Evaluative Semantics: Cognition, Language, and Ideology

Evaluative Semantics: Cognition, Language, and Ideology

Evaluative Semantics: Cognition, Language, and Ideology

Evaluative Semantics: Cognition, Language, and Ideology


Evaluation, from connotations to complex judgements of value, is probably the most neglected dimension of meaning. Calling for a new understanding of truth and value, this book is a comprehensive study of evaluation in natural language, at lexical, syntactic and discursive levels. Jean Pierre Malrieu explores the cognitive foundations of evaluation and uses connectionist networks to model evaluative processes. He takes into account the social dimension of evaluation, showing that ideological contexts account for evaluative variability. A discussion of compositionality and opacity leads to the argument that a semantics of evaluation has some key advantages over truth-conditional semantics and as an example Malrieu applies his evaluative semantics to a complex Shakespeare text. His connectionist model yields a mathematical estimation of the consistency of text with ideology, and is particularly useful in the identification of subtle rhetorical devices such as irony.


I would like to make a movie about ideology. In this movie, ideology is a comet, and men are the Magi. Neapolitan Magi.

Following the comet, men discover reality.

Pier Paolo Pasolini.

In his 1984, George Orwell imagines a language, called Newspeak, which forbids the utterance of deviant statements. Fortunately, no such language exists, probably because the relation between signifiers and their meaning cannot be easily controlled. As stated by Stalin—another credible expert in totalitarianism—language is not, in itself, ideological (Stalin 1951). Discourse is. But what is the nature of the frontier between what can and cannot be said in an ideology? Several answers have been given to this question. None of them, I would argue, is fully satisfying. Ideological correctness is neither a matter of logical consistency with a doctrine, nor the result of a discursive system largely similar to that of language. Nor is the line dividing what can and cannot be said according to an ideology, the same as that dividing what can and cannot be conceived of in the conceptual system of an ideology.

I propose another answer to the above question: the consistency of a discourse with an ideology depends on the compatibility between the evaluations it conveys and the system of values of the ideology. This hypothesis, I will claim, leads us to conceive of a much more flexible relation between ideology and discourse. It also permits us to reinstate language, with all its shades of grey, at the centre of this relation. In order to put this hypothesis to work and thereby assess its validity, I will attempt to estimate the consistency of a discourse with a system of values. To do so, one must possess a theory of value judgements, and, more generally, a theory of evaluation in language. The object of the book is therefore to provide a theory of evaluative meaning effects, of their social and cognitive foundations.

Despite some pioneering work by Marxian philosophers of language (Bakhtine, Volosinov), this issue has remained marginal within linguistics.

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