Quantifying mutual-understanding in dialogue
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There are two components of communication that provide a natural index of mutual-understanding in dialogue. The first is Repair; the ways in which people detect and deal with problems with understanding. The second is Ellipsis/Anaphora; the use of expressions that depend directly on the accessibility of the local context for their interpretation. This thesis explores the use of these two phenomena in systematic comparative analyses of human-human dialogue under different task and media conditions. In order to do this it is necessary to a) develop reliable, valid protocols for coding the different Repair and Ellipsis/Anaphora phenomena b) establish their baseline patterns of distribution in conversation and c) model their basic statistical inter-relationships and their predictive value. Two new protocols for coding Repair and Ellipsis/Anaphora phenomena are presented and applied to two dialogue corpora, one of ordinary 'everyday' conversations and one of task-oriented dialogues. These data illustrate that there are significant differences in how understanding is created and negotiated across conditions. Repair is shown to be a ubiquitous feature in all dialogue. The goals of the speaker directly affect the type of Repair used. Giving instructions leads to a higher rate of self-editing; following instructions increases corrections and requests for clarification. Medium and familiarity also influence Repair; when eye contact is not possible there are a greater number of repeats and clarifications. Anaphora are used less frequently in task-oriented dialogue whereas types of Ellipsis increase. The use of Elliptical phrases that check, confirm or acknowledge is higher when there is no eye contact. Familiar pairs use more elliptical expressions, especially endophora and elliptical questions. Following instructions leads to greater use of elliptical (non-sentential) phrases. Medium, task and social norms all have a measureable effect on the components of dialogue that underpin mutual-understanding.
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