality (Searle, 1968) is also demonstrated within the newly established Quantum Linguistics framework. The informative state of language is being viewed as relatively stable; once activated and subject to motion, therefore reaching a communicative state , different phenomena show to occur, which may be observed, analyzed and visualized through CPP-TRS observational devices. Relativity Theory (Einstein, 1905) may therefore be extended to natural language and information and communication may be organized in terms of quanta with continuity and no contradiction.


The issue I have addressed since the beginning of my research has been to understand deeply the "inner nature of language", by first of all searching and outlining the structure of misunderstanding and misinterpretation occurring in communicative intercourses, both in written and spoken forms, which manifest themselves as some kind of elastic deformation determined by forces and energies operating upon texts or parts of texts, where text mean a linguistically organized and information carrying communicative entity. I have therefore proceeded toward comprehensive experimental studies in different contexts and in different languages as to be able to isolate, name and visualize such energies and forces acting upon language and influencing deeply any kind of interpretation process. A whole tradition of studies ranging from Pragmatics and proceeding toward Artificial Intelligence (Minsky,1965; Schank,1972; Wilensky,1983; Lehnert,1981) has widely recognized the strict relationship occurring between text and context. Within the generative and transformational framework (Chomsky,1975) recognition of the existence of so called "discourse phenomena" affecting the nature of syntactic structure has been given with full consistency and no contradiction. Subjectivity of interpretation has also had a very articulated tradition of research in textlinguistics, in literary studies and semiotics more generally (Sebeok 1960, Eco 1975). Having recognized the essence of such problem as well as inherent complexity of possible explanation paths is a very important fact in the "science of language", science being considered the progressive search for a succession of theories predicting facts to be explained and justified first. Recognition of subjectivity in interpretation and of context dependency in text processing and understanding needs to be the point of departure for further evolution of theories ; any statement and concept needs a therefore detailed definition. In simple terms, once agreement is reached about the fact that texts or parts of texts are not reliable in their literal interpretation , because natural language is in itself an unstable system and once we all agree about how important context is, this is still not enough. My fundamental concern and main goal has been to proceed both toward an "in breadth " and an "in depth" search for those very specific elements controlling both context and text and causing unreliability to occur if not properly identified, correctly recognized and consistently monitored. For a while, I have been looking in the direction of knowledge representation and I was confirmed by evidence that those yet to be identified elements were actually extremely powerful, because they were in control of both syntactic level, means the level of sequences of sentences, and of textual meaning attribution related to knowledge representation as well. In other words it became evident that linking sentences to knowledge representation systems, though very articulated and powerful ones, was still not enough , unless those still unknown therefore invisible elements were first taken into account, as I then concluded after having identified them, named them and tested (Tonfoni, 1996). Just like a scientist may proceed toward isolating a molecule or discovering the nature of a certain component in Physics or in Chemistry, I have proceeded step by step toward identification of a basic cognitive component in human communicative behaviour, surfacing in actual language performance, and , after having analyzed it carefully, finally defined it "the communicative positioning" (CPP-TRS Theory of Text Comprehension, Tonfoni, 1989-94). It is based on such discovery that I have then proceeded toward consistent organization of a "high speed communicative code" (1) for highering information transparency and communication effectiveness, which reflects directly what maybe be observed to happen naturally , by making it visible. Based on such discovery, I have further proceeded toward developing a programming language, which works on top of natural languages , according to the same principle , which derived from "natural observation", therefore maximizing its effect (CPP-TRS Theory of Text Compression, Tonfoni, 1995).

Physics of Language

I have finally proceeded toward reformulation of language phenomena and facts in physical terms, reframing information in terms of force and communication in terms of energy, observing radical changes of states according to different degrees of activation (Tonfoni, 1996). The path had already been widely and brilliantly disclosed and specific indications for handling language phenomena under a scientific perspective and point of view had also been supported (Chomsky,1957). (2) In order to understand and analyze such a complex system as language is, I have taken a complex path entailing multiple layers analysis as well as different perspectives on the same phenomena as to end up building a theory of communication, which is meant to interpret facts, predict events, justify results and be used operationally as a working apparatus in itself. I have first of all explored scientifically a set of aspects , previously addressed only in their philosophical dimension ; they are precisely intentionality and pragmatic factors, playing a really crucial role in communication occurring via natural language. Before setting a limited and precise set of categories, I had to tested them accurately, just like physicists would do exploring matter as to isolate different components. Even if terminology I selected may sound familiar, each term is actually meant to represent a very specific process or a coordination of very precise elements acting together in communication, having previously been recognized separately and then viewed as working in simple or complex combinations. It became quite evident that a highly complex system like language is, when referring to its different information and communication states could not be viewed just in terms of syntax. By choosing to design a physical theory of language I in fact wanted to do something not purely speculative, which could fit and explain phenomena and facts, as Einstein underlined in innumerable occasions, once asked to define the nature of his own approach. Due to Chomsky's and followers' corpuscular and submolecular theory of language, it was already known that in the atomic world of language, which is represented by the syntactic level, elements did move in forms of different kinds. At the macroscopical level of text, movements and textual stages of transformation had been foreseen as well (Van Dijk ,1969 and Ballmer, 1975). The issue at stake being how to consistently bridge an apparently unsolvable gap, the solution came in the form of progressive surfacing and discovery of a new dimension which had simply not been noticed, observed and analyzed before.

Relativity theory of language

By stating the validity of a Relativity theory of language I am not diminishing, rather enlightening research done at the subatomic level of nuclear sentence (Chomsky, 1957) as well as the wavelike theory of speech acts (Searle 1968). First observation in Relativity theory of language is text contraction, meaning precisely the following: an informative string, being a textual entity organized by a producer and in its stable originating positioning, will. in the course of any communicative intercourse, here being defined "text transport" subject to "interpretation motion", be subject to contraction. This means precisely that understanding processes are shortened, reduced or slowed down, while communication naturally occurs, unless some specific operations are being performed before the communicative intercourse gets initiated. This is where both CPP-TRS theories of text comprehension (Tonfoni, 1989-94) and of text compression (Tonfoni, 1995) come into play as a consistently designed set of procedures meant to monitor the process of understanding. At different degrees of power, the theory of text comprehension is meant to just complement naturally organized informative strings with a consistent indication of intended communicative energy to be applied, whereas the theory of text compression is meant to radically accelerate text transport by optimizing language output according to very precise cues at the highest ever possible level of accuracy. This is what I mean to say when I am describing the different levels of power at which the same "mechanism" can be applied. Aim of the overall new perspective, I have intended to intrduce, being to establish precise monitoring devices relating context and text in a way that relativity of information and communication may be recognized, measured and profitably monitored according to a well established set of procedures allowing for critical and reliable decision making. Bandwidth existing between text producer and text receiver may profitably be subject to reduction as to reach progressively higher levels of precision at different further stages of approximation and according to the context/text relationship definition. Differently than in particlelike theories of language (Chomsky, 1957) and wavelike theories of language (Searle, 1968), where the control actually resides on the speaker's side, in quantum theories of language (Tonfoni, 1996) is the control related to the nature of language itself to be consensually and consistently monitored by both textproducer and textperceiver according to objective physical laws of context/text interdependency, reproduced and named according to CPP-TRS tools and terminology. Phenomena occurring at macrolevel may also be described . What becomes very evident is that language sequences need to be viewed and processed as text/context units and not just as language strings. This is precisely what I mean by quantum in language, new linguistic entities having both characteristics of particles and waves. Textual units have infact to be conceived as "packets of communicative energy" and those packets maybe defined in perfect agreement with observation, having during the designing of the CPP-TRS theory of Text Comprehension been concerned with isolating elements and thinking in terms of different kinds of forces and energies, active upon text and proceeding up to acceleration and compression, therefore explaining in terms of quanta the only apparent contradiction of language, conceived both in terms of sequences of syntactic strings, or stream of particles, and communicative waves in motion. A "relativity theory of natural language" is not just a philosophical concept, but an explanatory framework for interpreting observable communication phenomena. Distance and duration in text/context interpretation become most relevant in a "physics of language": velocity, acceleration, force and energy, show to be all interdependent and no further statement about evaluation of successful communicative interaction is ever possible if not "relativized" to them, either directly or indirectly. The revolutionary consequence of "relativity in natural language" is that both distance and duration in text/context interpretation are relative to the positioning of different perceivers if left subject to different interpretation motion. A relativity theory of natural language results as a consequential development of a textlinguistic paradigm, where conditions of textuality have been identified (De Beaugrande-Dressler,1981). It should also be added that each progressive phase of conceptualization in a relativity theory of language derives from the previous one; it is only after the CPP-TRS theory of text comprehension (Tonfoni, 1989-94) had been conceived that the CPP-TRS theory of text compression (Tonfoni, 1995) was derived, according to the same set of principles, and both acceleration and deceleration in text processing have become possible, granting therefore a kind of "physical reality" to "nonuniform" text processing and understanding.

Quantum theory of language

The "quantum theory" of language I have proposed as a further extension and better definition of the previously introduced "relativity theory of natural language" is meant to provide a comprehensive and consistent basis for analyzing language matter phenomena, text understanding processes and different kinds of more or less radical transformations occurring at different levels. Within a quantum theory of language discrete textual units called quanta, revealing a complex both particlelike and wavelike nature, are now been defined. A quantum theory of language may this way explain the behaviour of particlelike syntactic structures at a microscopical level as well as bonding of syntactic structures (sentences linked as to form discourse structures) and the nature of textual transformations and reactions. Quantum in text processing and text understanding reflecting the joint behaviour of assemblies of textual units and of their more or less substantial transformations. Quantum in natural language has been explained as reflecting the combination of communicative function, communicative intention and communicative turn-taking upon text(Tonfoni, 1996). Acceleration of text segments is therefore made possible with CPP-TRS coming in as a tool for expressing quantities and levels of communicative energy of three kinds: To conclude : a textual unit is therefore a package of linguistic information charged with communicative energy, which may be either retained or transformed, it is both an elementary unit and a complex one, just as quantum is, dichotomy between discrete and complex resulting therefore harmoniously bridged.


(1) If information can be viewed as energy, and more precisely solar energy in the present example, I can say that I have designed Full Exposure to Information Devices (FEID), which are meant to enhance and facilitate communication acting upon existing information facilities such as archives and upon already existing written material, by supporting texts with commentaries which may complement previously done work and "add value" to the technology. These applications directly derive from my CPP-TRS Theory of Text Comprehension (Tonfoni, 1989-94) and are meant to be advanced and widespread projects. Beside that, I have designed Protection and Acceleration Devices (PAD) for information processing, which are meant to add visibility and allow for full transparency in communication based on revisionand optimization techniques and procedures, within a highly controlled and monitored environment. These last set of applications directly derive from my CPP-TRS Theory of Text Compression (Tonfoni, 1995) and are meant to be, at least at the present stage, part of a highly advanced project. My system will, in this last kind of project, work within wide information territories, activating a set of precisely defined processes and operations upon texts, as to transform texts more or less radically and store parts accordingly to information acceleration processes. Texts have been undergoing such procesessas a consequence of completely different perspective on natural language, I have previously introduced at a theoretical level too and by supporting evidence for each of the quite strong claims I have made.

(2 ) I am very appreciative of work being done on syntax by Chomsky and within the Chomskian framework; I also consider it very valuable to be linked up thighly compatible with the CPP-TRS system. Once an indicator will in fact visualize communicative function and intention, still we will have to check language by language what such mechanism may entail according to each syntactic structure. I can foresee a very strong link and a strong interplay and reasons to be given in each single language. Chomskian literature and of course Chomsky's above all will be of tremendous assistance for doing that. I see the same compatibility occurring at the level of knowledge representation structures research work, which may be harmoniously linked too. I do not see any conflict or opposition whatsoever just harmonious merging of different layers of analysis. I just cannot see how the acceptability of a sentence can be established without having taken into account positioning first and how representation structures may be fully active without having determined the positioning first; therefore I can conclude that there exists no conflict though, just harmonious integration.


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Wilensky,R., (1992), Planning and Understanding , Reading , Mass, Addison Wesley

Tonfoni (1989-94) and Tonfoni (1995) indicate a wide set of books and papers both in italian and in english written by the Author on CPP-TRS ; for further information see: http//

The present paper is for the Computation and Linguistic Colloquium Series, University of Maryland at College Park.