Anaphora and ambiguity in narratives: Introduction to Discourse Coherence Theory

Daniel Altshuler (Hampshire College / UMass Amherst, USA) and Julian Schlöder (Institute for Logic, Language and Computation, Netherlands)

The discourses “Arnold left. Bertha cried.” and “Bertha cried. Arnold left.” contain identical sentences, yet form different narratives—why is that? Such a question is essential to Discourse Coherence Theory, which appeals to psychological primitives, called coherence relations, to analyse the different ways in which sentences can form meaningful discourses (Hobbs, 1979). This course will provide a gentle introduction to Segmented Discourse Representation Theory (SDRT), which assigns truth conditions to narratives and explains how these meanings are inferred from underspecified information (Asher & Lascarides, 2003). SDRT applies to a gamut of linguistic phenomena, allowing more fine-grained distinctions than typical dynamic semantic approaches. This course motivates a formal treatment of coherence relations by analysing anaphora and ambiguity in narratives. Moreover, it invites students to think about limitations of the theory, to formulate their own research questions, and to attend an advanced-level continuation course (Discourse coherence in formal pragmatics) in the second week.