Lign 169: Principles of Discourse and Dialog

Prof. Andrew Kehler
UCSD Department of Linguistics
(858) 534-6239
McGill 5237

Spring, 2003
MWF 12-12:50, Thurgood Marshall College 103, Room 2
Office Hours: Wednesdays 1:30-3:00, or by appt.

TA: Lara Taylor
Office Hours: Tuesdays 3-4 and Fridays 1-2


This course covers the principles and mechanisms that underlie the production and interpretation of discourse and conversational dialog. Topics include: Reference, attention, and dynamic models of discourse state. Discourse coherence and structure. Turn-taking and speech acts in conversation. Computational models.


Ling 101 is strongly recommended. No programming experience is assumed. Formal reasoning skills and an enthusiasm for the complexity of natural language are required.


Readings will be distributed in class, posted on the class website, or put on reserve in the McGill language library.


There will be four homework assignments, distributed approximately every six lectures, each worth 10% of your grade. They will consist of paper-and-pencil exercises. Assignments are due in class. Late assignments will be penalized at 5% if handed in by 5pm on the due date, 10% per day otherwise, and will not be accepted at all after the time at which graded assignments and answer keys are distributed.

There will be two exams: a midterm (worth 25%) and a final (worth 35%).

Students are permitted to consult with each other and/or work together in learning the concepts necessary for completing the homework, as long as each student: (1) writes up his or her own homework alone, using no notes resulting from the collaboration, and (2) lists the names of all other students involved in the collaboration prominently on the assignment. Collaborative efforts not meeting these restrictions are strictly forbidden.

Needless to say, please turn off your cell phones before entering the classroom.

Provisional Schedule

I. Introduction to Discourse and Dialog

II. Discourse Models and the English Reference System

Discourse models. Basic terminology. Different types of referring expression. The referential behavior of definite lexical noun phrases, demonstratives, pronouns, and other anaphoric expressions.

Reading: Beginning of Chapter 18 in Jurafsky and Martin, additional readings to be determined

Note: Assignment 1 can be downloaded from here, and the accompanying dialog sample can be downloaded from here

III. How Pronouns are Interpreted

So-called pronoun interpretation preferences. Computational algorithms (Hobbs, Lappin and Leass, Centering). Psycholinguistic investigations.

Reading: Rest of Section 18.1 in Jurafsky and Martin, additional readings to be determined

IV. Discourse Structure and Coherence

Models of discourse coherence. Coherence relations and their relationship to pronoun interpretation. Other linguistic applications. Abductive reasoning. Role of world knowledge. Connectives. Discourse structure and segmentation.

Reading: Rest of Chapter 18 in Jurafsky and Martin, additional readings to be determined

V. Dialog Structure and Coherence

Utterances and turn-taking. Grounding. Conversational implicature and Gricean maxims. Dialog acts and their recognition. Belief-Desire-Intention (BDI) models. Cue phrases. Dialog structure. Grosz and Sidner's theory. Informational versus intentional coherence.

Reading: Chapter 19 of Jurafsky and Martin, additional readings to be determined

VI. Summary and Review

Andy Kehler 2002-03-01