The production of prosodic focus and contour in dialogue

Youd, Nicholas John (1993). The production of prosodic focus and contour in dialogue. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d3a8

Abstract

Computer programs designed to converse with humans in natural language provide a framework against which to test supra-sentential theories of language production and interpretation. This thesis seeks to flesh out, in terms of a computer model, two basic assumptions concerning prosody-that speakers use intonation to convey intention, or attitude, and that prosodic prominence serves to convey conceptual prommence.

A model of an information-providing agent in is proposed, based on an analysis of a corpus of spontaneous dialogues. This uses an architecture of communicating processes, which perform interpretation, application-specific planning, repair, and the production of output. Dialogue acts are then defined as feature bundles corresponding to significant events. A corpus of read dialogues is analysed in terms of these features, and using conventional intonational labelling. Correlations between the two are examined.

Prosodic prominence is examined at three levels. At the level of surface encoding, re-use of substrings and structural parallelism can reduce processing for the speaker, and the listener. At the level of conceptual planning, similar benefits exist, given that speakers and listeners assume a common discourse model wherever possible. At these levels use is made of a short-term buffer of recent forms. A speaker may additionally use contrastive prominence to draw the listener's attention to disparities. Finally, at the level of intentions, a speaker wish to highlight certain information, regardless of accessibility.

Prosodic focus is represented relationally, rather than via a simple binary-valued feature. This has the advantage of facilitating the mapping between levels; it also renders straightforward the notion of focus as the product of a number of potentially conflicting influences.

Those parts of the theory concerned with discourse representation, language generation, and prosodic focus have been implemented as part of the Sundial dialogue system. In this system, discoursal and pragmatic decisions affecting prosody are converted to annotations on a text string, for realisation by a rule-based synthesizer.

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