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Enhancing interpretation with DMs

When building coherence relations in prevailingly monologic discourse such as written academic texts, represented by RAs in this study, it is undoubtedly crucial to apply certain guiding signals in order to provide the prospective readers from an academic audience with some instructions for their interpretation of relationships between adjacent or more distant segments of discourse[1], since, as stated above, in written discourse there is hardly any space for overt negotiation of meaning between discourse participants.

Discourse markers-viewed in this study, in conformity with Fraser (1999), as a class of commentary pragmatic markers-can be used to signal relationships between segments of discourse and thus to enhance coherence relations (cf. “rhetorical relations” in Taboada 2006). As explicit signals of “a relationship between the interpretation of the segment they introduce [or they are part of], S2, and the prior segment, S1” (Fraser

1999: 931) DMs impose “on S2 a certain range of interpretations, given the interpretation(s) of S1 and the meaning of the DM” (Fraser 1999: 942). However, only the actual entire context, both linguistic and non-linguistic, determines which more specific type of semantic relationship between segments of discourse a given marker signals.

By indicating how the author intends to relate the current message to the previous discourse segment(s), DMs perform in particular textorganizing functions and their meaning is procedural rather than conceptual, since they are separate from the propositional content of the utterances into which they are inserted (Fraser 1999). If such text organizers are absent, the propositional content of the respective discourse segments remains the same; however, the reader cannot rely on any lexical clue in the interpreting of the author’s communicative intentions and therefore he/she may face problems in arriving at a coherent interpretation and understanding of the text. That is the reason why the writer, who is aware of his/her reader and his/her efforts to arrive at an interpretation intended by the author, tends to use certain explicit signals such as selected DMs, since these can contribute to a better and more lucid organization of the discourse, “clarify the progress of the writer’s argumentation” (Dontcheva-Navratilova 2009: 34), and enable the reader to derive meaningful discourse from the text in an actual context. When relying on the guiding signals which are at his/her disposal, the current reader attempts to interpret the text as discourse by relating it to his/her background encyclopaedic knowledge and previous experience of processing similar types of discourse.

  • [1] The term “segment of discourse” or “discourse segment” is used in this chapter“as a cover term to refer to “proposition”, “sentence”, and “message” unless morespecificity is required” (Fraser 1999: 938).
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