Coherence markers in political debates: Do speakers differ in connective use when arguing against or in favour of a topic?

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Connectives make the relations within discourse explicit. Not only can connective use vary across different purposes and topics, the perceived effect of connectives also depends on type of connective and the audience attitude towards the topic. This study set out to evaluate the connective use of politicians in (vice-) presidential debates when politicians argue in favour of their own view or against the opposing view. A corpus of six debates was composed and connective categories were annotated according to The Penn Discourse Tree Bank (Prasad et al., 2007). Arguments in favour used more connectives per number of words than arguments opposing a topic. Additionally, politicians arguing in favour of a topic were found to use more EXPANSION connectives compared to when they were arguing against an opposing view. In contrast, politicians arguing against a topic were found to use more TEMPORAL and COMPARISON connectives than when they argued in favour. Speakers and listeners are aware of the persuasive qualities of certain connectives and this may build resistance in an audience (Kamalski, Lentz, & Sanders, 2008). While arguments in favour appear to be more inward focussed with a number additive connectives, which focusses more on argument content rather than structure, arguments against a viewpoint use stronger connectives to show contrast. Audience involvement can determine the effect of subjective connectives in an argument. Key words: Coherence relations, argumentation, for and against, political discourse.
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