From Verbs to Discourse: A Novel Account of Implicit Causality

  • Oliver BottEmail author
  • Torgrim Solstad
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 44)


We present a semantic theory of causal discourse that allows us to derive expectations about upcoming discourse, specifically when to expect various types of explanations. We apply our theory to the phenomenon of implicit causality and show how the semantics of implicit causality verbs interacts with discourse structure. In particular, we show why certain verbs trigger explanations per default, what kind of explanations are triggered, and why these explanations are closely related to specific coreference patterns. Predictions derived from the theory were tested in a large-scale crosslinguistic production study comparing discourse continuations in German and Norwegian—two languages displaying differing discourse structuring properties. The production study fully confirmed our predictions, with explanation types and implicit causality bias distributing as expected. The study furthermore reveals that our semantic account of implicit causality is cross-linguistically valid.


Implicit causality Verb semantics Discourse relations Pronoun resolution German, Norwegian 



We would like to thank Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen, Barbara Hemforth, Juhani Järvikivi, Pirita Pyykkönen-Klauck, Barbara Schmiedtová as well as two anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft. We would also like to thank Bergljot Behrens, Stefan Engelberg, Lyn Frazier, Robin Hörnig, Katja Jasinskaja, Hans Kamp, Elena Karagjosova, Arnout Koornneef, Katrin Petodnig, Anna Pryslopska, Arndt Riester, Antje Roßdeutscher, Kjell Johan Sæbø, Henk Zeevat, as well as the audiences at the following conferences and workshops for discussing these issues with us: “Discourse Representation, Comprehension and Production in a Cross-linguistic Perspective”, “5th Linguistic Evidence 2012”, “25th CUNY conference”, “11th International Conference of Nordic and General Linguistics”, “Semantik und Pragmatik im Südwesten 4”, “Informationsstruktur als Teil der menschlichen Kognition”, and “Discourse Expectations: Theoretical, Experimental, and Computational Perspectives” (DETEC2013). This research was made possible by grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to project B1 of the SFB 833 “The construction of meaning—the dynamics and adaptivity of linguistic structures” at the University of Tübingen, and project B4 of the SFB 732 “Incremental specification in context” at the University of Stuttgart. We also gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the Centre for Advanced Study, the Research Council of Norway (NFR project IS-DAAD 216850), and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Last but not least, we would like to thank Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen for inviting us to spend some inspiring months at the Centre for Advanced Study (Oslo, Norway) during the winter of 2010/2011.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Zentrum für Allgemeine SprachwissenschaftBerlinGermany

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