Relativity Theory of Information and Communication in Natural Language
Relativity Theory of Information and Communication in Natural Language
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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) communicative function, expressed by global control signs;
- 2) communicative intention, expressed by local control symbols;
- 3) communicative turn-taking, expressed by either local or global control
(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
Ballmer,T., (1975), Sprachrekonstruktionssysteme und einige ihrer
Anwendungsmoglichkeiten inSatz- und Textlinguistik, Kronenberg, Taunus
Chomsky,N.,(1957), Syntactic Structures, The Hague, Mouton.
Chomsky,N.,(1965), Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, Cambridge, Mass,
De Beaugrande,R.A.-Dressler,W.,(1981), Einfuhrung in die Textlinguistik,
Tubingen, Max NiemeyerVerlag.
Eco,U., (1975), Trattato di semiotica, Milano, Bompiani.
Einstein,A., (1905), Elektrodynamik bewegter Koerper, Annalen der Physik,
vol. 17, pp891-921
Lehnert,W.G., (1981),"Plot Units and Narrative Summarization", in Cognitive
Science, 2, 293-331.
Minsky,M., (1975), A Framework for Representing Knowledge, in Winston
P.(ed) The Psychology of Computer Vision, New York, Mc Graw
Schank,R.C.,(1972), Conceptual Dependency: "A Theory of Natural Language
Understanding", Cognitive Psychology, 3(4), 552-631.
Sebeok,T.A.,(ed) (1960), Style in Language, Cambridge, Mass, MIT
Tonfoni,G., (1996), Communication Patterns and Textual Forms, Intellect
Wilensky,R., (1992), Planning and Understanding , Reading , Mass, Addison
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:
The present paper is for the
Computation and Linguistic Colloquium Series,
University of Maryland at College Park.