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Rhetorical Structure Theory and coherence break identification

  • Sophia Skoufaki

    Sophia Skoufaki is a Lecturer at the University of Essex. She specialises in vocabulary studies and discourse coherence. Her current research examines academic vocabulary teaching and learning, figurative language processing, and the application of Rhetorical Structure Theory to language teaching.

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From the journal Text & Talk


This article examines the claim of Rhetorical Structure Theory (RST) that violations of RST diagram formation principles indicate coherence breaks. In doing so, this article makes a significant contribution to the testing of RST. More broadly, it indicates that examining the coherence-break identification potential of coherence theories could help specify each theory’s purview and, in the long term, lead to the creation of hybrid models of coherence. Moreover, it paves the way for the development of training resources on discourse (in)coherence for language teachers, exam markers and language learners. 84 paragraphs written by Taiwanese learners of English were analysed according to RST and coherence measures were calculated on the basis of this analysis. The results suggest that the violation of any diagram-formation principle indicates coherence breaks, thus corroborating this RST claim. Inter- and intrajudge agreement in terms of both RST coding and coherence measures calculated on the basis of coherence breaks are reported and discussed. The kinds of coherence breaks which are and are not located by RST analysis are discussed and exemplified. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications for pedagogy and future research.

About the author

Sophia Skoufaki

Sophia Skoufaki is a Lecturer at the University of Essex. She specialises in vocabulary studies and discourse coherence. Her current research examines academic vocabulary teaching and learning, figurative language processing, and the application of Rhetorical Structure Theory to language teaching.


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Published Online: 2019-11-13
Published in Print: 2020-01-28

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