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11.5: Levels of Representation in Language and Text Comprehension

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    A lot of theories try to explain the situation model or so called mental model in different representations. Several theories of the representation deal with the comprehension from the text into the situation model itself. How many levels are included or needed and how is the situation model constructed, is it done by once like:

    Sentence → Situation Model

    Or are there levels in between which have to be passed until the model is constructed? Here are three different representations shown which try to explain the construction of the situation model by a text.

    Propositional Representation

    The propositional Representation claims that a sentence will be structured in another way and then it is stored. Included information does not get lost. We will have a look at the simple sentence:

    “George loves Sally” the propositional representation is [LOVES(GEORGE, SALLY)]

    It is easy to see that the propositional representation is easy to create and the information is still available.

    Three levels of representation


    Fletcher(1994); van Dijk & Kintch(1983); Zwaan & Radvansky (1998)

    This theory says that there exist three levels of representation the surface form, text base and the situation model. In this example the sentence “The frog ate the bug.” Is already the surface form. We naturally create semantically relations to understand the sentence (semantic tree in the figure). The next level is the “Text base”. [EAT(FROG, BUG)] is the propositional representation and Text base is close to this kind of representation, except that it is rather spatial. Finally the situation model is constructed by the “Text base” representation. We can see that the situation model does not include any kind of text. It is a mental picture of information in the sentence itself.

    Two levels of representation


    Frank Koppen, Nordman, Vonk (to appear) Zwaan (2004)

    This theory is like the “three levels of representations” theory. But the “Text base” level is left out. The theory itself claims that the situation model is created by the sentence itself and there is no “Text base” level needed.

    Further situation model theories directing experiences exist. So not only text comprehension is done by situation models, learning through direct experience is handled by situation models, too.



    A unified model by "Prof. Dr." Schmalhofer

    One unified model the so called KIWi-Model tries to explain how text representation and direct experience interact with a situation model. Additionally the domain knowledge is integrated. The domain knowledge is used by forming a situation model in different tasks like simple sentence comprehension (chapter: Why do we need Situation Models). The KIWi-Model shows that a permanent interaction between “text representation → situation model” and between “sensory encoding → situation model” exists. These interactions supports the theory of a permanent updating of the mental model.

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