Empirical Studies on the Disambiguation of Cue Phrases

Julia Bell Hirschberg; Diane Litman

Empirical Studies on the Disambiguation of Cue Phrases
Hirschberg, Julia Bell
Litman, Diane
Technical reports
Computer Science
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Columbia University Computer Science Technical Reports
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Cue phrases are linguistic expressions such as now and well that function as explicit indicators of the structure of a discourse. For example, now may signal the beginning of a subtopic or a return to a previous topic, while well may mark subsequent material as a response to prior material, or as an explanatory comment. However, while cue phrases may convey discourse structure, each also has one or more alternate uses. While incidentally may be used sententially as an adverbial, for example, the discourse use initiates a digression. Although distinguishing discourse and sentential uses of cue phrases is critical to the interpretation and generation of discourse, the question of how speakers and hearers accomplish this disambiguation is rarely addressed. This paper reports results of empirical studies on discourse and sentential uses of cue phrases, in which both text-based and prosodic features were examined for disambiguating power. Based on these studies, it is proposed that discourse versus sentential usage may be distinguished by intonational features, specifically, pitch accent and prosodic phrasing. A prosodic model that characterizes these distinctions is identified. This model is associated with features identifiable from text analysis, including orthography and part of speech, to permit the application of the results of the prosodic analysis to the generation of appropriate intonational features for discourse and sentential uses of cue phrases in synthetic speech.
Computer science
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