On Incrementality in Dialogue: Evidence from Compound Contributions

Christine Howes, Matthew Purver, Patrick G. T. Healey, Gregory Mills, Eleni Gregoromichelaki


Spoken contributions in dialogue often continue or complete earlier contributions by either the same or a different speaker. These compound contributions (CCs) thus provide a natural context for investigations of incremental processing in dialogue.

We present a corpus study which confirms that CCs are a key dialogue phenomenon: almost 20% of contributions fit our general definition of CCs, with nearly 3% being the cross-person case most often studied. The results suggest that processing is word-by-word incremental, as splits can occur within syntactic ‘constituents’; however, some systematic differences between same- and cross-person cases indicate important dialogue-specific pragmatic effects. An experimental study then investigates these effects by artificially introducing CCs into multi-party text dialogue. Results suggest that CCs affect people’s expectations about who will speak next and whether other participants have formed a coalition or ‘party’.

Together, these studies suggest that CCs require an incremental processing mechanism that can provide a resource for constructing linguistic constituents that span multiple contributions and multiple participants. They also suggest the need to model higher-level dialogue units that have consequences for the organisation of turn-taking and for the development of a shared context.

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www.dialogue-and-discourse.orgISSN: 2152-9620   Journal doi: 10.5087/dad