Discourse semantics of S -modifying adverbials

Katherine Margaret Forbes, University of Pennsylvania


In this thesis, we address the question of why certain S-modifying adverbials are only interpretable with respect to the discourse or spatio-temporal context, and not just their own matrix clause. It is not possible to list these adverbials because the set of adverbials is compositional and therefore infinite. Instead, we investigate the mechanisms underlying their interpretation. We present a corpus-based analysis of the predicate argument structure and interpretation of over 13,000 S-modifying adverbials. We use prior research on discourse deixis and clause-level predicates to study the semantics of the arguments of S-modifying adverbials and the syntactic constituents from which they can be derived. We show that many S-modifying adverbials contain semantic arguments that may not be syntactically overt, but whose interpretation nevertheless requires an abstract object from the discourse or spatio-temporal context. Prior work has investigated only a small subset of these discourse connectives; at the clause-level their semantics has been largely ignored and at the discourse level they are usually treated as “signals” of predefined lists of abstract discourse relations. Our investigation sheds light on the space of relations imparted by a much wider variety of adverbials. We further show how their predicate argument structure and interpretation can be formalized and incorporated into a rich intermediate model of discourse that alone among other models views discourse connectives as predicates whose syntax and semantics must be specified and recoverable to interpret discourse. It is not only due to their argument structure and interpretation that adverbials have been treated as discourse connectives, however. Our corpus contains adverbials whose semantics alone does not cause them to be interpreted with respect to abstract object interpretations in the discourse or spatio-temporal context. We explore other explanations for why these adverbials evoke discourse context for their interpretation; in particular, we show how the interaction of prosody with the interpretation of S-modifying adverbials can contribute to discourse coherence, and we also show how S-modifying adverbials can be used to convey implicatures.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Computer science

Recommended Citation

Forbes, Katherine Margaret, "Discourse semantics of S -modifying adverbials" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3087401.