Marchal, Marian; Scholman, Merel; Demberg, Vera

The effect of domain knowledge on discourse relation inferences: Relation marking and interpretation strategies

Dialogue & Discourse, 13, pp. 49-78, 2022.

It is generally assumed that readers draw on their background knowledge to make inferences about information that is left implicit in the text. However, readers may differ in how much background knowledge they have, which may impact their text understanding. The present study investigates the role of domain knowledge in discourse relation interpretation, in order to examine how readers with high vs. low domain knowledge differ in their discourse relation inferences. We compare interpretations of experts from the field of economics and biomedical sciences in scientific biomedical texts as well as more easily accessible economic texts. The results show that high-knowledge readers from the biomedical domain are better at inferring the correct relation interpretation in biomedical texts compared to low-knowledge readers, but such an effect was not found for the economic domain. The results also suggest that, in the absence of domain knowledge, readers exploit linguistic signals other than connectives to infer the discourse relation, but domain knowledge is sometimes required to exploit these cues. The study provides insight into the impact of domain knowledge on discourse relation inferencing and how readers interpret discourse relations when they lack the required domain knowledge.