“The Meaning of Meaning: Is a Paragraph More Than an Equation?” by Ericsson

12 Nov

Ericsson is a critic of AES – I’d rate her a 1.

Argument: Machines cannot read and do not know the meaning of the text.  Any company claiming that their AES system can understand the meaning of a text is misleading people.  Rhetoricians, teachers, psychologists, and testing experts should be part of conversations about writing assessment.  Ericsson also criticizes AES using rhetorical theory.  She draws on Richards and Ogden’s The Meaning of Meaning to argue that words by themselves mean nothing, that all meaning is interpreted.  (Many of us read Richards and Ogden in Rhetorical Theory)  AES is built on the belief that meaning resides in the words, which the computer can quantify.  Students will not learn to write for real audiences or how to use language if they have to learn to write for a computer AES system.


  • That AES is always bad in all pedagogical situations
  • That writing’s most important function is making meaning

Points of Interest:

  • Ericsson makes some compelling arguments.  However, couldn’t many of the same criticisms be leveled at the holistic scoring of standardized writing assessments?  I don’t think the essay high schoolers write on the state test or the essay on the SAT or the essay on the GRE are interested in meaning making.  Shouldn’t she be arguing for larger changes in how we teach and assess writing, which would include but not be limited to rejecting AES?
  • “A machine that equates meaning to a combination of word+word+word reduces the reader/word relationship to a one-dimensional ‘stimulus-response’ connection” (p. 32).
  • “In a sociocultural perspective, meaning cannot exist in isolation from the social and cultural milieu in which those meanings are made” (p. 36).
  • “Students who learn to write for these machines will see writing and composing as a process of getting the write words in the ‘bag of words’ without a concern for a human audience or any legitimate communicative purpose” (p.37).
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Uncategorized


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