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Review of  Logical Relations in Discourse

Reviewer: Holger Schauer
Book Title: Logical Relations in Discourse
Book Author: Eugene E Loos
Publisher: SIL International Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 10.1595

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Loos, Eugene E. (Editor), "Logical Relations in Discourse",
1999, The Summer Institute of Linguistics, Publisher: Academic
Publications, SIL, Inc., 7500 West Camp Wisdom Road, Dallas Texas
75236. ISBN: 1-55671-040-2. 267 pages, 29.00

Reviewed by Holger Schauer, University of Freiburg.

Synopsis of the Book

The book is a collection of papers selected from a workshop on logical
relations in discourse which Eugene Loos and Ivan Lowe initiated in
1989. As the preface states, there is "no refined definition of
Logical Relations other than that logical relations are taken to be
explicit or presumed Semantic Relationships between proposition or
between a speaker or hearer and propositions expressed by clauses,
sentences, or groups of sentences in a discourse." The focus of most
of the nine papers in this volume lies on the description of the
syntactic constructions and phrases (mostly connectives) used to give
cues for such logical relations (hence often called logical
connectives or discourse cues). All papers choose their examples from
different (not too widely spoken) languages. It is common to all
papers that they refer to the cultural background to explain the
interpretation of particular examples.

Critical Evaluation

The first article, written by E.A. Gutt, is entitled ``Logical
Connectives, Relationships and Relevance''. Its focus is on
understanding ``pragmatic'' connectives in Silt'i (an Ethio-Semitic
language spoken in Ethiopia). The author mainly uses Relevance Theory
(RT, [Sperber and Wilson, 1986]) to solve a puzzle about an affix in
Silt'i, stating that he believes that ``Relevance Theory helps to gain
a richer understanding of the speaker-intended interpretation than
relation-based approaches.'' [p.3]. The puzzle is that the affix `-m'
is sometimes best translated by `and', but sometimes it more or less
corresponds to `either' or `neither'. Gutt then goes on to somewhat
explain away the reading `either': he sees `and' as the basic meaning
of -m and explains that the felt interpretation as `either' comes from
extra inferences taking place because of contextual effects. He then
goes on to compare this interpretation with a possible analysis in
terms of relations. It is interesting to see that he finds that the
two analysis arrived at fits together. However, how one arrives at
the ``correct interpretation'' through relevance theory is by no means
clear; which contextual assumptions must be invoked and, given the
contextual assumption give rise to more than one possible
interpretation, which interpretation is more correct (which amounts in
RT to computing the more ``relevant'' interpretation). Furthermore, as
there is in the examples no dedicated logical connective involved for
different relations, there is also only very weak linguistic evidence
for the complex interpretation presented. This poses a problem: when
the reading ``either'' comes solely by inference, overiding ``and'',
shouldn't we suspect that inferences can override any basic
interpretation, i.e. constraints of the clue (so we may get an ``or''
by inferences, for example). And if not, then it would have been nice
if Gutt would have spelled out these constraints that are intrinsic to
``-m'' (i.e., why is it that ``either'' and ``neither'' are compatible
with the basic interpretation of ``and'', but others like ``or'' are
not.). So, what one ends up with is an explanation why in this example
``-m'' is interpreted as ``either'' but not with general guide-lines
to detect ``either'' when this interpretation needs to be choosen.

The second article, ``Grammar of Sentence Conjunctions in St. Lucian
Creole'' by D.B. Edwards, discusses the five major types of
conjunctive relations between sentences. These relations are each
``made explicit through the use of a particular conjunction or set of
conjunctions'', and are of the types ``additive'' (more information is
given), ``sequential'' (in time), ``contrastive'', ``resultative'' and
``causal''. Skipping the discussion of additive relations, sequential
relationship between sentences can be made explicit through the use of
a specific conjunction. These conjunctions can be preceded by one of
those used for marking additive relationship. A recent paper
([Webber etal., 1999]) discussed a similar phenomenon for
English. The contrastive relations actually cover two semantically
distinguishable relations, contrast and contraexpectation, however
this is not reflected in the grammar: both relations can be made
explicit through exactly the same conjunction (``but''). This seems to
be a quite common ambiguity. Edwards argues that for resultative
relations three different subkinds can be identified: reason-result,
grounds-conclusion, and plan-execution. This last one is defined as
``Plan-execution involves a direct or indirect quotation followed by
an action that functions as the outcome of the quotation''. This seems
semantically very different from, say, a reason-result relationship,
``but there is a recurring pattern that the same set of of sentence
conjunctions that marks a result or a conclusion also marks the
execution in a plan-execution pair.'' However, I find the example
given not too convincing, having a plan seems to me like a perfect
``reason'' for executing it (result). Interestingly, while
result-reason and grounds-conclusion have counterparts as causal
relationships, this is not the case for plan-execution, so to me the
invention of this plan-execution relation seems not very plausible.
Besides this, the article offers an interesting insight in what looks
like a overtly clear use of conjunctions to signal logical relations.
A small drawback of this article is that it is not clear how the
presented examples were obtained and what tests have been used to
check the hypotheses (regarding the strength of the clues).

The third article, ``Connectives and Clause Combining in Banggi'' by
M.E. Boutin focuses on a small set of rhetorical relations in Banggi
(spoken on two islands in Malaysia) and ``examines the type of signals
used to indicate these relations when they are not overtly marked''.
It provides detailed analyses of the grammatical settings of the
language (such as how to identify the core argument, i.e. the
``subject'', and the classification and distribution of verbs), and of
the strategies used when combining clauses, both from the syntactic as
from the pragmatic (discourse) view. While paratactic coordination
may but need not involve a conjunction, there are three other basic
strategies of clause combining in Banggi: reduction of the not-so
important clause (the satellite clause), serial verb constructions
(two or more predicates with common core argument) without conjunction
and the deletion/motion of the subject of the complement. Boutin
claims that these strategies reflect a degree of separateness between
the clauses being combined. These strategies (and their variations)
form the basis for a look on how some relations (taken from Rhetorical
Structure Theory, RST, [Mann et al., 1992]) are hinted at in
Banggi. Boutin makes some interesting observations, for example that
there exists a cue-word taken from Malay, that is used in the corpus
twice to indicate a reason relation and once for purpose, the
interesting observation being that the difference is dictated by verb
semantics. He also gives an intuitively appealing reason for this
borrowing: usually, a purpose relation is realized through serial verb
constructions. These, however are usually tied to constructions
sharing a common core argument. Hence the need for an extra/external
clue in cases where there is no such thing. The question if and how
this task has been accomplished is not addressed. Another interesting
interpretation is made for a construction that leads to an ambiguity
between a temporal and a conditional reading. Boutin also makes a
detailed discussion when where and why connectives are optional in
specific constructions, relating the explicitness of connectors to the
function of the clause in the discourse. He also discusses the issue
which reasons may exist for choosing a special clause order and which
influence this may have. By computing the referential distance
between subjects he argues for a higher referential continuity of
postposed clauses to their nuclei, however this does not mean that
such clauses can only be related to the nuclei. The constraint on
clause ordering of conditionals is sufficiently explained with the
natural order of events, exceptions being highlighting or
qualification of the preceeding nucleus clause.

The fourth article, ``A Look at two IfE Connectives'' by M. Klaver is
concerned with two conjunctions ``bi'' and ``kibi'' in IfE (a language
spoken in Togo and Benin) both meaning ``when''. The aim of the
article is to describe the difference in meaning, and to explain why
clauses with ``bi'' usually are not marked with a definite particle in
contrast to some of the ``kibi'' clauses. The hypothesis is that ``bi
circumstance clauses will refer to unrealized events'' in contrast to
``kibi'' clauses, which is consistent with the gloss of ``bi'' as
``if''. Klaver proves this hypothesis with several examples, explaining
to what (kind of) event the speaker was refering, which makes the
argument quite convincing. Klaver continues by looking at the role of
the two conjunctions in other subordinate clause constructions. ``bi''
turns out to be used as a conditional conjunction when used with verbs
in irrealis mood, while ``kibi'' indicates reason and goes with verbs
in realis mood. When used as complementizers, the same distinction
between realized and unrealized events is pertinent. While this
article does not open up a can of big questions or puzzles its
argumentation is very clear and convincing.

Article number five is entitled ``A Pragmatic Analysis of a Failed
Cross-Cultural Communication'', by B.J. Sayers. The failed
communication happened between an Australian aboriginal and a white
(non-aboriginal) Social Security officer and is described in a letter
of the aboriginal, which is being analysed in detail. The focus of the
article is the different cultural background of the contrahents: ``The
problem is not so much a matter of understanding the words actually
used as it was the different meaning conveyed because of the different
world views and associated assumptions on which these words were
based.'' [p. 73]. Sayers quotes [Levinson, 83, p.21]: ``Above all,
understanding an utterance involves making inferences that will
connect what is said to what is mutually assumed or what has been said
before''. She then explains the immediate social setting of the
encounter, concentrating on the cultural background of the aboriginal.
Without going into too much detail here, the dispute itself is about a
request by the aboriginal: some young aboriginals had come to the
village of the aboriginal, which receive money from the social
services but spend it mostly on alcohol and which also receive support
from the aboriginals in the village because of a cultural duty. The
aboriginal now requests from the Social Security officer to force them
to work for the money and to stop them from spending the money on
alcohol. He does so in a tone which sounds arrogant but is not
intended so and which can be explained easily by the cultural
background. Similarily, the grounds for the aboriginals request can be
understood if one knows that in the aboriginals culture one who gives
support to someone else also gets the right to (more or less) command
the one receiving the support, which is an idea totally alien to the
Social Security officer. The aboriginal on the other side also does
not understand the Social Security officer: the replies of the officer
look ignorant to him. This is all reported in the letter of the
aboriginal being analysed by Sayers. In the text she concentrates on
the most prominent parts and analyses and explains what assumptions
the aboriginal made. The full text is appended, accompanied by an
charted analysis for each clause of what was most likely to be
intended and what was probably (mis-)understood. Sayers article is
not concerned with analysing cue-phrases, she is more interested to
what concepts the aboriginal refers and which were not available to
the Social Security officer. She thereby also shows how the text is
coherent and why it is not to the officer. A very interesting article,
though not one analysing the text at hand in terms of specific
relations or a specific theory.

The sixth article, written by D.A. Ross, is entitled ``A Beginning
Look at Brahui Connectives''. Brahui is a language spoken by up to two
million people, living largely in Pakistan. The article is a very
close investigation of three groups of connectives, (coordinating,
adversative and purpose-reason-result connectives) based on an
analysis of eight texts. Two of these texts are appended to the
article - most examples are taken from these texts. For each of the
connectives, Ross examines all possible interpretations of the
connective and then tries to give a summary and generalizing
conclusions. For example, ``kih'' can be used to indicate purpose,
reason, result and amplification, so Ross concludes that it is a kind
of ``general purpose-reason-result connective'', in contrast to more
focussed connectives that are also available. Interestingly, Ross also
notes usage changes for connectives. For example, ``oo'' appears in
older texts and has in several respects the same functions as
fulfilled by ``too'', but which appears only in newer texts. In his
conclusions, Ross makes an interesting statement: he started out with
the idea that it would be possibly to identify semantically based
``regions of mutually exclusive influence'' for each connective but
noted that this assumption is not validated. In contrast, ``we note
that, right from the outset, we had to allow for general connectives
which appeared to operate in a wide range of regions, such that it was
not possible to define a cohesive region big enough to incorporate all
the uses of such connectives.'' [p. 161] and further ``This (the
`kih'-issue) leads us inescapably to the idea of a subgrouping of
regions, with some degree of external relatedness (...) and yet with
internal distinguishability, so that some connectives operate only on
certain smaller regions of connective influence'' [p. 162]. This idea
is also present in recent work on connectives, e.g. [Knott and
Sanders, 1998].

The seventh article is written by the editor, Eugene E. Loos and is
entitled ``If in Capanahua''. He faces an interesting challenge:
``Capanahua has no `if' morpheme but speakers can express both real
mode and hypothetical ode conditional statements. Sequential timing
morphemes that serve as subordinate clause markers are important for
expressing conditional statements; the relation between the clauses
can be interpreted as conditional by language processing principles
that take account of both linguistic and paralinguistic factors.''
[p. 195]. Loos presents an interesting list of possible types of
Capanahua conditional statements, including ``propriety - the
propriety of the statement in the apodosis depends on the content of
the protasis'', ``logical cause'' or ``psychological motive - the
protasis is a psychological motive for the apodosis'' [p.196] (the
protasis is the ``if'' part, the apodosis the ``then'' part). Loos
notes that there is a tight coupling of the conditional reading with
the timing of the events: for the conditional reading, the protasis
must be tensed preceeding to the apodosis, it is essential that the
tense of the main clause indicate that the state or event has not
concluded (which is quite obvious when looking at the list mentioned
above and which also fits to the somewhat similar observations of
Klaver). Loos starts out by giving evidence why none of the five
verb-suffixes that create participle-like subordinate clauses should
be directly translated as ``if'' and further discusses why and how
these morphemes can be used to express conditional statements. Loos
takes a look at both real and hypothetical mode constructions: he
notes for example that sometimes an ambiguity between temporal and
conditional reading results, that sometimes can be resolved by the
listeners knowledge - for instance if the listener knows about
``natural causes'' e.g., strong winds may break a tree apart. Loos
then shows how hypothetical mode conditionals are realized in
Capanahua: one interesting example is the use of the negation of the
real event to mark it as being hypothetical, which may then be used in
the protasis. This is however not a sufficient criterion: in addition,
the protasis must have a tense that precedes that of the apodosis and
additional pragmatic processing must discern other readings.

The eight article by R.A. Dooley is a ``Non-Categorical Approach to
Coherence Relations: Switch-Reference Constructions in Mbya Guarani''
which is spoken in some areas in Brazil. Dooley focuses on the
question when there are no semantically specific conjunctions (but
only switch-reference constructions) ``in what sense are coherence
relations present ?'' He tries to answer this question by utilizing
Relevance Theory which he perceives as a better tool to understand
coherence than Rhetorical Structure Theory (one of the categorical
approaches). As Dooley puts it: ``Thus instead of asking the question,
`Which coherence relation is the speaker intending to communicate in a
given construction?' this article asks, `On what evidence, if any,
should we suppose that the hearer's interpretation is being
constrained?''' [p. 220]. Dooley claims that the speaker quite often
wants to communicate a diverse set of ``relations'', some weaker than
others. But I think the example is not a good one, Dooley translates
it with ``After he had finished drinking, he picked up the coatis
again and left'', where ``after'' is Dooleys interpretation of a
switch-reference conjunction, marking same subject. Dooley claims that
besides the temporal relationship also ```Enablement (he would need to
pick up the coatis again in order to go, since he was taking them
home) or Volitional Cause (he picked up the coatis and left because he
had finished drinking)'' [p. 224] would seem reasonable. These
analyses seem highly unplausible and unintuitive to me: there is no
mentioning of where/why he was taking the coatis, so Enablement would
require extra inferencing. Similarily the cause reading only makes
sense when one assumes a (general) cause relationship between stopping
to drink and leaving. Besides this he acknowledges that one can
sometimes quite easily determine the ``correct'' category, and also
tries to give some possible factors that may influence the degree of
categoricality, e.g. the sort of text or the focus of the reader
(i.e. one looking for categories will be more aware of them). Dooley
then turns to his main topic, i.e. he examines the switch-reference
constructions which may be used to create coherence (relatedness). He
first tries to identify constraints on interpretation: one of them is
the (external constraint of) efforts of contextualization. As one
means of this process, Dooley mentions expectation structures, which
``are representations of stereotypical events and situations'' and
``can function as a repository of coherence relations that can be
looked up or brought to consciousness as needed, but as long as a
narrative, say, is clearly following a certain expectation structure,
there may be little motivation to look up each coherence relation.''
[p. 228]. He then gives two interesting examples, one in which only
information from the cultural background can establish a categorical
relation and another, in which the cultural background establishes
some sort of interpersonal relatedness besides a temporal
relationship. Dooley then considers morphemic clues: he gives
examples of morphemic signals instructing the interpreter to render a
categorical interpretation, while other morphemic signals only
indicate that a certain meaning component should be included in the
interpretation. He finishes with analysing the influence of clause
order, finding that postposed clauses are more suggestive as to the
intended coherence relation.

The collection finishes with another article by Eugene Loos, entitled
``Proposed Tests for Logical Connectives''. As the title suggests it
does not examine any data but instead tries to establish some general
guidelines for testing whether his assumptions are correct. Loos
admits, that there will always be some kind of uncertainness, ``The
question we seek to answer is: `What can I do so that my judgement
that the relation obtains in that context will at least be more likely
to be true?''' [p.244]. As a first approximation, Loos identifies the
following questions need to be addressed: ``1) How do I recognize a
logical relation is intended between a pair of propositions? 2) How
do I test to determine that the identified connective is the clue to
the meaning? 3) How do I test to determine whether more than one
relationship is signaled by the logical connective? 4) How do I
determine which of several possible relationships is signaled in a
particular instance? 5) What test can I offer to show that my
analysis is correct?'' [p. 224]. Loos then goes on to suggest several
clues one may use: analysis of morphemic composition and checking for
grammaticalized forms. The next issue are acceptability tests, both by
queuing native speakers and analysing native texts. Interviews may
also be a rich source of information, Loos proposes several things one
should look for. Also, Loos mentions that one should observe both
listeners and speakers, also in order to get aware of possible
``facets that may one enable to discern factors relevant to
interpreting interpropositional relations'' [p..256]. Finally,
agreement among analysts, introspection and imagination are noted. The
article is very interesting and the proposed tests seem very
reasonable. Where appropriate Loos gives some examples from his work
on Capanahua in order to illustrate the usefulness of the proposed


The articles are all well written and worth reading, for sure.
However, I have two perhaps personal criticisms: first, I think the
title of the book is misleading. Its main focus is not what logical
relations are but how they are signalled. I also think that the term
logical relations is also misleading, as some might be tempted to read
logical as logical in predicate logic. Second, although all articles
give detailed analyses of the connectives or constructions they
consider, none even tries to give a formal semantic analysis of the
constructions examined. This is however does not come as a too big
surprise, as nearly all analyses need to refrain to background
knowledge when it comes to ambiguities. So, what can be learned from
these articles (at least in my perspective) is that there is probably
no one-to-one correspondence from connective (or syntactic
construction) to relation (at least for most languages) and that the
context plays a very important role.


Reviewer: Holger Schauer, PhD-student in the post-graduate school on
Human and Machine Intelligence at the Albert-Ludwig University
Freiburg, Germany. I'm working at the Computational Linguistics Lab on
discourse representation. Research interests include Discourse
Representation with formal methods, User-Modeling, Dynamic Semantics,
Presuppositions, Theorem-Proving and Non-Monotonic Reasoning.


[Knott and Sanders, 1998]
Knott, A. and Sanders, T. (1998).
The classification of coherence relations and their linguistic
markers: An exploration of two languages. Journal of Pragmatics, 30.

[Levinson, 1983]
Levinson, S. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press,
London--New York.

[Mann etal., 1992]
Mann, W.C., Matthiessen, C.M., and Thompson, S.A. (1992).
Rhetorical structure theory and text analysis.
In Mann, W.C. and Thompson, S.A., editors, Discourse
Description, Pragmatics and Beyond, pages 39--78. Benjamins Publishing
Company, Amsterdam/Philadelphia.

[Sperber and Wilson, 1986]
Sperber, D. and Wilson, D. (1986). Relevance, Communication and
Cognition. Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

[Webber et~al., 1999]
Webber, B., Knott, A., Stone, M., and Joshi, A. (1999).
Discourse relations: A structural and presuppositional account using
lexicalised tag. In Meeting of the Association for Computational
Linguistics, College Park MD. ACL.

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