Torabi Asr, Fatemeh; Demberg, Vera

A Discourse Connector’s Distribution Determines Its Interpretation

The 28th CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing 2015, 2015.

Many connectives, such as but and although, can be used to mark very similar sets of relations, see Table 1. Fraser 1999 proposes that each connective has a core meaning and that a more specific discourse relation will be inferred from the content of the involved clauses. This implies that connectives which can mark the same relations have the same core meaning, and that alternating between two such connectors should not change the meaning of the discourse. A fully distributional account (Asr & Demberg 2013), on the other hand, describes the information content of a connective based on its usage patterns. This means that a connective may even have different meanings in different sentence positions (i.e. when used sentenceinitially vs. between its arguments). This study shows how the fine-grained differences in the distribution of but vs. although vs. sentence-initial although affect text coherence. We created stories consisting of three sentences (see below) and normed them such that the first two sentences were equally acceptable in all conditions. The design was fully counter-balanced.