discourse functions of property words

William Mann wcmann at JUNO.COM
Sat Jul 3 20:43:53 UTC 1999

Replying to Michael Dryer on discourse and

Also in 1988, Sandy Thompson and I published a
paper defining Rhetorical Structure Theory, Text
8(3).  It is an approach to assessing whole-text
discourse structure, so far defined only for
monologue.  It makes extensive use of discourse
relations, some of which link a text span (called
the nucleus) to another (called a satellite.)

Some of these discourse relations are sometimes
signaled by discourse particles, which would
certainly be included in “other types of words” in
your inquiry.

In various related papers, mostly published before
that one, we talked about “relational
propositions,” which are predications that arise
when particular relations are found to be part of
the discourse structure of a text.  Such a
predication will arise even if the presence of the
relation is not signaled.

The paper has no formal taxonomy, but it does
include a number of distinctions which have been
taken to be taxonomic.  Exclusion of a taxonomy was
deliberate on our part, because we did not have a
particular taxonomy that we felt happy with.

The distinctions included a volitional /
nonvolitional contrast among causal relations, and
a contrast between so called “subject matter”
relations (e.g. Conditional) and “presentational”
relations (e.g. Concessive.)  There were multiple
grounds for identifying the Elaboration relation.
Some relations (e.g. Motivation) applied only where
the nucleus span presented an action.  Beyond the
notion of belief, there was a broader notion called
“positive regard” which included belief, intention
to act and approval; it was used to avoid
proliferation of relations whose definitions would
otherwise be identical.

All of this suggests that there is plenty in RST to
taxonomize, and that different sorts of worthwhile
taxonomies might be produced.

Several research papers using RST have been
critical of the irregularity of the set of relation
definitions, the set of distinctions and the
absence of a taxonomy.  Particularly for purposes
of formalization, sometimes as a means to
programming text generation programs or analyzers
of text, various modifications or replacements of
the set of relations have been suggested.

I hope that this gives you a useful lead into this
particular corner of the literature.

Bill Mann

On Thu, 24 Jun 1999 20:18:26 -0400 Matthew S Dryer
<dryer at ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU> writes:
>Sandy Thompson (1988) argues that property words tend to involve the
>discourse function of "predication" in natural speech.  Is anybody
>of any attempt to develop a finer taxonomy of discourse functions
>associated with property words (or other types of words) that would
>distinguish different subtypes of "predication"?
>Matthew Dryer

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