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Dialogue Modelling and the Remit of Core Grammar (FP)

Eleni Gregoromichelaki, Andrew Gargett, Ruth Kempson, Yo Sato and Christine Howes

Eighth International Conference on Computational Semantics (IWCS-8 2009)
Tilburg University, Netherlands, January 7-9, 2009


In confronting the challenge of providing formal dialogue models, with a plethora of fragments and rich variation of context-dependent construal, it might seem that linguists face two types of methodological choice. Either (a) conversation employs dialogue-specific mechanisms, for which grammars specific to such activity must be constructed; or (b) variation arises due to the operation of independent parsing/production systems based on some mode-neutral grammar. However, there are intermediate possibilities, and in this paper we discuss the approach developed within Dynamic Syntax (DS, Cann et al. 2005), a grammar framework within which, not only the parser, but indeed “syntax” itself rely on a single mechanism allowing the progressive construction of semantic representations set in context. Here we take as a case study the set of phenomena classifiable as clarifications, reformulations, and corrections accompanied by extensions, and argue that though these may seem to be uniquely constitutive of dialogue, they are in fact based in the mechanisms of apposition equivalently usable in monologue for presenting reformulations, extensions, self-corrections etc. Further, we claim that the grammar architecture itself grounds strategies that facilitate efficient online processing, both structural and semantic. DS provides the means for modelling this because the mechanisms defined operate incrementally at the sub-sentential level with tight coupling of parsing and production. Thus, contrary to conventional assumptions of the grammar-parser feeding relation whereby the parser exclusively handles disambiguation, the context-dependence of the grammar itself can here be seen as restricting the pervasive ambiguity in dialogue construal. Moreover, if it can be sustained that all the devices which seem so characteristic of dialogue involve mechanisms invariably available within an individual’s core grammar, this suggests a new inverse methodology: modelling dialogue can be used as a point of departure for grammars for individual speakers, rather than the other, more familiar, way round.

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