Crible, Ludivine; Demberg, Vera

The role of non-connective discourse cues and their interaction with connectives

Pragmatics & Cognition, 27, pp. 313 - 338, 2021, ISSN 0929-0907.

The disambiguation and processing of coherence relations is often investigated with a focus on explicit connectives, such as but or so. Other, non-connective cues from the context also facilitate discourse inferences, although their precise disambiguating role and interaction with connectives have been largely overlooked in the psycholinguistic literature so far. This study reports on two crowdsourcing experiments that test the role of contextual cues (parallelism, antonyms, resultative verbs) in the disambiguation of contrast and consequence relations. We compare the effect of contextual cues in conceptually different relations, and with connectives that differ in their semantic precision. Using offline tasks, our results show that contextual cues significantly help disambiguating contrast and consequence relations in the absence of connectives. However, when connectives are present in the context, the effect of cues only holds if the connective is acceptable in the target relation. Overall, our study suggests that cues are decisive on their own, but only secondary in the presence of connectives. These results call for further investigation of the complex interplay between connective types, contextual cues, relation types and other linguistic and cognitive factors.