1976. Helsinki - Structuring Discourse Connectors 

By C. George SANDULESCU, Stockholm.

(Paper prepared for the Third Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics, which took place in Helsinki, in October 1976. Part Two of the present paper had by then already been submitted for presentation at the 1977 Vienna Congress of Linguists.)


1.            It has repeatedly, but inadvertently, been stated that a standard generative-transformational model can accommodate discourse. The purpose of the present study is to point to the complexity of the issue, and tackle in depth inter-sentential connectedness in its overt and covert varieties.

2.            The fundamental unit of discourse is the hypermorpheme (defined as a minimal sentence); in a partial or total sequence of hypermorphemes, it is the function of abstract connectors, evincing both overt and covert matrices, to establish cohesive links between non-conjunctioned sentences. Such hypermorphemes, by virtue of their non-conjoining, do not and cannot hang on the same tree-diagram.

3.            Abstract connectors can be viewed from three distinct angles: (a) they may be assumed to lack psychological reality, quite in line with a standard generative approach; alternatively, and in a substantial modified version, (b) they are assigned at least a certain degree of psychological reality (with evidence provided from a wide range of languages);  finally, (c) in addition to a minimum of psychological reality, discourse connectors should necessarily have communicative reality: sociolinguistic (i. e. inter-individual) evidence must in consequence be put on a par with psycholinguistic (i. e. intra-individual) arguments.

4.            Discourse connectors are heavily structured: various types of discourse information are, either deliberately or unintentionally, relegated to one or another of the matrices. The possibility of structuring the covert matrix on the basis of presuppositional information has been discussed in Sandulescu (Turku/Åbo November 1975). In its turn, the overt matrix is structured via (a) syntagmatic relations between discourse heads, (b) paradigmatic relations between the same units, and (c) information extraneous to the discourse heads.

5.            Discourse connectors are no mere inventories: they restructure segmental information at "non-segmental" level, and constitute the empirical foundation of a probable "competence to paraphrase discourse regardless of hypermorphemic boundaries" (quite unattainable by mechanical means in the foreseeable future). This is particularly obvious in crucial moments of role switch, when listener/reader becomes speaker/writer and then proceeds to restructuring foregoing discourse differently. Ability to recall discourse heads in the first place rather than precise syntactic structures is strong evidence in support of this "competence of use".

N.B. The C.G. Sandulescu paper given at Turku/Åbo in November 1975 was entitled "Presupposition, Assertion, and Discourse Structure"; it was presented as part of a Symposium sponsored by the Åbo Akademi.



(A) ((but) (my dear fellow) (excuse me for interrupting you) (you seem to be X-ing (a)))  #  (for) (after all) (even you must admit (that (b) (than (c))))  #

(B)    (b') (than (c'))  #    (d)    #    (e)    #    (f) than (g))    #    (h)    #    (i)    #    (j) (k(l(that m))))    #    (it is (n) (or (o))    #    (p(q)    #    (indeed (r) (and when (s)))) (because (t) (which (u(v(who w))))))    #    (no) (Avoc))    (x)    #    (y(and z(of whose (aa)))))    #    (bb(because    (cc(and(dd(ee))))))    #     (ff)    #    (gg(who(hh (how(ii)))))

(A)    (Bvoc)(jj(as if(kk)))    #    (ll(and(mm)))    #    (nn(but(oo)))    #

(The actual semantic interpretation of this whole text is left to the reader's literary imagination. Have a try!)

1.0                        Standard Conjoiners:

1.1                        Co-ordinative (logical connecters):    and, but, or;    for.

1.2                        Subordinative: that, than, how, who, of whose, when, which, as if.

2.0                        Non-standard Conjoiners:

2.1                        Continuatives:    after all,     of course.

2.2                        Attitudinal Disjuncts:     indeed,    possibly.

2.3                        Response Markers:    yes,    no.

3.0                        Parentheticals:

3.1                        (sentence) excuse me for interrupting you

3.2                        (clause) you must admit

3.3                        (phrase) my dear fellow,     in my opinion

3.4                        (word) NAME (in vocative function)

3.5                        (morpheme) well.

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Ernest: But, my dear fellow--excuse me for interrupting you--you seem to me to be allowing your passion for criticism to lead you a great deal  too far. For, after all, even you must admit that it is more difficult to do a thing than to talk about it.

Gilbert: More difficult to do a thing than to talk about it ? Not at all. That is a gross popular error. It is very much more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. In the sphere of actual life that is of course obvious. Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it. There is no mode of action, no form of emotion, that we do not share with the lower animals. It is only by language that we rise above them, or above each other--by language, which is the parent, and not the child, of thought. Action, indeed, is always easy and when presented to us in its most aggravated, because most continuous form, which I take to be that of real industry, becomes simply the refuge of people who have nothing whatsoever to do. No, Ernest, don't talk about action. It is a blind thing dependent on external influences, and moved by an impulse of whose nature it is unconscious. It is a thing incomplete in its essence, because limited by accident, and ignorant of its direction, being always at variance with its aim. Its basis is the lack of imagination. It is the last resource of those who know not how to dream.

Ernest: Gilbert, you treat the world as if it were a crystal ball. You hold it in your hand, and reverse it to please a wilful fancy. You do nothing but re-write history. 

Oscar Wilde Quotation ends


(A) ((but) (my dear fellow) (excuse me for interrupting you) (you seem to be X-ing (a)))  #  (for) (after all) (even you must admit (that (b) (than (c))))  #

(B)    (b') (than (c'))  #    (d)    #    (e)    #    (f) than (g))    #    (h)    #    (i)    #    (j) (k(l(that m))))    #    (it is (n) (or (o))    #    (p(q)    #    (indeed (r) (and when (s)))) (because (t) (which (u(v(who w))))))    #    (no) (Avoc))    (x)    #    (y(and z(of whose (aa)))))    #    (bb(because    (cc(and(dd(ee))))))    #     (ff)    #    (gg(who(hh (how(ii)))))

(A)    (Bvoc)(jj(as if(kk)))    #    (ll(and(mm)))    #    (nn(but(oo)))    #