ESR7: Contribution of discourse markers to alignment in conversation

PhD fellowship: Mercedes Villalobos Cardozo

Mercedes Villalobos Cardozo

Mercedes Villalobos Cardozo is Early-Stage Researcher at the Institut Langage et Communication (ILC) at the Université catholique de Louvain. After receiving a B.A. in Spanish Philology at the Universidad de Costa Rica, she followed a Master’s Program in Linguistics at the same institution. Currently, Mercedes is fulfilling her position as ESR7 of the COBRA Project, under the supervision of Prof. Liesbeth Degand. Her PhD dissertation will focus on the role of discourse markers in prediction of global phenomena in interaction. She is interested in Spanish linguistics, cognition and experimental methods.


ESR7’s project asks whether the use of discourse markers (DMs) in spontaneous conversation is motivated by the speaker’s needs, or by (the prediction by the speaker of) the listener’s needs. DMs may indeed specialize in either listener-oriented or speaker-oriented functions, and the use of “elusive connectives” or underspecified discourse relations contradicts the listener-oriented view. At the same time, experimental research seems to suggest that DMs are indeed picked up by listeners to build a coherent mental representation of the ongoing conversation. ESR7 will combine corpus analysis and experimental work measuring the impact on comprehension of spoken discourse with and without DMs, to better understand to which extent DMs contribute to speaker and hearer processes of alignment and prediction in spontaneous conversation.

Expected results:

  • Development of experimental tools to measure the impact of DMs on online spoken discourse comprehension;
  • Increased understanding of the impact of DM use on spoken discourse comprehension.

Based in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Full-time three-year contract, starting September 2020

PhD enrolment at: Université catholique de Louvain

Main supervisor’s institution: Université catholique de Louvain

Main supervisor: Prof Liesbeth Degand


  • Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen: training on experimental psycholinguistic methods (5 months);
  • Orange Labs, Lannion: identification of typical markers of spoken interaction to improve dialogue agents (5,5 months).

Co-supervisors’ institutions:

  • Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • Orange Labs, Lannion, France

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