Discourse Markers (DMs) have been a topic of research for 30 years under many different names. The present paper presents an account of one view of DMs with the aim of providing researchers in the field with a coherent definition of DMs and a presentation of the syntactic and semantic properties of this functional category that will enable them to compare their work on DMs with other researchers. In addition, an analysis of the uses of the DM but supports the claim that there is one core meaning relationship, contrast, with the interpretation of the more than 10 different uses of but being signalled by context and pragmatic elaboration.
Discourse Markers are usually discussed as terms which signal the relationship between two contiguous sentences, S1—DM—S2 (“We started late. Yet, somehow, we arrived on time.”) In the present paper, I examine the class of English Contrastive Discourse Markers (CDMs) to determine what pairs of them occur acceptably in a sentence (“The health care system needs more primary care physicians. However, on the other hand, they are the doctors who are paid at the bottom of the scale.”), those which are unacceptable (“We could go to Jamaica for our vacation this year. On the other hand, nevertheless, we could stay home.”), and others for which the jury is out. Several tentative generalizations, including the role of spoken vs. written language are made but the complete solution is far down the road.