Noun Phrase Cohesion in English Discourse: a Corpus-based Analysis of Patterns and Influences

  •  Clarence Green    


This study investigated the patterns of noun phrase cohesion in English discourse, with a specific interest in the role of the different clause types. Using corpus methodology, the study synthesized into a single framework for analysis the central features of previous research regarding cohesive devices, preferred argument structure, genre, information packaging and clause structure. A corpus of 1206 noun phrases was coded for factors drawn from previous research, starting with whether or not the NP contained old/cohesive information. Results of frequency cross-tabulations and a factor analysis indicated that preferred argument structure, noun phrase form, and discourse genre were more significant influences on patterns of noun phrase cohesion in English discourse than clause structure. However, patterns of cohesive noun phrases according to the distance to their antecedents revealed that the more grammatically integrated clauses, such embedded infinitival clauses, the fewer cohesive noun phrases with antecedents in the immediate context they tended to have. This indicated that at the local inter-clausal level noun phrase cohesion and the level of grammatical integration of a combined clause existed in somewhat complementary distribution. Conclusions drawn included that clause grammar codes cohesion locally, displacing the need for noun phrases to mark cohesion in the immediate discourse. The study therefore quantitatively supports previous theories that discourse cohesion and the different types of combined clauses in English exist along a continuum from grammar to discourse.

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