Applied Linguistics: Term Definition

Article Summary

The article of Schourup (2001) is dedicated to the analysis of the discourse marker ‘now’ in the modern discourse analysis. The author uses the traditional coherence-based model for the assessment of the semantic and discourse features that ‘now’ make acquire in the linguistic instances depending on the context of its inclusion. The main thesis statement of the author is that there is an exaggeration of attributing the function of local discourse coherence, while there is a growing need to turn to alternative methods of this discourse marker’s analysis. Schourup (2011) offers to review the present discourse marker from the viewpoint of relevance theory, which is considered more efficient, more comprehensive, and more feasible in terms of discourse significance analysis of ‘now’.

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The wider topic of the present article of Schourup (2011) is the evolution of discourse markers and their connection with linguistic items from which they emerged. Thus, the argument of Schourup (2011) is constructed from the viewpoint of relations existing or non-existing between the discourse marker ‘now’ and the deictic temporal adverb ‘now’. The opening assumption of the article is that the discourse marker ‘now’ defines the temporal relations between utterances in discourse, and functions as the coherence marker. This is the traditional viewpoint from which Schourup (2011) derived his argument about the wrongfulness of sequential links noted in the present assessment of ‘now’. The author stated that in fact, ‘now’ could act not as the predetermining factor for coherence formation in the discourse, and the meaning of ‘now’ could be defined without reference to discourse coherence or its structure (Schourup, 2011).

The choice of relevance theory proposed by Schourup (2011) as the alternative to coherence-based analysis is justified by the author from the very beginning of the article. The author offered the preliminary assumptions of considering now as a contributor to the development of higher-level explicatures (HLE), and as an encoder of the procedural constraint on context selection (Schourup, 2011). Following the present assumptions, the author followed with the critical analysis of the fundamental coherence-based research of ‘now’ by Schiffrin (1987) and Aijmer (1988) who almost solely focused on the discourse coherence as the main precondition for the contextual usage of ‘now’.

The method of research used by Schourup (2011) is content analysis of some typical instances of using ‘now’ as a discourse marker. The research is considered in three steps – the first two ones are dedicated to the thorough analysis and substantiation of the claims about ‘now’ by Schiffrin (1987) and Aijmer (1988); the author illustrated all instances of using ‘now’ according to their theoretical vision of this marker. Thus, Schiffrin (1987) underlined such functions of ‘now’ as: voicing personal opinions, meta-linguistic marking of a new idea or reasoning, emphasis on sequential nature of a discourse, switch in stance, change in speaker orientation, speaker’s progression through discourse, etc. (as cited in Schourup, 2011). Speaking about Aijmer (1988), Schourup (2011) underlined the following functions of ‘now’ studied by the researcher: establishing and maintaining textual coherence between parts in discourse, inserting ‘now’ wherever there is a break in the linear sequencing, using ‘now’ as a strategy for organizing parts of argument, change of footing, alignment, and shifts in orientation. Thus, the idea of Schourup (2011) is that both researchers viewed ‘now’ as playing a role in structuring discourses, while the relevance-theory-based perspective of Schourup (2011) offered a different angle of analysis.

The approach offered by Schourup (2011) is based on the explicitly cognitive account of utterance interpretation. The present approach is guided by two principles; the first one refers to the cognitive principle of relevance that states that cognition is geared to maximization of relevance. The second principle refers directly to communication; it states that people’s perceptual, retrieval-related, and inferential mechanisms are directed at picking potentially relevant stimuli and processing them most productively. Therefore, the conclusion of Schourup (2011) is the ability not only to predict, but also to influence cognitive processes by means of organizing the discourse appropriately with the help of discourse markers.

Thus, the main line of the author’s argument is focused on the analysis of relation between discourse markers and discourse coherence and textuality. The task of Schourup (2011) lies within the framework of deciding what issue predetermines the other one, and what causal relationships exist between them. The thesis statement of Schourup (2011) is that comprehension is driven not only by coherence or by textual acceptability in the case of using ‘now’ as a contextual marker; in fact, perceptions of coherence are derivatives of the usage of ‘now’ in the context. Thus, the coherence relations follow from the way of establishing relevance in the context, which is surely beyond the framework of considering ‘now’ as a discourse marker from the coherence-based perspective.

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The conclusion that Schourup (2011) makes from his article findings is quite feasible and reliable; it in no way diminishes the role of coherence-based discourse analysis, but opens up new ways of looking at the instances of using ‘now’ as a discourse marker. Sometimes the application of ‘now’ does not fall under any category of meaning elicited by Schiffrin (1987) and Aijmer (1988), hence expanding the framework of discourse analysis by means of employing relevance theory. Hence, the author assumes that the decision he offers should in no way be considered a substitute for coherence-based analysis, but should rather act as a supplement for cases not covered by it. Schourup (2011) concludes the argument with stating that the discourse marker ‘now’ does not anymore function as a temporal deictic, thus making uses of this marker involve contextual discontinuities not explained by coherence-based view of the discourse analysis.

Critique of Schourup’s (2011) Article

The research of Schourup (2011) is quite revolutionary, because the majority of articles dedicated to research of the discourse markers’ analysis including the marker ‘now’ is more favorably directed at the studies from the coherence-based perspective. Unger (1996) stated that the discourse connectives, such as ‘now’, are best treated from the view of indicators of coherence relations between the hierarchically organized discourse units. Therefore, one can make a conclusion that the present trait is inherent in the discourse marker ‘now’ as well.

The same idea is followed in the article of Mann and Thompson (1988) who stated that the rhetorical structure theory is a prime tool for the analysis of the communicative role of text structure. The authors indicated that there was a huge potential in the field of rhetoric structure theory in the identification of hierarchical structures in the text. Therefore, the pursuit of coherence analysis is still predominant in the field of discourse analysis, which is also indicative for the discourse marker ‘now’.

Overall, it is quite obvious that research in the 1990s and 1980s was mainly focused on the coherence-based discourse analysis. The present conclusion is supported by the article of Hobbs (1979) who attributed major importance to coherence, and explained the condition of coherence as an indispensible element taken into account by speakers and writers for the sake of seeking understanding of their communicative acts. However, the findings of Hobbs (1979) appear inconsistent with the analysis of Schourup (2011), since the former indicated that the explanation of coherent discourse lies within the framework of perceiving successive utterances as referring to the same entities, while the latter proved the shift of subject, footing, or topic with the usage of the discourse marker ‘now’. Hence, one may see that the coherence-based view of discourse markers’ analysis, though remaining the dominant one in discourse linguistics, gives way to alternative approaches meeting the needs of analysis falling beyond the framework of traditional approaches.

Wilson (1998) dedicated his article to the support of relevance theory in discourse markers’ analysis, and indicated that it also provides a theory of comprehension. However, Wilson (1998) noted that the relevance theory is not focused on the provision of evaluation, explanation of intuitions, of discourse of well-formedness, acceptability, and comprehension. The present arguments point at the credibility of relevance theory in line with coherence approach, though not informing the reader explicitly about the advantages of the former.

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It would be appropriate to state that the research of discourse markers is chronologically tending to the shift from coherence-based approach to alternative methods, but the article of Defour (2008) indicates the lively attention to coherence-based theory’s dominance even in the current period of discourse analysis. The author stated that discourse markers ‘well’ and ‘now’ function as pragmatic markers with a wide range of text-structuring and interpersonal meanings. The deictic character of ‘now’ still manifests itself in the discourse formation, and there are an increasing number of epistemic comments to support its reliance on the meanings associated with its predecessor – the temporal adverb ‘now’.

References

  1. Defour, T. (2008). The speaker’s voice: A diachronic study on the use of well and now as pragmatic markers. English Text Construction, 1(1), pp. 62–82. doi 10.1075/etc.1.1.06def
  2. Hobbs, J. R. (1979). Coherence and co-reference. Cognitive Science 3(1), pp. 67–90.
  3. Mann, W. C., & Thompson, S. A. (1988). Rhetorical structure theory: toward a functional theory of text organization. Text, 8, pp. 243–281.
  4. Schourup, R. (2011). The discourse marker now: A relevance-theoretic approach. Journal of Pragmatics, 43, pp. 2110–2129.
  5. Unger, C. (1996). The scope of discourse connectives: implications for discourse organization. Journal of Linguistics, 32, pp. 403–438.
  6. Wilson, D. (1998). Discourse, coherence and relevance: a reply to Rachel Giora. Journal of Pragmatics, 29, pp. 57–74.
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