Just because: In search of objective criteria of subjectivity expressed by causal connectives

Natalia Levshina, Liesbeth Degand


The connective because can express both highly objective and highly subjective causal relations. In this, it differs from its counterparts in other languages, e.g. Dutch, where two conjunctions omdat and want express more objective and more subjective causal relations, respectively. The present study investigates whether it is possible to anchor the different uses of because in context, examining a large number of syntactic, morphological and semantic cues with a minimal cost of manual annotation. We propose an innovative method of distinguishing between subjective and objective uses of because with the help of information available from an English/Dutch segment of a parallel corpus, which is accompanied by a distributional analysis of contextual features. On the basis of automatic syntactic and morphological annotation of approximately 1500 examples of because, every English sentence is coded semi-automatically for more than twenty contextual variables, such as the part of speech, number, person, semantic class of the subject, modality, etc. We employ logistic regression to determine whether these contextual variables help predict which of the two causal connectives is used in the corresponding Dutch sentences. Our results indicate that a set of semantic and syntactic features that include modality, semantics of referents (subjects), semantic class of the verbal predicate, tense (past vs. non-past) and the presence of evaluative adjectives, are reliable predictors of the more subjective and objective uses of because, demonstrating that this distinction can indeed be anchored in the immediate linguistic context. The proposed method and relevant contextual cues can be used for identification of objective and subjective relationships in discourse.

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www.dialogue-and-discourse.orgISSN: 2152-9620   Journal doi: 10.5087/dad