July 20, 2004

Territory of Information

Russell Lee-Goldman (Kantol) at Every Way but One has an interesting post about the theory of Territory of Information (ToI). This set of ideas is new to me. Kantol attributes it to "Toshio Akio", but the author of this book on the subject is "Akio Kamio". Cultural differences in surname order aside, is "Toshio" an alternative name or a typo? Kantol does start the post by saying that" I've got a few minutes before I pass out from exhaustion (it's 1:41 in the morning)".

According to the John Benjamins site for the book, Kamio's theory "attempts to demonstrate the key function of the concept of territory in the informational structure and syntax of natural language. It offers an analysis of English, Japanese, and Chinese in terms of territory and shows its fundamental importance in the interface of information and syntax in these languages."

Kantol's blog post is much more informative about the theory than the book blurb is. The idea is that "whenever someone speaks, they base the way they speak on the answers to two major questions: (1) is the information I'm about to say in my own territory? and (2) does my interlocutor believe that the information I'm about to say is in their territory? Various combinations yield various grammatical patterns.." Kantol explains that Kamio "uses quantitative analysis to predict" outcomes, and "presents several linguistic problems that seem to be unrelated to the ToI theory, but in fact can (according to him) be solved using it. One is the difference between shiru and wakaru in Japanese, both of which seem to correspond to English know (or understand)".

This stuff sounds interesting, and I'm also interested in the fact that I've never heard of it before. I'm not a specialist in discourse analysis or the structure of conversation, but I'm interested in things like that. A Google search for {Kamio "territory of information"} turns up a few things, including a couple of journal articles (e.g. Akio Kamio, "English generic we, you, and they: an analysis in terms of territory of information", Journal of Pragmatics 33 (7) (2001) pp. 1111-1124), the abstract for a colloquium at Stanford, and a memorial page at Elsevier informing me that "Professor Akio Kamio, of Dokkyo University, Greater Tokyo, departed this life on Sunday, February 24, 2004, jointly with his wife Noriko."

Querying CiteSeer about Akio Kamio turned up only this Colorado tech report, which is interesting in its own right, but does not seem to make use of the ToI theory or even cite it in the bibliography.

So I conclude that there has not been a lot of uptake, anyhow in English-language sources, for the ToI idea. That might be because it doesn't really work very well, at least in application to things that people are working on, but it also might be because most people (like me) don't know about it. Either way, I'm glad that Russell didn't just go to sleep a little earlier on July 16.

[Update: Russell informs me by email that indeed he mistyped Kamio Akio's name, probably due to the influence of Ohori Toshio, whose book he's been reading lately. I do that kind of thing all the time -- I'm still grateful for the tip.]


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 20, 2004 08:55 AM