Scholman, Merel; Demberg, Vera; Sanders, Ted J. M.

Descriptively adequate and cognitively plausible? Validating distinctions between types of coherence relations

Discours, 30, pp. 1-30a, 2022.

A central issue in linguistics concerns the relationship between theories and evidence in data. We investigate this issue in the field of discourse coherence, and particularly the study of coherence relations such as causal and contrastive. Proposed inventories of coherence relations differ greatly in the type and number of proposed relations. Such proposals are often validated by focusing on either the descriptive adequacy (researcher’s intuitions on textual interpretations) or the cognitive plausibility of distinctions (empirical research on cognition). We argue that both are important, and note that the concept of cognitive plausibility is in need of a concrete definition and quantifiable operationalization. This contribution focuses on how the criterion of cognitive plausibility can be operationalized and presents a systematic validation approach to evaluate discourse frameworks. This is done by detailing how various sources of evidence can be used to support or falsify distinctions between coherence relational labels. Finally, we present methodological issues regarding verification and falsification that are of importance to all discourse researchers studying the relationship between theory and data.