Modelling discourse in contested domains: A semiotic and cognitive framework

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Citation: Clara Mancini, Simon J. Buckingham Shum (2006) Modelling discourse in contested domains: A semiotic and cognitive framework. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2006.07.002
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2006.07.002
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2006.07.002
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Modelling discourse in contested domains: A semiotic and cognitive framework
Tagged: argumentation (RSS), cognitive coherence relations (RSS), sensemaking (RSS), ClaiMaker (RSS), computer-supported argumentation (RSS), ontologies (RSS), ontology-based annotation (RSS), Scholarly Ontologies project (RSS), ClaiMaker (RSS)


This paper argues for the importance of modeling discourse itself, since disagreements are intrinsically important in sensemaking ("expressing and contesting explicit, competing interpretations of the world"). However, it is challenging to reuse concepts or annotations: "the meaning of a source changes from one primary claim to the other, depending on the perspective from which it is looked at"; this is supported by semiotics, and there is a complex interplay between culture, meaning, denotations, and connotations.

These challenges are further discussed in the environment of ClaiMaker, a tool for expressing the discourse of scientific documents. In ClaiMaker, Relations are taken as primary.


ClaiMaker is designed to allow researchers to annotate publications, focusing on the relationships between arguments. It gives relation classes (causal, similarity, taxonomic, supports/challenges, problem related, general) which are specified into relations, and which each have positive or negative polarity.

Concepts can be classified, primarily as problem, method, or theory. Rather than fixing the meaning of each concept, the focus is on showing how it is used, since meaning is continually negotiated, and since those using a concept may mean different things, depending on their community, discipline, or past reading.

Cognitive Coherence Relations

They want to create a "cognitive model of relational primitives". Caring mostly about relationships, they envision a theory about 'coherent' mental representation, to that end, they look to linguistics. In linguistics, the connection words (such as 'because', 'but', 'yet') are discourse relations, which have been addressed by numerous theorists. After briefly considering RST (see or ), the authors base their work on cognitive coherence relations (see Coherence relations in a cognitive theory of discourse representation which followed Towards a taxonomy of coherence relations, and Louwerse's An analytic and cognitive parametrerization of coherence relations).

Cognitive coherence relations are four patterns describing the relationship between two discourse units:

  1. Basic operation (Additive/Causal) - do they have a weak or strong connection? (compare 'and' to 'because', or a list to a motivation)
  2. Polarity (Positive/Negative) - does the expected connection hold? (compare `so' to `yet')
  3. Source of coherence (Semantic/Pragmantic)- is the focus on the factual content?
  4. Order of segments (Basic/Non-Basic) - "“Because he had political experience, he was elected president” – is parameterised as Basic, whereas the example – “He was elected president because he had political experience” – is parameterised as Non-Basic."

ClaiMaker's link taxonomy

ClaiMaker's relational taxonomy is then analyzed according to the 4 cognitive coherence relations (see Table 5). While the authors find this helpful from a systems perspective, to meet users' underlying thoughts and understandings, the system needs to present terms differently. Further, the taxonomic terms (e.g. part-of) are not as easily represented in cognitive coherence relations, which refer to reality as a process.

Selected references

Coherence & Linguistics

  • Knott, A., Mellish, C. (1996). A Feature-Based Account of the Relations Signalled by Sentence and Clause Connectives. Language and Speech, 39(2/3), pp.142-183