Strategies for Natural Language Processing

By Wendy G. Lehnert; Martin H. Ringle | Go to book overview
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Towards an Understanding of Coherence in Discourse

Jerry R. Hobbs SRI International


When coherence is present in a text, it is almost invisible. By contrast, when a text lacks coherence, this lack is perhaps the most striking feature of the text. A short example dedionstrates this sufficiently:

1. When Teddy Kennedy paid a courtesy call on Ronald Reagan recently, he made only one Cabinet suggestion. Western surveillance satellites confirmed huge Soviet troop concentrations virtually encircling Poland.

It is very difficult to find examples of naturally occurring incoherent discourse. This example consists of two sentences taken at random from two different pages of a news magazine. When we find a naturally occurring discourse that seems to be incoherent, we always have the suspicion that if we only knew enough we could see the hidden coherence. We treat the incoherence as a problem to be solved.

Thus, when we read the passage in Ezra Pound's ABC of Reading:

And the quicker you go to the texts the less need there will be for your listening to me or to any other long-winded critic. A man who has climbed the Matterhorn may prefer Derbyshire to Switzerland, but he won't think the Peak is the highest mountain in Europe [p. 46].

we seek an interpretation of the metaphor in the second sentence that will make it relevant to the first sentence. That is, we seek the text's hidden coherence.

Similarly, when Hamlet says (III.ii.198-206):


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