Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 297-365

First online:

Clarification, Ellipsis, and the Nature of Contextual Updates in Dialogue

  • Jonathan GinzburgAffiliated withDepartment of Computer Science, King's College, London
  • , Robin CooperAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, Göteborg University

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The paper investigates an elliptical construction, Clarification Ellipsis, that occurs in dialogue. We suggest that this provides data that demonstrates that updates resulting from utterances cannot be defined in purely semantic terms, contrary to the prevailing assumptions of existing approaches to dynamic semantics. We offer a computationally oriented analysis of the resolution of ellipsis in certain cases of dialogue clarification. We show that this goes beyond standard techniques used in anaphora and ellipsis resolution and requires operations on highly structured, linguistically heterogeneous representations. We characterize these operations and the representations on which they operate. We offer an analysis couched in a version of Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar combined with a theory of information states (IS) in dialogue. We sketch an algorithm for the process of utterance integration in IS which leads to grounding or clarification. The account proposed here has direct applications to the theory of attitude reports, an issue which is explored briefly in the concluding remarks of the paper.