Exploring the Sensitivity to Alternative Signals of Coherence Relations

The Case of French Speaking Teenagers


  • Ekaterina Tskhovrebova University of Bern
  • Sandrine Zufferey University of Bern
  • Pascal Gygax




alternative signals, coherence relations, discourse connectives, French, teenagers


Coherence relations between elements of discourse can be signaled by linguistic devices such as connectives and/or alternative signals. While the use and comprehension of connectives have been studied in different categories of speakers, less is known about the functioning of alternative signals of coherence relations, especially in younger populations. In the current study, we aim to examine the sensitivity of French-speaking teenagers to the alternative signals of list relation (words such as plusieurs ‘several’ and différents ‘various’), combined with connectives varying in frequency and signaling two types of coherence relations (addition: en plus, en outre; consequence: donc, ainsi). Our results reveal that, as early as in teenage years, speakers are sensitive (i.e., they produce list continuation sentences) to alternative signals of list relation. Furthermore, the inference of list relation is not significantly changed when an alternative signal is combined with the more frequent additive connective en plus. However, this inference is inhibited by the less frequent additive connective en outre, and is almost completely hindered by the consequence connectives donc and ainsi. Overall, these results show that alternative list signals are an important source for the inference of the list relation, even in the presence of more salient signals of coherence such as connectives.