Feedback in conversation as incremental semantic update

Arash Eshghi, Christine Howes, Eleni Gregoromichelaki, Julian Hough, Matthew Purver

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

22 Citations (Scopus)
26 Downloads (Pure)


In conversation, interlocutors routinely indicate whether something said or done has been processed and integrated. Such feedback includes backchannels such as ‘okay’ or ‘mhm’, the production of a next relevant turn, and repair initiation via clarification requests. Importantly, such feedback can be produced not only at sentence/turn boundaries, but also sub-sententially. In this paper, we extend an existing model of incremental semantic processing in dialogue, based around the Dynamic Syntax (DS) grammar framework, to provide a low-level, integrated account of backchannels, clarification requests and their responses; demonstrating that they can be accounted for as part of the core semantic structure-building mechanisms of the grammar, rather than via higher level pragmatic phenomena such as intention recognition, or treatment as an “unofficial” part of the conversation. The end result is an incremental model in which words, not turns, are seen as procedures for contextual update and backchannels serve to align participant semantic processing contexts and thus ease the production and interpretation of subsequent conversational actions. We also show how clarification requests and their following responses and repair can be modelled within the same DS framework, wherein the divergence and re-alignment effort in participants’ semantic processing drives conversations forward.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 11th International Conference on Computational Semantics
PublisherAssociation for Computational Linguistics
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)9781941643334
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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    Eshghi, A., Howes, C., Gregoromichelaki, E., Hough, J., & Purver, M. (2015). Feedback in conversation as incremental semantic update. In Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Computational Semantics (pp. 261-271). Association for Computational Linguistics.