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Coherence in Text and Dialogue. Read J & M Chapters 18.2, 18.3, 19. Why is Coherence a Computational Issue?. Anaphora resolution Question answering Text extraction Text summarization Discourse Generation. Question Answering.

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Coherence in text and dialogue

Coherence in Text and Dialogue

Read J & M Chapters 18.2, 18.3, 19

Why is coherence a computational issue
Why is Coherence a Computational Issue?

  • Anaphora resolution

  • Question answering

  • Text extraction

  • Text summarization

  • Discourse

  • Generation

Question answering
Question Answering

John arrived at the station later than he’d hoped. He rushed to the ticket booth, then ran to the platform. He got there just before the conductor closed the doors.

Did John get on the train?

Did John have enough money for the ticket?

Or a news wire example:

Text extraction
Text Extraction

The alphas have a long-standing hatred of the betas. Their leaders have decided that the time has come to launch an attack. They are considering the Thanksgiving weekend, but that’s long ways away. They know they’ll have to count on the fact that they are much better shots than the betas are.

attack (status <planned, imminent, active, completed>)

(attacker )

(attackee )

(location )

(mode-of-attack )

(time-of-attack )

(credit-claimer )

Text summarization
Text Summarization

Generating long summaries:

Suppose Google ( returned a summary of a page, not just the first line:

domestic robots


What we don’t want:

What we do want:

I want to see The Matrix tonight.

It isn’t playing anywhere in town.

Two kinds of knowledge
Two Kinds of Knowledge

  • Task/domain knowledge:

  • John offered to go stop by Bill’s house to pick up the report. He didn’t have a key but the door was unlocked.

  • Linguistic/social conventions that govern the way we use language:

    • Local linguistic clues:

  • John went to the mall but he didn’t buy anything.

  • * John went to the mall so he didn’t buy anything.

    • Conventions:

  • Do you know what time it is?

  • Can we come up with a single mechanism for representing and reasoning with all of these things?

Task domain knowledge scripts
Task/Domain Knowledge - Scripts

Scripts or frames represent facts about the world as we know it:

Example: a train-taking script

Scene 1 (arrival): S arrives at station

Scene 2: (ticket purchase): S goes to ticket window

S tells C destination and class

C tells S the price

S hands over money

C hands over ticket

Scene 3: (boarding): S goes to platform

S gets on train

P closes doors

train pulls away

Scene 4: travelling


Task domain knowledge pre and post conditions
Task/Domain Knowledge – Pre and Post Conditions

  • Actions are especially important, particularly in interactive dialogue systems. Actions can be represented as:

  • Preconditions

  • Postconditions

  • Body (sequence of subactions)

  • The first two may be able to be represented in FOPC. Sometimes the latter is too, or in a separate action language. But we may need a higher order system.

Pre and post conditions may involve beliefs
Pre and Post Conditions May Involve Beliefs

Do you know what time it is?

(Action (Tell, P, R, A) **P tells R A

(precondition: Know(P, A)  Contact(P, R))

(postcondition: Know(R, A) or maybe

Know (R, Believe(P, A)))

Know(Tim, time(now, 2:00)) or Know(Tim Believe (I, time(now, 2:00)))

Linguistic cues
Linguistic Cues

John went to the mall but he didn’t buy anything.

John went to the mall so he didn’t go to the movie.

John went to the mall and he went to the movie.

John went to the mall after he went to the movie.

John went to the mall so that he could go to the movie.

John went to the mall even though he didn’t have any money.

The structure of text relations
The Structure of Text – Relations

The pieces have to hang together, typically in some tree like structure that represents relations among the pieces. Some relations:

Result: John forgot to set his alarm. So he missed the exam.

Explanation: John missed the exam. He’d forgotten to set his alarm.

Parallel/contrast: John always brings ham and cheese. Mary always brings peanut butter.

Elaboration: John went to the Friday night dance. He brought Mary and arrived in a white limousine.

Sequence: The police arrested a tall man for the burglary. They brought him to the station and read him his rights. Then they locked him up until morning.

The structure of text hanging together
The Structure of Text – Hanging Together

The police are searching for a tall white man. They canvassed the neighborhood and interviewed everyone they could find. Then they examined several security cameras in the area. They think the robbery was caught on at least one of them. They are also requesting cell phone records at the time of the robbery. They are reasonably certain that they will be able to find their man.

The structure of dialogue typed vs spoken
The Structure of Dialogue – Typed vs. Spoken

  • In addition to all of the issues we must confront with typed dialogues, spoken dialogue management must also consider:

  • Conventions for interruptions and turn taking.

  • The need for grounding to confirm success over a noisy channel

  • False starts

  • Ungrammaticality

  • When’s the next um or any cheap flights to Boston?

  • Let’s see. There’s one tomorrow at 8:00.

The structure of dialogue speech acts
The Structure of Dialogue – Speech Acts

Talking (or writing) is just one kind of action that we can take when we want to achieve a goal. So we should analyze each utterance of a dialogue just as we would analyze any other action. Some utterances have an effect just by virtue of being uttered:

I name this ship the Titanic.

I second that motion.

I bet you five dollars that it will snow.

I hereby announce my candidacy for governor.

Speech acts three levels
Speech Acts – Three Levels

But most utterances are actions because of the effect they have on their listeners. We can analyze utterances on three levels:

Locutionary act: the utterance of some sentence with some particular linguistic meaning.

Illocutionary act: the act of asking or answering or telling or ordering promising or whatever.

Perlocutionary act: the production of some specific effect on the addressee as a result of the act.

Speech acts an example
Speech Acts – An Example

I’m freezing.

Locutionary force: DCL(e time(e, now)  cold(e)  AE(e, speaker))

Illocutionary force: IMP(e close(e)  AE(e, window)  Agent(e, you)

Perlocutionary force: closed(window)

Speech acts
Speech Acts

There are several main classes of speech acts (illocutionary forces):

Assertives/statements (commits the speaker to S being the case)

Directives (asking, ordering, requesting, inviting, advising, begging)

Commissives (commits the speaker to some future action)


Indirect speech acts
Indirect Speech Acts

Utterances in which the locutionary force and the illocutionary force are different.

I’m freezing.

Do you know what time it is? Please tell me the time.

Planning speech acts
Planning Speech Acts

  • Sequences of utterances require the same kind of planning as do sequences of any other actions.

  • Planning to generate utterances

  • Inferring plans in understanding utterances

Conversational implicature
Conversational Implicature

  • Grice’s maxims:

  • The Maxim of Quantity:

    • Be as informative as required.

    • Don’t be more so.

  • The Maxim of Quality:

    • Do not way what you believe to be false.

    • Do not say that for which you lack sufficient evidence.

  • Maxim of relevance: Be relevant

  • Maxim of manner:

    • Avoid obscurity of expression

    • Avoid ambiguity

    • Be brief.

    • Be orderly.

Grice s maxims at work
Grice’s Maxims at Work

For understanding: Grice’s maxims support a kind of reasoning called implicature, a form of defeasible inference. By defeasible we mean that later information can undo the inference. For example:

John is in either New York or Paris. I know which but I’m not going to tell you.

Contrast with semantic deductions:

* John stopped smoking, although he never started.

For generation: Grice’s maxims suggest a generation strategy that will seem natural and helpful to human interactors.

In both cases, we require a model of what is required, true, and relevant.

Conversational implicature1
Conversational Implicature

  • Other maxims:

  • Don’t say negative things about others.

  • Don’t say things that will hurt someone’s feelings.

  • Don’t use language that is inappropriate to the context unless you want to offend.

  • Don’t reveal things that are more intimate than the other person also reveals.

  • Etc.


  • Do you have any money on you?

  • This volume is well-bound, and free of typographical errors.

  • This sure is a great neighborhood.

  • A: I’m out of gas.B: There’s a gas station around the corner.

  • A: Joe doesn't seem to have a girl-friend these days.B: He's been going to Dallas a lot lately.

  • A: When did you get home last night?B: I was in bed by midnight.

  • A: Let’s go to the movies tonight. B: I have to study for an exam.

  • I need to get to Chicago by noon.

  • A: Do you like my new hairstyle. B: It’s interesting.

Interpretation as reasoning
Interpretation as Reasoning

A: Do you know what time it is?

B reasons as follows: A is asking me about what I know. There must be some reason he wants to know what I know. My knowing P is a precondition to my being able to tell him. A is trying to establish the preconditions to my being able to tell him P. So what he really wants is for me to tell him P. I can just do that.

Scalar implicature
Scalar Implicature

  • A: How many people will fit in your car? B: 5

  • Tie and jacket required.

  • No overnight parking.

  • No stopping or standing.

  • No pipe smoking.

  • No stovetop or broiler.

  • Free HBO.

  • No sandals or flipflops.

  • A: Have you finished your paper yet? B: I haven’t even got a topic yet.


In the interest of brevity, we often leave out many of the assertions that we assume to be true when we formulate an utterance.

In cooperative discourse, a listener who believes that a presuppostion is not true should say so:

A: When did you graduate from college?B: I never went.

A: When’s the next Delta flight to Chicago?B: Delta doesn’t fly to Chicago, orThere aren’t any more today.

A: What’s the monthly fee for long distance service?B: There isn’t a fixed monthly fee, or Which level of service do you want? orWe don’t offer long distance service.

A: Who’s the king of France?