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Sentence-initial adverbials and text comprehension.
Adverbials in Use: From Predicative to Discourse Functions (2014)
  • Yves Bestgen, Université catholique de Louvain
  • Sophie Piérard, Université catholique de Louvain
In the last thirty years, numerous linguists have stressed the discourse functions of adverbials. More specifically, sentence-initial temporal and spatial adverbials are often seen as signals that highlight the beginning of a new discourse unit for which they provide the setting. These expressions are thus supposed to affect the reading processes. This paper reports psycholinguistic experiments in which the impact on comprehension of sentence-initial adverbials has been specifically studied. In the first section, we summarize the two discourse functions these adverbials should play according to linguistic theories: signalling the beginning of a new textual unit (the segmenting function) and setting the frame of reference for the whole textual unit that they preface (the framing function). The main conclusion is that inserting an adverbial in sentence-initial position must be seen as a strategic decision of the author of the text for the benefit of the reader. In the next sections, we report several experiments that show that, contrarily to sentence-final adverbials, sentence-initial adverbials enable readers to initiate a set of procedures specific to a topic change and induce them to keep in active memory the setting expressed by the adverbial so that it can regulate the processes of knowledge mobilization required for the interpretation of the sentences that are under its scope. In the conclusion, several avenues for further development are discussed.
  • Discourse markers,
  • framing hypothesis,
  • topic change,
  • setting,
  • temporal,
  • spatial
Publication Date
L. Sarda, S. Carter Thomas, B. Fagard & M. Charolles
Presses universitaires de Louvain
Citation Information
Yves Bestgen and Sophie Piérard. "Sentence-initial adverbials and text comprehension." Adverbials in Use: From Predicative to Discourse Functions (2014)
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