Workshop “Implicit and explicit marking of discourse relations: the comparison between causals vs. conditionals”

Time: May 24-25 2018
Venue: Osnabrück University, Building 22, Room 104, Heger-Tor-Wall 14, 49078 Osnabrück (→MAP)

Organizers: Oliver Bott (University of Tübingen), Mingya Liu (Osnabrück University), and Torgrim Solstad (Leibniz-Centre General Linguistics, ZAS Berlin)

Invited speakers:
Vera Demberg (Saarland University), Anastasia Giannakidou (University of Chicago), Katrin Schulz (University of Amsterdam)

Registration: via email to

Call for papers:
Discourse relations (henceforth, DRs) are essential for the production and comprehension of text and dialogue. From a processing perspective, the identification of DRs – among them causal, conditional and temporal relations – plays a crucial role in the extraction of textual meaning and the inferences we can derive from it. When producing utterances, we can choose to express DRs explicitly, for example, through dedicated coherence devices such as because, if (… then), and before, or leave them implicit, leaving it to the hearer to infer the most likely DR.
An assumption frequently found in the literature is that implicit and explicit DRs are semantically comparable (e.g. Kehler et al. 2008). The inferencing related to implicit DRs, however, poses a challenge for formal modeling of discourse structure, because context imposes different effects of high variability – among these world knowledge and the epistemic states of the speaker and hearer (van Lambalgen and Hamm 2005). The inferences must also be defeasible because an inferred DR may be incompatible with discourse information encountered later on. What is more, since DRs vary in the degree to which they may be left implicit (Asr and Demberg 2012) – for instance, concessives are often argued to require explicit marking –, their role in inferential processes may also be assumed to differ.
The proposed workshop aims at identifying factors that contribute to the decision of when a given DR can be left implicit and when it must be marked. We will focus on various kinds of causals, concessives and conditionals which allow for implicit and explicit marking of DRs (with the possible exception of concessives). On the one hand, we aim to identify generally valid inferential and interpretational processes (c.f. e.g. Schulz 2011 and subsequent works) related to DRs by way of examining these DRs. On the other hand, causals and conditionals differ in semantic and pragmatic properties, for instance, in terms of veridicality (Asher and Lascarides 2005, Giannakidou 1998 and subsequent works), and so do causals and concessives (Pearl 2009; Koehne and Demberg 2013). Thus, we also aim to identify the correlation between their properties and the degree to which DRs can be kept implicit. Below are listed a few dimensions that may prove important for the decision to explicitly mark a DR:

  • Linguistic complexity of DRs (e.g. cause vs. concession, sequence vs. condition)
  • Semantic and pragmatic properties of DRs (e.g. veridical vs. non-veridical)
  • Predictability of a DR from narrow linguistic and broad discourse context
  • Cognitive costs and cognitive resources for inferring relations
  • Pragmatic constraints (e.g. avoidance of ambiguity)
  • Strategic communication: the strategic speaker may opt for implicit DR marking to foster e.g. plausible deniability
  • Availability of fast and automatic mechanisms generating DR predictions
  • Interlocutors’ familiarity with the current (local) discourse topic


Asher, Nicholas & Alex Lascarides (2005): Logics of conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Asr, Fatemeh Torabi & Vera Demberg, Vera (2012): “Implicitness of Discourse Relations”, in Proceedings of COLING 2012, pp. 2669–2684.
Giannakidou, Anastasia (1998): Polarity Sensitivity as (Non)veridical Dependency. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Kehler, Andrew, Laura Kertz, Hannah Rohde & Jeffrey L. Elman (2008): Coherence and coreference revisited. Journal of Semantics 25(1). 1–44.
Koehne, Judith & Vera Demberg (2013): “The time-course of processing discourse connectives”, in Proceedings of CogSci 2013, pp. 2760–2765.
Pearl, Judea (2009): Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schulz, Katrin (2011): If you’d wiggled A, then B would’ve changed. Synthese 179(2). 239–251.
Van Lambalgen, Michiel & Fritz Hamm (2005): The proper treatment of events. Malden, MA: Blackwell.