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Abstract

The alliance between cognitive linguistics and the study of discourse has become stronger in the recent past. On the one hand, cognitive linguistics focuses on language as an instrument for organizing, processing, and conveying information; on the other, language users communicate through discourse rather than through isolated sentences. This article presents an overview of current research in the field of discourse and text structure, focusing on issues of referential and relational coherence. First, it assumes that the grounding of language in discourse is central to any functional account of language. It then argues that the connectedness of discourse is a mental phenomenon. It views discourse as one that revolves around two central notions: "mental representation" and "overt linguistic signals." The remainder of this article discusses two types of coherence and their textual signals: referential coherence and relational coherence. The signals to be considered are connectives and lexical cue phrases.
Chapter 35
Discourse and Text Structure
Ted Sanders and Wilbert Spooren
1. Discourse, Text Structure, and Cognitive Linguistics
The alliance between Cognitive Linguistics and the study of discourse has become stronger in
the recent past. This is a natural development. On the one hand, Cognitive Linguistics focuses
on language as an instrument for organizing, processing, and conveying information; on the
other, language users communicate through discourse rather than through isolated sentences.
Nevertheless, at the moment, the cognitive linguistic study of discourse is still more of a
promising challenge to linguists and students of discourse, rather than a well established part
of everyday cognitive linguistic practice. We start this chapter from the assumption that the
grounding of language in discourse is central to any functional account of language
(Langacker 2001). Discourse is often considered a crucial notion for understanding human
communication. Or, as Graesser, Millis, and Zwaan (1997) put it, “Discourse is what makes
us human”.
Consider the following example from a Dutch electronic newspaper, which we have
segmented into (a) and (b).
(1) a. Greenpeace heeft in het Zuid-Duitse Beieren een nucleair transport verstoord.
b. Demonstranten ketenden zich vast aan de rails. (Telegraaf, April 10, 2001)
a. ‘Greenpeace has obstructed a nucler transport in the South Germam state of Bavaria.’
b. ‘Demonstrators chained themselves to the rails.’
This short electronic news item does not create any interpretation difficulties.
Nevertheless, in order to understand the fragment correctly, a massive amount of inferencing
has to take place. For instance, we have to infer that the nuclear transport was not disturbed by
the organization Greenpeace, but by members of that organization; that the protesters are
members of the organization; that the nuclear transport took place by train; that the place
where the protesters chained themselves to the rails is on the route that the train took; that the
time at which the protesters chained themselves to the rails coincided with the time of the
transport; and that the obstruction of the transport was caused by the protesters chaining
themselves to the rails.
Some of these inferences are based on world knowledge, for instance that organizations
consist of people and that people, but not organizations, can carry out physical actions. Others
are based on discourse structural characteristics. Here are two examples: (i) The phrase the
rails is a definite noun phrase that functions as an anaphor with a presupposed antecedent.
Since there is no explicit candidate to fulfill the role of antecedent, the noun phrase
necessarily invites the inference of a referential link with transport, the most plausible
interpretation being that the transport took place by a vehicle on rails, i.e., a train. (ii) People
reading news texts expect to get explanations for the phenomena described. When one event
in the text can be interpreted as an explanation for another, readers will infer a causal link
between them.1
In this chapter, we will focus on discourse-structural characteristics like these, which,
we believe, can account for the connectedness that discourse shows when compared to a
random set of sentences. Given the limited space of a chapter like this, there are many specific
issues that we cannot discuss, despite the fact that they are of great interest.
Thus, we will not discuss the structure of spoken discourse. Obviously, there are
fundamental differences between written and spoken discourse. For instance, many
connectives in written language function to express the meaning relationships—coherence
relations—between segments, such as but in example (2), which expresses a relation of denial
of expectation. Connectives fulfill the same function in conversation, but often they
simultaneously function as sequential markers: for instance, they signal the move from a
digression back to the main line of the conversation. This type of marker is commonly
referred to by the term discourse marker (cf. Schiffrin 2001, who is the source of example
(3)).
(2) The murder suspect—described by Hampshire police as “very dangerous”—had been
spotted by a British tourist on Saturday, but she only informed New York police on
Tuesday afternoon after returning home and seeing his photo in the British media. (The
Guardian, June 6, 2002)
(3) Jack: [ The rabbis preach, [ “Don’t intermary”
Freda: [ But I did- [ But I did say those intermarriages that we have in this
country are healthy.
According to Schiffrin, but in (3) performs multiple functions, including the function of
displaying non-alignment with Jack, realizing an action of rebuttal during an argument, and
attempting to establish Freda as the current speaker.
Clearly, connectives have multiple functions, and, clearly, these functions are related. It
is an interesting research question under which conditions a connective that expresses a
coherence relation can also be used as sequential marker. This type of question is under
investigation in the grammaticalization literature (cf. Hopper and Traugott 1993: chapter 7;
Traugott 1995). In this chapter we confine ourselves to the coherence relation function of
connectives.
Other aspects of discourse structure that are specific to spoken language include
prosody and the occurrence of so-called adjacency pairs, i.e., minimal pairs such as Question-
Answer and Summons-Response (Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson 1974). These topics, too, are
subject to ongoing research (see the overview in Ford, Fox, and Thompson 2001), and can be
considered especially important, as they cut across linguistic subdisciplines such as grammar
and the study of conversation. Still, however important and promising this research may be,
we will for reasons of space not go further into it.
Instead, we want to focus on the crucial characteristics spoken and written discourse
have in common. After all, these characteristics are central to the linguistic study of the level
at stake here, namely, that of discourse. We will use the term ‘discourse’ as the more general
term to refer to both spoken and written language, and we will only use ‘text’ to refer to
phenomena restricted to written language.
Over the years, the notion of ‘discourse’ has become increasingly important in
linguistics—a remarkable development, considering that linguistics used to deal almost
exclusively with sentences in isolation. Nowadays, the discipline includes the study of form
and meaning of utterances in context, and there exist formal, functional, and cognitive
approaches that consider the discourse level as the core object of study. There seems to be a
consensus that what makes a set of utterances into genuine discourse is (primarily) their
meaning rather than their form. More specifically, there is a shared belief that ‘discoursehood’
is based on the possibility to relate discourse segments to form a coherent message. As a
result, the dividing line between cognitive linguistic approaches and more formal approaches
seems to be less clear-cut than at the sentence level (Knott, Sanders, and Oberlander 2001).
Still, there are large differences between formal and cognitive or functional accounts of
discourse. In formal linguistics, discourse-oriented work centers on the semantic theories of
Kamp (e.g., Kamp and Reyle 1993) and Heim (1982). Here, issues like anaphora and
presupposition are studied in short stretches of discourses usually consisting of constructed
sets of sentences. In formal computational linguistics, however, attention is increasingly
turning to the interpretation and production of extended pieces of text (Lascarides and Asher
1993). This type of approach is gradually moving in the direction of cognitively and
functionally inspired work, which focuses on the discourse structure of naturally occurring
language (Mann and Thompson 1986; Polanyi 1988) and on the cognitive representation of
discourse in the mind of the language user (Sanders, Spooren, and Noordman 1992, 1993).
The central claim of this chapter is that the connectedness of discourse is a mental
phenomenon. When confronted with a stretch of discourse, language users make a coherent
representation of it. At the same time, discourse itself contains (more or less) overt signals
that direct this interpretation process, which is in line with views of grammar as a processing
instructor (Givón 1995; Kintsch 1995). Thus, our view of discourse revolves around two
central notions: ‘mental representation’ and ‘overt linguistic signals’. The latter goes back to
the Hallidayan work on cohesion (Halliday and Hasan 1976), which describes text
connectedness in terms of cohesive ties such as conjunction and ellipsis. The problem with
this approach is that sequences like John was happy. It was a Saturday can be coherent, even
though they do not have any cohesive ties. The notion of ‘mental representation’ relates to
approaches like Hobbs’s (1979), who coined the phrase coherence relation for interclausal
relationships. What we inherit from this work is what we consider the best of both worlds: the
attention for linguistic detail in the cohesion approach is combined with the basic insight that
coherence is a cognitive phenomenon.
Considering coherence as a mental phenomenon implies that it is not an inherent
property of a text under consideration. Language users establish coherence by relating the
different information units in the text. The notion of coherence has a prominent place in both
(text-)linguistic and psycholinguistic theories of text and discourse. Although this is not a
particularly new view of coherence (see, among many others, Van Dijk and Kintsch 1983;
Hobbs 1990; Garnham and Oakhill 1992; Sanders, Spooren, and Noordman 1992;
Gernsbacher and Givón 1995; Noordman and Vonk 1997)—it is a crucial starting point for
theories that aim at describing the link between the structure of a text as a linguistic object, its
cognitive representations, and the processes of text production and understanding. In our
view, it is this type of theory, located at the intersection of linguistics and psycholinguistics,
that could lead to significant progress in the field of discourse studies (Sanders and Spooren
2001a). Cognitive linguists have already made substantial contributions to the study of
discourse. At the same time, Cognitive Linguistics can benefit from insights in discourse to
further develop itself as the study of language in use (Barlow and Kemmer 2000).
In the remainder of this chapter, we will discuss two types of coherence and their textual
signals: (i) Referential coherence: how does reference to individuals create continuity and (as
a result) coherence? The signals that we will be considering involve reference to objects and
concepts; more specifically, we will consider the ways in which reference is realized: through
full NPs, pronouns, zero anaphora, etc. (ii) Relational coherence: how do coherence relations
like causals and contrastives constitute connectedness? The signals that we will be
considering are connectives and lexical cue phrases. At the end of this chapter, we will reach
some conclusions about the relationship between discourse/text structure and Cognitive
Linguistics, and on the basis of our analysis of the state of the art, we will suggest some
challenging issues for future research.
2. Referential Coherence
Text (4) illustrates how referential coherence structures discourse.
(4) The heaviest human in medical history was Jon Brower Minnoch (b. 29 Sep 1941) of
Bainbridge Island, WA, who had suffered from obesity since childhood. The 6-ft-1-in-
tall former taxi driver was 392 lb in 1963, 700 lb in 1966, and 975 lb in September
1976. In March 1978, Minnoch was rushed to University Hospital, Seattle, Ø saturated
with fluid and Ø suffering from heart and respiratory failure. It took a dozen firemen
and an improvised stretcher to move him from his home to a ferryboat. When he arrived
at the hospital he was put in two beds lashed together. It took 13 people just to roll him
over. (The Guiness book of records 1994: 151)
The discourse topic Jon Brower Minnoch is identified in the first sentence and is referred to
throughout this fragment in each sentence. Here are the referential forms used in the text:
Jon Brower Minnoch (b. 29 Sep 1941) of Bainbridge Island, WA
The 6-ft-1-in-tall former taxi driver
Minnoch
Ø
Ø
him
he
he
him
First of all, this list shows that the linguistic indicators for referential coherence can be
lexical NPs, pronouns, and other devices for anaphoric reference. Second, it appears that the
longest referential forms are used in the beginning of the fragment, and once the referent has
been identified, the pronominal forms suffice. This is not a coincidence. Many linguists have
noted this regularity and have related it to the cognitive status of the referents. Ariel (1990,
2001), for instance, has argued that this type of pattern in grammatical coding should be
understood to guide processing. She has developed an Accessibility Theory in which high
accessibility markers consist of less linguistic material, and signal the default choice of
continued activation. By contrast, low accessibility markers consist of much linguistic
material, and signal termination of activation of the current (topical) referent, and the
(re)introduction of a different referent. Ariel has also developed an Accessibility Marking
Scale (Ariel 1990), from low to high accessibility markers:
(5) Full name > long definite description > short definite description > last name > first
name > distal demonstrative > proximate demonstrative > NP > stressed pronoun >
unstressed pronoun > cliticized pronoun > zero.
For examples such as our text (4), Ariel has convincingly shown that zero anaphora and
unstressed pronouns co-occur with high accessibility of referents, whereas stressed pronouns
and full lexical nouns signal low accessibility. This co-occurrence can easily be understood in
terms of cognitive processes of activation: High accessibility markers signal the default
choice of continued activation of the current topical referent. Low accessibility anaphoric
devices such as full NPs or indefinite articles signal termination of activation of the current
topical referent, and the activation of another topic. Ariel (1990) has even argued that the
framework has consequences for the binding conditions of Chomsky’s Government and
Binding Theory on the distribution and interpretation of pronominal and anaphoric
expressions: these conditions are actually the ‘grammaticalized versions’ of cognitive states of
attention and of the accessibility of concepts that are referred to linguistically. This
Accessibility Theory is based on earlier work by Chafe and Givón: “Chafe (1976, 1994) was
the first to argue for a direct connection between referential forms and cognitive statuses.
Accessibility Theory can be seen as an extension of his (and later Givón’s 1983) basic
insight” (Ariel 2001: 60).
Many functional and cognitive linguists have argued that the grammar of referential
coherence plays an important role in the mental operations of connecting incoming
information to existing mental representations. This cognitive interpretation of referential
phenomena is supported by a growing body of empirical data from corpus studies along the
lines set out by functional linguists like DuBois (1980). In a distributional study, Givón
(1995), for instance, shows that in English the indefinite article a(n) is typically used to
introduce nontopical referents, whereas topical referents are introduced by this. In addition,
there is a clear interaction between grammatical subjecthood and the demonstrative this: most
this-marked NPs also appear as grammatical subjects in a sentence, while a majority of a(n)-
marked NPs occurr as non-subjects. Across languages, there appears to be a topic persistence
of referents: in active-transitive clauses the topic persistence of subject NPs is systematically
higher than that of object NPs.
In experimental research on text processing, quite some work has been done which can
be taken to demonstrate the ‘psychological reality’ of linguistic indicators of referential
coherence. For instance, it is easier to resolve a pronoun with only one possible referent than
one with ambiguous reference, and it is easier to resolve a pronoun with a proximal referent
than one with a distant referent. As for the time course, eye fixation studies have repeatedly
shown that anaphoric expressions are resolved immediately (e.g., Carpenter and Just 1977;
Ehrlich and Rayner 1983).
(6) a. The guard mocked one of the prisoners in the machine shop.
b. He had been at the prison for only one week.
When readers came upon ambiguous pronouns such as he in (6b), the data showed
many regressions; that is, readers frequently looked back in the text. More than 50% of these
regressive fixations were to one of the two nouns in the text preceding the pronoun,
suggesting that readers attempted to resolve the pronoun immediately. As for meaning
representation, it has been shown that readers have difficulty understanding the text correctly
when the antecedent and referent are too far apart and reference takes the form of a pronoun.
On a more global text level, rather less research has been done into the exact working of
accessibility markers as processing instructions. Well researched, however, is the influence of
typical discourse phenomena such as prominence of a referent in the discourse context.
Garrod and Sanford (1985) used a spelling error detection procedure, and on the basis of that
earlier experiment, Garrod, Freudenthal, and Boyle (1993) did an eye-tracking study with
texts such as the one rendered (in a simplified version) below.
(7) A dangerous incident at the pool
Elizabeth was an inexperienced swimmer and wouldn’t have gone in if the male
lifeguard hadn’t been standing by the pool. But as soon as she got out of her depth
she started to panic and wave her hands about in a frenzy.
Target:
Within seconds she sank into the pool. (Thematic, Consistent)
Within seconds she jumped into the pool. (Thematic, Inconsistent)
(A simplified version of experimental texts used by Garrod, Freudenthal, and Boyle
1993)
The eye-tracking data show strong evidence for very early detection of inconsistency, as is
apparent from longer fixations (in this case on the verb), but only when the pronoun maintains
reference to the focused thematic subject of the passage, i.e., in the thematic conditions. In
non-thematic conditions, i.e., when the pronoun does not refer to the subject in focus, there is
no evidence for early detection of inconsistency.
In recent approaches to discourse anaphora, the modeling of this type of discourse
focusing is pivotal. This is especially true for Centering Theory (Walker, Joshi, and Prince
1998), which aims at modeling the center of attention in discourse in terms of the relationship
of attentional state, inferential complexity, and the form of referring expressions in a given
discourse segment. Centering Theory makes explicit predictions about the referent that is ‘in
focus’ at a certain moment in a discourse. It is even predicted that the degree of coherence
exhibited by a textual sequence is determined by the extent to which that sequence conforms
to the ‘centering constraints’. These constraints suggest that topic continuity is the default
discourse situation, because frequent topic-shifting results in less local coherence. Without
going into much detail, we discuss two examples of ‘centering rules’ (based on Grosz,
Weinstein, and Joshi 1995; Walker, Joshi, and Prince 1998). These rules concern the
transition from one discourse segment to another and are illustrated by the following short
text, adapted from Grosz, Weinstein, and Joshi (1995).
(8) a. Susan gave Betsy a pet hamster.
b. She reminded Betsy that such hamsters were quite shy.
c. Betsy told her that she really liked the gift.
d. She said she loved these little animals.
There are two referents present in this discourse, both referred to with proper names in
(8a) and with pronouns later on. Centering Theory predicts that, given its grammatical role of
subject, Susan is the center2 of (8a). Centering Theory further predicts that the most likely
continuation in (8b) is a zero anaphor or a third person pronoun (she) referring back to the
center, Susan. This, then, is a case of center continuation. In (8c), Betsy is pronominalized
(she) as well. In (8d), then, there is a smooth shift to Betsy as the center. Sequence (9) is an
example of a rough shift from Susan to Betsy from (9b) to (9c).
(9) a. Susan gave Betsy a pet hamster.
b. She reminded her that such hamsters were quite shy.
c. She told her that she really liked the gift.
The shift in (9) is rough because of the grammatical role and the expression types used to
encode both Betsy and Susan in (9b) and (9c): Betsy has been pronominalized in (9b), and in
(9c) Betsy is referred to with a pronoun in subject position, whereas Susan is referred to with
a pronoun in object position. This shift is so rough that the sequence could even be judged
incoherent (as Cornish 1999: 171 does)—or at least hard to process. Indeed, several
processing studies have shown the cognitive relevance of the referential factors identified in
Centering Theory (see especially Gordon, Grosz, and Gilliom 1993). The precise predictions
of Centering Theory not only show how linguistic expressions of referential coherence can
function as processing instructions, they also suggest that there is a referential linguistic
system at the discourse level, which is a challenging topic for further investigation (see
Cornish 1999).
Vonk, Hustinx, and Simons (1992) also showed the relevance of discourse context for
the interpretation of referential expressions. Sometimes anaphors are more specific than is
necessary for their identificational function (for instance, full NPs are used rather than
pronominal expressions). The authors convincingly argue that this phenomenon can be
explained in terms of the thematic development of discourse: if a discourse participant is
referred to by a proper name after a series of pronominal referential expressions, this serves to
indicate that a shift in topic is occurring. As is apparent from reading times, readers process
the referential expressions differently.
Where anaphoric reference modulates the availability of previously mentioned concepts,
cataphoric devices change the availability of concepts for the text that follows. Gernsbacher
(1990) and her colleagues have demonstrated readers’ sensitivity to this type of linguistic
indicator of reference. They contrasted cataphoric reference by means of indefinite a(n) as
opposed to definite this, both used to introduce a new referent in a story. For example, the
new referent egg was introduced either as an egg or as this egg. It was hypothesized that the
cataphor this would signal that a concept is likely to be mentioned again in the following
story, and that this-cataphor therefore results in higher activation. Subjects listened to texts
and were then asked to continue the text after the critical concept. They appeared to refer
sooner and more often to a concept introduced by this than to a concept introduced by an.
These and other results show that concepts that were marked as a potential discourse topic by
this are more strongly activated, more resistant to being suppressed in activation, as well as
more effective in suppressing the activation of other concepts (Gernsbacher 1990). It is this
type of findings that provide the psycholinguistic underpinning for the idea of ‘grammar as a
processing instructor’.
By now, the results of on-line studies of pronominal reference make it possible to
formulate cognitive parsing principles for anaphoric reference (cf. Garrod and Sanford 1994
for an overview; also Sanford and Garrod 1994; Gernsbacher 1990; Sanders and Gernsbacher
2003). Person, number, and gender obviously guide pronominal resolution. More
interestingly, data from reading time, eye-tracking, and priming studies show that it takes less
processing time to
a. resolve pronouns with only one possible referent than several;
b. resolve pronouns with proximal referents than distant ones;
c. resolve reference to topical concepts than to less topical ones.
One obvious explanation for these findings lies in the notion of accessibility: anaphoric
expressions are instructions to connect incoming information with referents mentioned earlier,
and the referent nodes can be more accessible or less accesible. As a result, it takes less or
more processing time, respectively, to understand anaphoric expressions (Gernsbacher 1990).
3. Relational Coherence
So far, we have discussed examples of the way in which linguistic signals of referential
coherence affect text processing. We now move to signals of relational coherence. In many
approaches to discourse connectedness, coherence relations are taken to account for the
coherence in readers’ cognitive text representation (cf. Hobbs 1979; Mann and Thompson
1986; Sanders, Spooren, and Noordman 1992). Coherence relations are meaning relations that
connect two text segments (minimally consisting of clauses). Examples are relations such as
CAUSE-CONSEQUENCE, LIST, and PROBLEM-SOLUTION. These relations are conceptual and
they can, but need not, be made explicit by linguistic markers: so-called connectives (because,
so, however, although) and lexical cue phrases (for that reason, as a result, on the other
hand).
Ever since Ducrot (1980) and Lang (1984), there have been linguistic accounts of
connectives as operating instructions. The basic idea is that a connective serves to relate the
content of connected segments in a specific type of relationship. Anscombre and Ducrot
(1977), for instance, analyze but as setting up an argumentative scale (for instance, the
desirability of John as a marriage candidate), with one segment tending towards the negative
side of the scale and the other towards the positive side:
(10) John is rich, but dumb.
In his influential work on Mental Spaces, Fauconnier (1994) treats connectives as one
of the so-called space-builders, that is, linguistic expressions that typically establish new
Mental Spaces. Mental Spaces are mental constructs set up to interpret utterances, “structured,
incremental sets ... and relations holding between them ..., such that new elements can be
added to them and new relations established between their elements” (Fauconnier 1994: 16).
An example of a connective acting as a space-builder is the if-then conditional, as in If I were
a millionaire, my VW would be a Rolls. An expression like if p then q sets up a new mental
space H in which q holds. In other words, if I were a millionaire is the space builder and in
this new space my VW from the initial space is identified with the Rolls in the new space (for
the detailed analyses see Fauconnier 1994, chapters 3–4; and Sweetser 1996).
Is there any psycholinguistic work showing the relevance if these ideas of connectives
as processing instructors? Various on-line processing studies have examined the function of
linguistic markers. These studies have primarily aimed at the investigation of the processing
role of the signals per se, rather than on more sophisticated issues such as the exact working
of ‘space building’. The experimental work typically involves the comparison of reading
times of identical textual fragments with different linguistic signals preceding them. Recent
studies on the role of connectives and signaling phrases show that these linguistic signals
affect the construction of the text representation (cf. Millis and Just 1994; Noordman and
Vonk 1998; Cozijn 2000; Sanders and Noordman 2000).
Millis and Just (1994), for instance, investigated the influence of connectives such as
because immediately after reading a sentence. After participants had read two clauses that
were either linked or not linked by a connective, they had to judge whether a probe word had
been mentioned in one of the clauses. The recognition time to probes from the first clause was
consistently faster when the clauses were linked by a connective. The presence of the
connective also led to faster and more accurate responses to comprehension questions. These
results suggest that the connective does influence the representation immediately after
reading.
Using eye-movement techniques, Cozijn (2000) studied the exact location of the various
effects of using because. Using because implies making a causal link between the related
segments. Comparing reading times in segments linked by a connective to segments not
linked by a connective, Cozijn found that in clauses with a connective words immediately
following the connective were read faster, but reading slowed down towards the end of the
clause. This suggests that connectives help to integrate linguistic material (thus leading to
faster reading when the connective is present), whereas at the same time they instruct the
reader to draw a causal inference (thus slowing down clause-final reading).
In sum, several studies show the influence of linguistic markers on text processing.
However, studies of the influence on text representation show a much less consistent pattern
(see Degand, Lefèvre, and Bestgen 1999; Sanders and Noordman 2000; and Degand and
Sanders 2002 for an overview). On the one hand, some results show that linguistic marking of
coherence relations improves mental text representation. This becomes apparent from better
recall performance, faster and more accurate responses to prompted recall tasks, faster
responses to verification tasks, and better answers on comprehension questions. On the other
hand, there are a number of studies indicating that linguistic markers do not have this
facilitating role, as shown by a lack of effect on the amount of information recalled or a lack
of better answers on multiple-choice comprehension questions. Some authors even claim a
negative impact of connectives on text comprehension.
There are several plausible explanations for the reported contradictions (Degand and
Sanders 2002). One is that the category of linguistic markers under investigation is not well
defined. For instance, in the signaling literature different types of signals seem to be
conflated. A second explanation is that some experimental methods, such as the recall task,
are simply too global to measure the effect of relational markers. Other methods such as
recognition, question answering, or sorting (Kintsch 1998) might be more sensitive in this
respect. Indeed, Degand, Lefèvre, and Bestgen (1999), and Degand and Sanders (2002)
provide evidence for the claim that under average conditions (i.e., in natural texts of normal
text length and with a moderate number of connectives) causal connectives do contribute
significantly to the comprehension of the text. In sum, connectives and cue phrases seem to
affect both the construction process and the representation once the text has been processed,
but the effects are rather subtle and specific measurement techniques are needed to actually
assess them.
Thus far, we have discussed the role of connectives and signaling phrases in discourse
processing. A preliminary conclusion might be that they can be treated as linguistic markers
that instruct readers how to connect a new discourse segment with a previous one (Britton
1994). In the absence of such instructions, readers have to determine for themselves what
coherence relation connects the incoming segment to the previous discourse. Such an
inference process requires additional cognitive energy and results in longer processing times.
If this idea has any validity, it implies that the coherence relations themselves should have a
major influence on discourse processing as well. One might expect that the type of relation
that connects two discourse segments, be it causal, additive, contrastive, etc., affects discourse
representation.
Here we move into another area where the combination of text linguistic and discourse
psychological insights has lead to significant progress: the discussion about the types or
categorization of coherence relations. In the last decade, a significant part of the research on
coherence relations has focused on the question how the many different sets of relations
should be organized (Hovy 1990; Redeker 1990; Knott and Dale 1994; Sanders 1997; Pander
Maat 1998;). Sanders, Spooren, and Noordman (1992) have started from the properties
common to all relations, in order to define the ‘relations among the relations’, relying on the
intuition that some coherence relations are more alike than others. For instance, the relations
in (11), (12), and (13) all express (a certain type of) causality, whereas the ones in (14) and
(15) do not. Furthermore, a negative relation is expressed in (14), as opposed to all other
examples. Finally, (15) expresses a relation of enumeration or addition.
(11) The buzzard was looking for prey. The bird was soaring in the air for hours.
(12) The bird has been soaring in the air for hours now. It must be a buzzard.
(13) The buzzard has been soaring in the air for hours now. Let's finally go home!
(14) The buzzard was soaring in the air for hours. Yesterday we did not see it all day.
(15) The buzzard was soaring in the air for hours. There was a peregrine falcon in the area,
too.
Sweetser (1990) introduced a distinction dominant in many existing classification
proposals, namely that between content relations (sometimes also called ideational, external,
or semantic relations), epistemic relations, and speech-act relations. In the first type of
relation, segments are related because of their propositional content, i.e., the locutionary
meaning of the segments. They describe events that cohere in the world. The relation in (16)
can be interpreted as a content relation because it connects two events in the world; our
knowledge allows us to relate the segments as coherent in the world. Similarly, the relation in
(16) could be paraphrased as “the neighbors suddenly having left for Paris last Friday leads to
the fact that they are not at home” (Sanders 1997).
(16) The neighbors suddenly left for Paris last Friday. As a consequence they are not at
home.
(17) The lights in their living room are out. So the neighbors are not at home.
(18) Why don’t you turn up the radio? The neighbors are not at home.
In (17), however, the two discourse segments are related not because there is a causal relation
between two states of affairs in the world, but because we understand the second part as a
conclusion from evidence in the first: it is not the case that the neigbors are not at home
because the lights are out. The causal relation in (17) could be paraphrased as ‘I observe that
the lights in their living room are out. I conclude from that that the neighbors are not at
home’. This is an example of an epistemic relation. Example (18) is a speech-act relation: its
paraphrase is ‘I invite you to turn up the radio’. The basis for that invitation is that the
neighbors are not at home.
If this distinction is applied to the set of examples above, the causal relation (11) is a
content relation, whereas (12) is an epistemic relation and (13) a speech-act relation. This
systematic difference between types of relation has been noted by many students of discourse
coherence. Still, there is quite a lot of discussion about the exact definition of a distinction
like this (see; e.g., Hovy 1990; Martin 1992; Moore and Pollack 1992; Knott and Dale 1994;
Knott 1996; Bateman and Rondhuis 1997; Oversteegen 1997; Sanders 1997; Knott and
Sanders 1998; Pander Maat 1998; Sanders and Spooren 1999; Degand 2001). At the same
time, several researchers have come up with highly similar distinctions, and there seems to be
basic agreement on the characteristics of the prototypical relations (Sanders 1997).
If categorizations of coherence relations have real cognitive significance, they should
prove relevant in areas such as discourse processing and language development, both
synchronically (language acquisition) and diachronically (language change). In all three areas,
much suggestive evidence already exists in the literature and additional, substantial studies are
under way.
Experimental studies on the processing of coherence relations have especially dealt with
causal relations. For instance, causally related events are recalled better (Black and Bern
1981; Trabasso and Van den Broek 1985), and at the same time they are processed faster
(Haberlandt and Bingham 1978; Sanders and Noordman 2000). These results possibly imply
that causality has a special status. In Zwaan’s Event Indexing Model, readers construct
coherent representations of a narrative text by integrating the events in the text on five
different dimensions: time, space, causation, motivation, and protagonist. By default, readers
assume inertia: discontinuities on any of these dimensions (leaps in time, space etc.) lead to
processing problems. That explains why temporal inversion increases processing time (Zwaan
1996), that non-causally related events are more difficult to process than causally related
events (Singer et al. 1992), and that causally related sentences which follow the order Cause–
Consequence take less processing time than sentences presented in the reversed order
Consequence–Cause (Noordman 2001).
Using both reading-time and eye-tracking data, Louwerse (2001) investigated the
cognitive reality of several conceptual dimensions underlying coherence relations, and found
some suggestive evidence. For instance, the more complex relations, CAUSAL rather than
ADDITIVE and NEGATIVE rather than POSITIVE, took longer to process and triggered more
regressions: readers looked back more often. Longer reading times and regressions are
generally considered as indicators of processing difficulty.
Research on first language acquisition suggests that the order in which children acquire
connectives reflects increasing complexity, which can be accounted for in terms of the
relational categories mentioned above: ADDITIVES (and) before CAUSALS (because), POSITIVES
(and, because) before NEGATIVES (but, although) (Bloom 1991; Spooren 1997; Evers-
Vermeul 2005; Spooren and Sanders 2003). In a corpus of naturalistic data, Kyratzis, Guo,
and Ervin-Tripp (1990) found that speech-act causal relations are frequent even at a very early
age, whereas epistemic causal relations are acquired very late (they hardly occur, even in the
oldest age group studied by Kyratzis, Guo, and Ervin-Tripp, of 6;7–12;0 years). It remains to
be seen how these issues of cognitive complexity of coherence relations relate to so-called
usage-based or input-based accounts of language acquisition (Tomassello 2000; see also
Evers-Vermeul, 2005).
In research on diachronic development, too, the classification categories of connectives
show to be relevant. Sweetser (1990) originally introduced her three-domain distinction to
cover the semantics of a number of related phenomena involving verbs of perception, modal
elements, and connectives. She argues that, from their original content meanings, these
linguistic elements have diachronically developed new meanings in the more subjective
epistemic and speech- act domains. Examples of such developments in the realm of
connectives have been presented by König and Traugott (1988), and Traugott (1995). Thus,
still originally meant ‘now as formerly’ but has changed from an expression of simultaneity to
one of denial of expectation. Similarly, while developed from a marker exclusively expressing
simultaneity (‘at the time that’) to a marker used to express contrast and concession (see (19));
German weil had the same root meaning, but developed into a causal connective. Traugott
(1995: 31) considers this a case of “subjectification: meanings become increasingly based in
the speaker’s subjective belief state/attitude toward the proposition.”
(19) Mary read while Bill sang.
Mary liked oysters while Bill hated them.
(Traugott 1995: 31)
Traugott shows how subjectification plays a significant role in the grammaticalization
processes. on the sentence level. However, subjectivity and subjectification are also valid at
the discourse level as becomes apparent from the study of coherence relations and
connectives. Some have claimed that distinctions between content relations, epistemic
relations and speech act relatios should be replaced by a subjectivity scale of speaker
involvement (Pander Maat and Degand 2001). This scale is a continuum on which content
relations such as CAUSE-CONSEQUENCE are maximally objective, whereas epistemic relations
are very subjective. Volitional causal relations such as the REASON-relation in John wanted to
leave. He was tired hold an intermediate position. Some corpus evidence may be found in the
distribution of Dutch and French connectives, since the notion of subjectivity, i.e., the amount
of speaker involvement—to what extent is the speaker responsible for the utterance?—seems
to provide an explanation for differences in meaning and use of causal connectives like Dutch
daardoor ‘as a result’, daarom ‘that is why’, and dus ‘so’ (Pander Maat and Sanders 2000,
2001). In the case of the nonvolitional daardoor (see (20)), for instance, the causality is
located outside of the speaker as a subject-of-consciousness. There is a minimal amount of
speaker involvement. In the epistemic use of dus in (22) and the volitional use of daarom in
(21), a subject-of-consciousness can be identified, either the current speaker or the actor.
(20) Er was een lawine geweest op Roger’s pass. Daardoor was de weg geblokkeerd.
‘There had been an avalanche at Roger’s pass. As a result, the road was blocked.’
(21) Daan wilde op tijd thuis zijn. Daarom vertrok hij om 5 uur.
‘Daan wanted to be home in time. That is why he left at 5 o’clock.’
(22) Het waren grote grijze vogels, die veel lawaai maakten. Dus het moeten wel
kraanvogels geweest zijn.
‘They were large grey birds that made a lot of noise. So it must have been cranes.’
Proposals such as these illustrate the unmistakable tendency in recent text-linguistic
work to use the notions of subjectification and perspective. This tendency goes back on
Ducrot (1980), who already stressed the diaphonic nature of discourse. Even in monologic,
texts traces can be found of other ‘voices’, information that is not presented as fact-like, but as
coming from a particular point-of-view, either the current speaker’s (subjectified information,
in the terminology of Sanders and Spooren 1997) or another cognizer’s (perspectivized
information). Cognitive Linguistics has a large role to play in the development of this line of
work, because of the key role it attributes to processes of subjectification in natural language,
but also because it allows for a dynamic approach to connectives ‘as processing instructors’.
Fauconnier’s Mental Space framework is very suitable to model this type of phenomena, as
has been suggested by Dancygier and Sweetser (2000), Verhagen (2000, 2005), and Sanders
and Spooren (2001b). As an example, consider Verhagen’s (2005) use of the Mental Space
framework to analyze differences between epistemic and content uses of because and
although. In a content use of because such as (23), the only Mental Space involved is the
speaker’s space, containing the facts that ‘John passed his exams’ and ‘John worked hard’, as
well as the general rule ‘Normally, working hard increases your chances of passing your
exam’.
(23) John passed his exams because he worked hard.
(24) John must have worked hard, because he passed his exams.
In epistemic uses of because as in (24) the first segment functions as a claim, for which the
second is an argument. This use of because requires the construction of a more complex
Mental Space configuration. The speaker’s space contains the general rule that ‘Normally,
working hard increases your chances of passing your exam’. It also contains the fact that John
passed his exams, and it contains the (abductive) inference that John worked hard. In addition
to this speaker’s space, a Mental Space is created that contains a nonpositive epistemic stance,
probably uttered by a conversational partner, regarding the issue of whether or not John has
been working hard. Together, the configuration captures the interpretation that epistemic
because reaffirms a possible inference from another cognizer, as may be clear from the
paraphrase ‘The inference is correct that John may have been working hard considering that
he has passed his exams’.
[INSERT FIGURE 1 ABOUT HERE]
Verhagen proceeds by analyzing content and epistemic uses of although, which are based on
the same pattern of Mental Space configurations. Especially the allusion to other cognizers’
interpretation is a clear example of how the polyphonic, perspectivizing nature of epistemic
because and although can be analyzed. Fauconnier’s Mental Space framework seems
adequate in capturing perspective, which remains an elusive notion for linguistics and
psycholinguistics alike (Sanders 1994).
4. Cognitive Linguistics at the Discourse Level
What is the place of a chapter on discourse structure in a Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics?
We have presented an overview of current research in the field of discourse and text
structure, focusing on issues of referential and relational coherence. It can be concluded that
the study of discourse provides us with important insights in the relationship between
language on the one hand, and the cognitive representation that language users have or make
of discourse, on the other. Highly attractive, in this context, is the idea that linguistic
expressions are instructions for the construction of such a representation. Even if the research
that we have discussed is not cognitive linguistic ‘by nature’, it can be concluded that many of
its results can and should be incorporated in Cognitive Linguistics. Reasons are the following:
a. Cognitive Linguistics is a source of inspiration for the modeling of discourse structure.
Major contributions such as those by Fauconnier (Mental Spaces), Langacker
(Subjectivity), and Sweetser (Domains of Use) offer the terminology and theoretical
framework to consider linguistic phenomena as structure-building devices.
b. Cognitive Linguistics provides theoretical insights that can be—and partly have been—
extended to the discourse level. An example is the classical cognitive linguistic work on
categorization. Human beings categorize the world around them. As Lakoff (1987) and
Lakoff and Johnson (1999) have shown, the linguistic categories apparent in people’s
everyday language use provide us with many interesting insights in the working of the
mind. Over the last decade, the categorization of coherence relations and the linguistic
devices expressing them have played a major role in text-linguistic and cognitive
linguistic approaches to discourse. For instance, the way in which speakers categorize
related events by expressing them with one connective (because) rather than another
(since) can be treated as an act of categorization that reveals language users’ ways of
thinking.
c. Cognitive Linguistics is the study of language in use; it seeks to develop so-called
usage-based models (Barlow and Kemmer 2000) and in doing so increasingly relies on
corpora of naturally occurring discourse that make it possible to adduce cognitively
plausible theories to empirical testing.
d. Cognitive Linguistics typically appreciates the methodological strategy of converging
evidence. In principle, linguistic analyses are to be corroborated by evidence from areas
other than linguistics, such as psychological (Gibbs 1996) and neurological processing
studies.
5. Looking into the Future: Integration of Different Approaches
At the end of this chapter, we have reached the point where we can stop and ask about the
avenues that lie ahead of us. We see several interesting developments that may set the
research agenda for the coming years. We focus on issues that follow from our analysis of the
state of the art in the preceding sections. A first and very basic issue is the question of
discourse segmentation: What are the building blocks of discourse? To what extent do they
correspond to traditional units of analysis such as the clause, sentence and—in the spoken
mode—the turn? Are discourse units in spoken and written language comparable? To what
extent are grammatical and discourse structure isomorphic (see Verhagen 2001 for a
discussion of similar topics)?
A second important issue is the linguistics–text linguistics interface. As noted in section
1, we see a growing exchange or sharing of ideas between grammarians, (formal)
semanticists, and pragmaticists on the one hand, and text linguists on the other. Questions that
can be asked are: What is the relationship between information structuring at the sentence
level and at the discourse level? And, how do factors such as tense and aspect influence
discourse connections (Lascarides and Asher 1993; Oversteegen 1997)? For instance,
discourse segments denoting events that have taken place in the past (The duke fell of his
horse. He died) will be typically connected by coherence relations linking their content,
whereas segments whose events take place in the present or future typically contain many
evaluations or other subjective elements (I am sure I saw the duke fall of his horse just now.
He may die), and are prototypically connected by epistemic relations.
Another promising topic related to the sentence–discourse interface is that of
intraclausal and interclausal relationships: are the types of causality found at the intraclausal
level (John made him pay the bill vs. John let him pay the bill; Verhagen and Kemmer 1997)
similar to the types of causality found at the discourse level (Stukker 2005)? For instance,
can The headache caused the soprano to cancel the concert be (insightfully) compared to
Because she had a headache the soprano cancelled the concert?
A final topic related to the linguistics–text linguistics interface is the relationship
between discourse and grammar. In the more functionally oriented literature, there is a rich
tradition of corpus studies of linguistic structures in a discourse context. A good example is
the work on the discourse function of subordinated clauses (Tomlin 1985), more specifically
if/when–clauses (Haiman 1978; Ramsay 1987) and purpose clauses (Thompson 1985;
Matthiessen and Thompson 1987). Thus, the discourse function of purpose clauses appears to
depend on their placement in relation to the main clause. In medial or final position, their role
is one of local elaboration, but in initial position, their role becomes one of foregrounding
information. They signal how to interpret the following clause, and how to relate it to the
preceding text. Hopefully, such studies will inspire more (cognitive) linguists to look at
linguistic structures as vehicles built by language producers to enable interpreters to
understand what they have in mind. Recently, Langacker (2001) has presented a framework
for the further integration of discourse and Cognitive Grammar.
A third, obvious issue is the relationship between the principles of relational and
referential coherence. Clearly, both types of principles provide language users with signals
during discourse interpretation. Readers and listeners interpret these signals as instructions for
how to construct coherence. Therefore, the principles will operate in parallel, and they will
influence each other. The question is: how do they interact? This issue can be illustrated with
the simple example in (25).
(25) John congratulated Pete on his excellent play.
a. He had scored a goal.
b. He scored a goal.
At least two factors are relevant in resolving the anaphoric expression he in (25a) and
(25b): the aspectual value of the verb in the sentence and the coherence relations that can be
inferred between the sentences. At sentence level, the verb in (25a) is in the perfect tense; at
the discourse level, there is one straightforward interpretation of coherence relation is
available, namely, the backward causal relation CONSEQUENCE-CAUSE. In (25b), the verb is
in the imperfect tense, and, at the discourse level several coherence relations can exist, e.g.
TEMPORAL SEQUENCE (of events), or ENUMERATION/LIST (of events in the game).The
resolution of the anaphor-antecedent relation is related to these two factors. In (25a); he must
refer to Pete, while in (25b), several antecedents are possible: John, Pete, or even an actor
mentioned earlier. Interestingly, the interrelationship of sentence and discourse levels turns up
again: How does the sentence-internal property of aspect interact with the discourse property
of coherence relations in the process of anaphor resolution? Is the anaphor resolved as a
consequence of the interpretation of the coherence relation? Questions of this kind have
already been addressed in the seminal work of Hobbs (1979) and have recently been taken up
again in a challenging way by Kehler (2002).
A fourth specific issue is the refinement of the relationship between the central concepts
of subjectivity, perspectivization, and the typology of coherence relations, which needs to be
explored in much greater detail (Sanders and Spooren 2001b). The starting point for these
studies consists of corpus-based accounts of connectives in terms of subjectivity and speaker
involvement (Pander Maat and Degand 2001; Pander Maat and Sanders 2001), discussions of
perspective and subjectivity (Sanders and Spooren 1997; Pit 2003), Mental Space analyses of
perspective (Sanders and Redeker 1996) and connectives (Dancygier and Sweetser 2000;
Verhagen 2005).
A fifth issue and area for further research is the interrelationship between spoken and
written discourse. Results from text-linguistic and psycholinguistic studies presented here are
largely based on the study of written discourse. To what extent can they be generalized to
spoken discourse? And what will the specific insights from the linguistic analysis of spoken
discourse add to the picture we have so far? These questions become especially important
when claims concerning cognitive reality are at stake. After all, our most natural and
spontaneous way to communicate is not simply in discourse, but in spoken discourse.
Finally, there is an important methodological issue on the road ahead. A traditional
forte of Cognitive Linguistics is its determination to provide cognitively plausible analyses of
linguistic phenomena. A less well developed aspect of Cognitive Linguistics is the empirical
study of language in use, aiming either to find regular patterns that feed the theories, or to
actually test theories against language use. Plausible theoretical ideas regularly have to be
revised after serious empirical testing. And even though there are more and more examples of
studies combining linguistic theorizing with some kind of testing either in corpus
examinations or in language processing experiments, these studies do not dominate the field.
Still, to balance the picture of the actual situation, we are happy to find that there is
indeed a growing tendency towards quantitative, usage-based studies in Cognitive Linguistics
in general. We will mention three fields where we see this tendency. First, there is the field of
lexical studies where Geeraerts, Grondelaers, and Bakema (1994) have shown how lexical
salience can be operationalized on a corpus of actual language use, and can then be employed
to explain the actual choices of lexical construal that language users make. More recently, the
same quantitative approach has been extended to more grammatical fields of research. Bybee
(2001) epitomizes the use of the quantitative analysis of salience in the phonological (and to
some extent morphological) domain; specifically, she uses type and token frequencies to
explain diachronic phonological changes (see also chapter 36 of the present Handbook).
Second, in the field of syntax, Grondelaers’ work on Dutch er is an excellent illustration of
how the work by Ariel can be extended and incorporated into quantitative studies of syntactic
variation. Building on corpus data and experimental findings, Grondelaers (2000) extends
Ariel’s Accessibility Theory of definite reference to indefinite reference, to explain and
predict the distribution of er ‘there’ in sentences like Op de hoek van de straat is (er) een
bakker ‘At the corner of the street (there) is a bakery’. Grondelaers’ work is especially
interesting in that it uses offline corpus data to generate hypotheses that are subsequently
tested in a psycho-experimental design. Third, in the area of language acquisition, the work of
Tomasello (2000) and his co-workers generates many new insights and further questions: Do
we want to explain the acquisition order of connectives only in terms of the input provided by
the parents? How would such a usage-based account relate to theories of increasing cognitive
complexity (see section 3, and Evers-Vermeul and Sanders 2001)?
In conclusion, it seems that, especially on the level of discourse, the integration of
cognitively plausible theories with empirical testing is the ultimate aim, rather than a situation
that has already been realized. Therefore, we consider the level of discourse a ‘new frontier’
for Cognitive Linguistics.
Notes
1. Another, less preferred reading of this fragment is that the second sentence gives an
elaboration of the first sentence. Such a reading does not disprove our central point here that
the reader has to link the second sentence to the first sentence.
2. Because we only want to illustrate the transition principles of Centering Theory, we
simplified things here. In fact, Centering Theory distinguishes between a forward and a
backward looking center for each segment.
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... These computations are called 'inferences', and consist in mental processes by which an interlocutor builds up a hypothesis of what has been linguistically conveyed, and enriches it by adjusting it to a particular context. Inferencing implies 'integration' processes which convey connectedness to the discourse (Givón, 2005;Sanders & Spooren, 2007). These processes can be linked to different mechanisms that contribute to the 'connectedness' of discourse by establishing 'referential' and 'relational coherence', which are in turn related to more local or more global interpretative processes. ...
... 'even', 'furthermore', 'therefore', 'however'…). Discourse markers instruct interlocutors on how to combine mental representations recovered from the utterance segments and the activated context to build a relevant assumption (Portolés, 2001(Portolés, [1998; Sanders & Spooren, 2007;Loureda, Cruz Rubio, Recio Fernández & Rudka, 2021). In (3) the focus operator "even" conditions how the contrastive focus, "buffalos", is to be processed in relation to the alternatives of the utterance, "dogs, horses". ...
... 'Referential coherence' refers to the phenomenon by which, during any task aimed at utterance interpretation, interlocutors informatively saturate certain discourse elements linking them to others to which they refer or whose information they compress (Sanders & Spooren, 2007;Cuenca, 2010;López Samaniego, 2014. Referential coherence encompasses referring expressions and encapsulation mechanisms (see 1.). ...
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This contribution aims at offering a state of the art about experimental research on mechanisms for referential and relational coherence, pivotal for the construction of discourse in the interlocutors’ aim to recover of a relevant assumption in communication. The construction of discourse is a cognitive ‘activity’ that consists in decoding linguistic material of utterances and performing a series of mental operations to recover a relevant interpretation in a communicative exchange. For that purpose, interlocutors put to use linguistic mechanisms directed at establishing ‘referential coherence’ and ‘relational coherence’ to achieve discourse ‘connectedness’. The cognitive effects of these mechanisms in terms of their consequences for discourse processing and interpretation can be approached by means of experimentation. Doing so allows the researcher to enrich scientific findings as provided by linguistic description and observational studies, helps refining theories of human verbal communication and comes along with a strong transfer potential for applied endeavors.
... Linguistic markers have been described as explicit processing instructions on how one part of a text is related to another (Britton, 1994;Gernsbacher, 1997;Sanders & Spooren, 2007). As explained earlier, the concept of linguistic markers involves connectives, lexical cue phrases and signaling phrases. ...
... Our conception of discourse differs from these descriptions since it is defined from a cognitive perspective: discourse is more than a random set of utterances, and its core characteristic is that it must show connectedness . Thus, a set of utterances turns into a genuine discourse when their meanings are related and form a coherent message (Sanders & Spooren, 2007). ...
... This chapter focuses on backward relations, of the type consequencecause (Q because P). (1), (2) and (3) are backward relations marked explicitly by because, but this connective could be omitted and the causal meaning between the discursive segments can be interpreted perfectly well. Connectives are defined as processing instructions on how one part of a text is related to another (Sanders & Spooren, 2007). Language users can choose between one or another connective to express causality, for instance, between because, since and for in English or between omdat and want in Dutch. ...
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Connectedness is an inherent property of discourse: We generate a mental representation of discourse by relating information units of text. These units can be two or more discursive segments that are connected through coherence relations (e.g., consequence-cause). This connection leads us to create a cognitive representation of what is communicated. Causality and subjectivity are two crucial notions that allow us to distinguish coherence relations. Causality refers to the implicational meaning (P, antecedent à Q, consequent) that is inferred between adjacent discourse segments and subjectivity is the degree of speaker involvement in the construal of the relation. Consequently, objective causal relations are those in which there is no speaker involvement, and which refer to physical events/states in the world, and subjective causal relations are those in which a speaker is involved, and which refer to speech acts or reasoning of a thinking entity. Additionally, it has become apparent that some causal connectives specialize in expressing subjective causal relations while others specialize in expressing objective causal relations. Various corpus-based studies have revealed this systematic variation in terms of subjectivity in different languages. However, there are not detailed data in Spanish from this cognitive perspective. This dissertation aims to explore the relevance of causality and subjectivity for the use of backward causal connectives in Spanish. Principally, it investigates whether Spanish backward causal connectives show a systematic variation in terms of subjectivity. To reach this goal, three specific studies are carried out, which involve the use of different research methods: Automatic analyses of corpora, manual text analyses of corpora and experimental research. The combination of different methodological approaches allows us to obtain new information about the semantic-pragmatic profile of three common backward causal connectives in Spanish.
... The marking of coherence relations by connectives Connectives and cue phrases (from now on referred to as 'connectives') provide processing instructions about the way in which two discourse segments should be related to each other (e.g., Sanders & Spooren 2007). The general principle behind the marking of coherence relations seems to be that if the appropriate relation can be constructed without a connective or with an underspecified connective, it can be left implicit or underspecified; if not, the relation should be explicitly marked. ...
... Typically, these interventions consist of teaching questions that are answered (e.g., what are the differences between A and B?) and practice items in which students categorize short texts as belonging to one structure or another. Also, students learn about cue words or signaling words that frequently appear in these types of structures (e.g., similar or likewise in compare-and-contrast texts), as these words instruct readers in how to process an upcoming information segment and how to relate it to a previous one, thereby assisting them toward building coherent text representations (Sanders & Spooren, 2007;van Silfhout, Evers-Vermeul, & Sanders, 2015). In most interventions, cue words are simply listed in booklets, highlighted or mentioned as characteristics of a specific text structure, but in some interventions, students actively highlight (Bohaty, 2015), annotate (Gentry, 2006;Short & Ryan, 1984), or write down cue words found in a text (Broer, Aarnoutse, Kieviet, & van Leeuwe, 2002). ...
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In this meta‐analysis, the authors synthesize results from 44 (quasi‐)experimental studies on informational and narrative text structure interventions involving students in grades 4–6 in regular school settings. Findings show that text structure instruction had positive immediate effects on students’ reading comprehension but that effect sizes varied largely across outcome measures: questions (Hedges’ g = 0.25), summarization (g = 0.57), recall (g = 0.37), and knowledge about text structure (g = 0.38). However, students who received text structure instruction no longer outperformed control groups at delayed posttests. Content‐related features, such as a focus on paragraph‐level structure, active construction of graphic organizers, and teaching rule‐based summarization techniques, moderated the effectiveness of text structure instruction, but these effects also varied across outcome measures. Instructional features moderated delayed effects: Interventions with opportunities for individual student practice resulted in higher delayed effects for comprehension questions. The authors argue that text structure instruction deserves a place in the primary school curriculum so the positive effects on reading will be maintained.
... In order to communicate in a coherent way, speakers choose words to express the relations between consecutive discourse segments (Sanders et al. 1993: 94, cf. also Sanders & Spooren 2007, Schilperoord & Verhagen 1998. For instance, they can use connectives such as so and therefore to provide the reader with information on the type of coherence relation to be established, in this case a causal one (Britton 1994, Graesser & McNamara 2011, Mak & Sanders 2010, van Silfhout et al. 2014, 2015. ...
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This study explores how subjectivity is expressed in coherence relations, by means of a distinctive collocational analysis on two Chinese causal connectives: the specific subjective kejian 'so', used in subjective argument-claim relations, and the underspecified suoyi 'so', which can be used in both subjective argument-claim and objective cause-consequence relations. On the basis of both Horn's pragmatic Relation and Quality principles and the Uniform Information Density Theory, we hypothesized that the presence of other linguistic elements expressing subjectivity in a discourse segment should be related to the degree of subjectivity encoded by the connective. In line with this hypothesis, the association scores showed that suoyi is more frequently combined with perspective markers expressing epistemic stance: cognition verbs and modal verbs. Kejian, which already expresses epistemic stance, co-occurred more often with perspective markers related to attitudinal stance, such as markers of expectedness and importance. The paper also pays attention to similarities and differences in collocation patterns across contexts and genres.
... 3 Selecting one connective over another is not an arbitrary decision. First, because connectives and other coherence signaling devices can be seen as processing instructions on how the incoming clause should be related to the preceding discourse (Britton 1994;Noordman & Vonk 1997;Sanders & Spooren 2007). Second, because "(…) the activity of translation is one of the very few cases where speakers evaluate meaning relations between expressions without doing so as part of some kind of metalinguistic, philosophical or theoretical reflection, but as a normal kind of linguistic activity" (Dyvik 1998: 51). ...
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When comparing old and new Bible translations, differences are striking at all discourse levels. This paper concentrates on variations in the representation of subjective cognitions and reasons of subjects in the discourse. A corpus-based analysis was conducted that compared the domains of use of causal fragments in Dutch Bible translations that where either old, contemporary & loyal, or "easy". In a close comparison of biblical translations, differences between domains of use are analyzed in more detail. In old translations, the character's subjective reasoning is clearly separated from the narrator's utterances. By contrast, in modern translations, causal reasoning is more intertwined between character and narrator, resulting in shared reasoning. * The authors wish to express their gratitude to dr. Gerdineke van Silfhout for her substantial contribution to the collection and analysis of the data presented in this study.
... Connectives and cue phrases (from now on referred to as connectives) provide processing instructions about the way in which two discourse segments should be related to each other (e.g., Sanders & Spooren 2007). The general principle behind the marking of coherence relations seems to be that if the appropriate relation can be constructed without a connective or with an underspecified connective, it can be left implicit or underspecified; if not, the relation should be explicitly marked. ...
Article
Connectives and cue phrases are the most prototypical linguistic elements that signal coherence relations, but by limiting our attention to connectives, we are likely missing out on important other cues readers and listeners use when establishing coherence relations. However, defining the role of other types of linguistic elements in the signaling of coherence relations is not straightforward, and it is also not obvious why and how non-connective elements function as signals for coherence relations. In this paper, we aim to develop a systematic way of categorizing segment-internal elements as signals of coherence relations on the basis of a literature review and evidence from parallel corpora. We propose a three-way distinction between division of labor, agreement , and general collocation to categorize the different ways in which elements inside discourse segments interact with connectives in the marking of coherence relations. In each type of interaction, segment-internal elements can function as signals for coherence relations, but the mechanism behind it is slightly different for each type.
... Research on text processing suggests that connectedness in discourse is a psychological phenomenon, and coherence relations are cognitive entities that aid the readers and hearers to connect different parts of discourse, and thereby, to construct a cognitive representation of the textual information (Knott & Sanders, 1998;Sanders & Noordman, 2000;Sanders et al., 1992). Psycholinguistic studies show that coherence relations are interpreted and recognized while processing texts (Knott & Sanders, 1998;Mak & Sanders, 2013;Spooren, 2007 andSanders et al., 1992;Sanders et al., 1993), and they are recognized even when no DMs are present (Kamalski, 2007;Mulder, 2008;Mulder & Sanders, 2012;Sanders & Noordman, 2000). ...
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Full-text available
In this paper, we investigate the signalling of coherence relations when they are simultaneously indicated by more than one signal. In particular, we examine the co-occurrence of discourse markers and other relational signals when they are used together to mark a single relation. With the goal to identify the source of the usage of multiple signals, we postulate a two-fold hypothesis: the co-occurrence of discourse markers and other textual signals can result from the type of the discourse markers themselves, or it can be triggered by the semantics of the relations in question. We conduct a corpus study, examining instances of multiple signals (co-occurrence of discourse markers and other signals) in the RST Signalling Corpus (Das et al., 2015). We analyze discourse markers that appear as part of multiple signals and also relations that frequently employ multiple signals as their indicators. Our observations suggest that the signalling of relations by multiple signals is a complex phenomenon, since the co-occurrence of discourse markers and other textual signals appears to arise from multiple sources.
Chapter
English causal and conditional conjunctions show significant overlap both in functions and in the ranges of grammatical constructions in which they occur. These phenomena are related: one reason why different conjunctions can express similar meanings is that the lexical semantics of one conjunction may explicitly involve meaning which is not present in the other conjunction’s semantics but can be expressed by accompanying grammatical constructions. Using Mental Spaces theory (Fauconnier 1985/1994, 1997), we analyze the semantics of English if, since, and because, examining the interaction between their lexical semantics and the semantics of their grammatical surroundings. Among the factors involved are predictive function and causal relations (Dancygier 1993, 1998; Dancygier and Sweetser 1996, 1997), epistemic stance (Fillmore 1990a, b), and the relation of the mental space to the speech setting (Sweetser 1990, Dancygier and Sweetser 1996, Dancygier 1998). © 2000 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, 0-10785 Berlin. All rights reserved.