Discourse Coherence in Chinese
Discourse Coherence in Chinese
- Saina WuyunSaina WuyunShaanxi Normal University
Discourse coherence is motivated by the need of the speaker to be understood, which is a psychological phenomenon reflected in the organization of natural discourse. It can be realized via the continuity or recurrence of some element(s) across a span (or spans) of text; alternatively, it can be defined in terms of cohesion, where the interpretation of some element in the discourse is dependent on that of another.
The study of Chinese discourse can be traced back to the Han Dynasty, when the area of endeavor known as classical article-logy (Wénzhāngxué: 文章学) was affiliated to literature. The study of discourse coherence of modern linguistic sense starts from the late 1980s, when counterparts of ‘discourse analysis’, ‘discourse coherence’, and ‘cohesion’ in Chinese linguistic study were assigned a roughly equivalent connotation to those in the West. Two different approaches are differentiated based on the different foci of attention on this issue, namely the entity-oriented and the relation-oriented approach. The former focuses on the continuity of a particular element called “topic” in discourse and the topic chain thus formed, while the latter concerns itself with the connective relations within a discourse and the devices being adopted to realize these relations. Existing analyses toward discourse coherence in Chinese provide different classifications of coherence realization, most of which can be grouped into either of these two orientations.
Topic continuity is one way of realizing discourse coherence in Chinese. The topic of a discourse is what the discourse is about, and always refers to something about which the speaker/writer assumes the receiver has some knowledge. Headed by the topic, a topic chain is a stretch of discourse composed of more than one clause that functions as a discourse unit in Chinese. A topic can play a continuing or (re)introductory role with regard to the previous discourse and a chaining or contrastive role with regard to the subsequent discourse within a topic chain. It is via these specific functions that the coherence of a discourse is maintained.
Traditional approaches to composite sentences and clause clusters in Chinese provide careful description of the realization of both coordination and elaboration relations, which to a large extent are consistent with the systemic functional approach toward the cohesive devices and the Rhetorical Structure Theory framework. These traditional classifications of cohesive relations are still referred to by current studies. Via the connective devices (implicit ones such as the underlying logical relation, or explicit ones such as connective adverbs and conjunctions), the logical relation between adjacent clauses are specified, and in turn a global coherent discourse is constructed.
A coherent discourse is a cluster of clauses bearing all kinds of semantic relations realized via explicit or implicit connective devices. The coherence of discourse relies on the internal cohesive relations within a topic chain as well as the connection among all topic chains of the discourse in question. The study of inner-sentential composition as well as the inter-sentential discourse connectiveness are both investigations on the cohesion of a discourse in Chinese.
- Linguistic Theories