Linguistics and Psycholinguistics in IVR Design

  • Osamuyimen T. Stewart
  • Harry E. Blanchard
Part of the Signals and Communication Technology book series (SCT)


This chapter illustrates how the knowledge of linguistics (the scientific study of language) and psycholinguistics (the study of how speech helps to shed light on the human mind and behavior) can help to optimize the design of interactive voice response (IVR) systems for usability and performance. In particular, we examine some of the ways in which linguistics and psycholinguistics can influence the design of conversational (natural language) IVR systems. The central question tackled is what are some of the salient discoveries about formal methodology or the structure of language that can facilitate optimal human-computer interaction? In this regard, we build on the relevance of conversational theory to the fundamental design issue of when to bail out of the conversation due to user frustration. We introduce some new dimensions in the interface of linguistics and psycholinguistics with voice interactive systems’ design, regarding: call flows and the relevance of phrase structure diagrams; natural language understanding (grammars); and the relevance of lexical semantics to labeling utterances in natural language categorization techniques. As with most of the published work in this area, we also deal with the relevance of conversational theory to prompting and dialog design by exploring the application of linguistic theories in the areas of ambiguity, synonymy, and polysemy to grammar development, dialog design, and in understanding vagueness in natural language processing. Lastly, we discuss the concept of "structural simplification" as it relates to the ways in which humans may use different speech strategies to interact with machines in contrast to interactions with other humans. Based on sociolinguistic analysis, we propose that the language style used by humans when interacting with speech systems should be categorized as a register.


Linguistics psycholinguistics voice user interface dialog design natural language understanding sociolinguistics 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Osamuyimen T. Stewart
    • 1
  • Harry E. Blanchard
    • 2
  1. 1.IBM T. J. Watson Research LabsYorktown HeightsUSA
  2. 2.AT&T LabsMiddletownUSA

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