Contextual Clues of Discourse Markers and Their Applications in Listening Comprehension

Abstract: In this thesis the author attempts to answer the following two questions: (1) What are discourse markers? (2) What is the primary function of discourse markers?In the recent thirty years, although the researches on discourse markers have turned into“a growth industry”(Fraser, 1999), a consensus has not been reached on definition and function of discourse markers. Among various kinds of ideas, it is generally held that there are two different views (e.g. Schourup, 1999; Wang Dawang, 2001): one is coherence-based view (e.g. Schiffrin, Redeker, and Fraser) that discourse markers contribute to discourse coherence; the other is relevance-based view (e.g. Blakemore) that discourse connectives (counterpart to discourse markers) express an inferential connection that arises out of the way that one proposition is interpreted as relevant with respect to another rather than coherent to another, so it has no appeal to claim that discourse markers help to achieve discourse coherence.Certainly, these two different views seem reasonable but have defects as well. For Schiffrin, Redeker, and Fraser, their studies on discourse markers are generally confined to discourse itself, and functions of discourse markers are usually oriented towards linking the different segments in the discourse, which will bring about a quandary: how do these linguists reasonably explain discourse markers’linkage of utterance with context rather than different discourse segments? For Blakemore, discourse connectives are only held to be those items with procedural meaning rather than conceptual meaning, which will narrow the scope of discourse markers, and, although she asserts that discourse markers can relate the host utterance to context, she within framework of relevance theory underestimates or even abandons discourse coherence and thus rejects discourse markers’contribution to discourse coherence. We define discourse markers in this thesis as linguistic items, which are grammatically optional and multi-categorical, varying from words, such as conjunctions (e.g. but, and), adverbials (e.g. frankly, apparently), interjections (e.g. oh, well), to phrases (e.g. as a result, in addition), and even to clauses (e.g. you know, I mean). These items contribute nothing to the truth conditions of the utterance that contain them. They often appear initially in the utterance, introducing a separate message with its propositional content, and their function is more pragmatic than semantic. Discourse markers in this thesis, of course, include those items studied by Schiffrin, Redeker and Fraser, and also include Blakemore’s discourse connectives with purely procedural meaning.This definition helps us better understand discourse markers’functions and avoid the demerits of both of the views. Discourse markers can not only connect the utterance with the prior or following ones in the discourse, but also link the utterance with the context. If context is discussed in a broader sense, that is, context consists of two components—linguistic and non-linguistic, it is quite evident to discover that discourse markers’functions in the discourse should be generally discussed in terms of context, especially contextual connectivity, and discourse markers can provide constraints on the discourse interpretation or in other words, they can supply the clues to understanding the utterance, so we conclude that discourse markers’primary function is to provide clues to the discourse interpretation through connection of utterance with various contexts; in other words, discourse markers can offer contextual clues to discourse interpretation. But context should neither be held to include only linguistic elements nor be claimed to contain only cognitive components. In this thesis, context is also held to involve situational elements, apart from linguistic and cognitive. To argue for contextual clues of discourse markers, we concretely demonstrate marker well’s contextual clues, the clues in these three kinds of contexts in particular.Contextual clues of discourse markers can be employed in the listening comprehension. Listening comprehension, which has great difficulty and complexity and needs active inference, necessitates various contextual clues, and of course, discourse markers’contextual clues should not be excluded. In this paper, through the experiment, the author finds that those students who are required to be aware of discourse markers and are instructed in discourse markers’contextual clues can perform better in the listening test than those who are not.
Key words: discourse markers; discourse connectives; coherence; context; contextual clues; listening comprehension;

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