Subjectivity and prototype structure in causal connectives: a cross-linguistic perspective

Ninne Stukker, Ted Sanders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


The meaning and use of causal discourse connectives has often been characterized in terms of subjectivity, speech act type or domains of use: English since is considered subjective, just like French car and puisque (as opposed to parce que), German denn and da (versus weil) and Dutch want and aangezien (versus omdat). Yet, there is no agreement on the precise definition of these conceptual distinctions between classes of connectives. Corpus studies suggest that language users' preference for one causal connective over another highly similar one in relation to a given causal category is a matter of degree, rather than a black-and-white distinction. In this paper, we reinterpret usage patterns in terms of the cognitive structures associated with human categorization. We propose to analyze usage contexts of a given connective as prototypical and less prototypical instantiations of its subjectivity category. First, we show that remarkable convergence exists across languages and across theoretical frameworks with respect to prototypical usage types of connectives. Next, we report results of a meta-analysis concerning prototypicality characteristics in corpus data on French, German, and Dutch causal connectives in written discourse. The corpus data suggest that our prototype structure hypothesis indeed has cross-linguistic validity. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-190
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan-2012
Externally publishedYes



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