In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dialogue

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Corpora
  • Conferences and Workshops
  • Journals
  • Philosophical Foundations of Dialogue Research
  • Psycholinguistic and Sociolinguistic Theories
  • Formally Oriented Theories

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Linguistics Dialogue
Raquel Fernández
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0126


Research on dialogue is concerned with the study of how communication takes place through language in conversation. This involves, among other things, investigating what makes a dialogue coherent; how dialogue participants coordinate to take turns in speaking and to achieve mutual understanding; and how knowledge about how dialogue works can be used to design artificial agents that are able to converse with humans. Only recently has dialogue emerged as a distinct area of study. Despite the fact that dialogue is the most natural setting for language use, linguistic studies that go beyond the boundaries of single sentences (which are still a minority) have traditionally focused on monological text of the type we may find in newspapers, books, or Wikipedia. However, in recent years the special features of dialogue have received increasing attention, and by now dialogue is a well-established field of research at the interface of linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and artificial intelligence. Because of this interdisciplinarity, the origins of the field are diverse. The work done by Sacks, Schegloff, and colleagues during the 1970s and 1980s within the framework of Conversation Analysis set the stage for the empirical study of conversation and introduced several notions (related, among others, to turn taking, conversational structure, and repair) that remain key in current dialogue research. This was followed up in the field of cognitive psycholinguistics by researchers such as Clark, who during the 1980s and 1990s developed theories of collaboration in dialogue that have helped to shape the field and that have had an important influence in subsequent dialogue literature in linguistics and computational linguistics. The 1980s also saw an explosion of work in artificial intelligence by Perrault, Allen, and others related to the formalization of rational action, which viewed speech acts as the expression of speakers’ intentions with which one could reason logically. The 1990s and 2000s have seen growing interest in dialogue within linguistics, with the development of theories that have extended the core ideas of dynamic semantics (initially developed for monological discourse) to dialogue, such as Segmented Discourse Representation Theory, developed by Asher and Lascarides, and Ginzburg’s theory, based on the notion of questions under discussion. Within computational linguistics, research on dialogue systems has flourished from the late 1990s through the 2000s, not only as an area concerned with the design of practical applications but also as a platform to investigate the theoretical underpinnings of computational models of dialogue.

General Overviews

Dialogue is a relatively new field and as such it has not yet yielded handbooks or monographs that provide comprehensive introductions to the area. A good source of condensed general overviews is the linguistics and computational linguistics handbooks. However, only recent editions of these volumes include chapters specifically dedicated to dialogue, such as Ginzburg and Fernández 2010. In older texts, dialogue-related topics, if treated at all, are in chapters dedicated to pragmatics and/or to discourse, as exemplified by Weiyun He 2003 and Leech and Weisser 2003. Overviews focused on computational dialogue modeling are offered by Jurafsky and Martin 2009 and Schlangen 2005.

  • Ginzburg, Jonathan, and Raquel Fernández. 2010. Computational models of dialogue. In Handbook of computational linguistics and natural language processing. Edited by Alexander Clark, Chris Fox, and Shalom Lappin, 429–481. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444324044

    A survey of challenges faced by theories of dialogue and a comparison of approaches to the design of dialogue management systems. Includes a summary of Ginzburg’s theory in Section 4, “Interaction and Meaning,” pp. 453–476.

  • Jurafsky, Daniel, and James H. Martin. 2009. Dialogue and conversational agents. In Speech and language processing: An introduction to natural language processing, computational linguistics, and speech recognition. 2d ed. Edited by Daniel Jurafsky and James H. Martin, 847–894. London: Pearson Prentice Hall.

    This chapter in one of the most widely used textbooks on natural language processing summarizes the main features of human dialogue as well as the main approaches to dialogue systems.

  • Leech, Geoffrey, and Martin Weisser. 2003. Pragmatics and dialogue. In The Oxford handbook of computational linguistics. Edited by Ruslan Mitkov, 136–156. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Introduction to pragmatics for a computational linguistics audience and to dialogue systems seen as the locus for research on computational pragmatics.

  • Schlangen, David. 2005. Modelling dialogue: Challenges and approaches. Künstliche Intelligenz 3:23–28.

    A brief article offering an excellent overview of fundamental issues in dialogue modeling from a computational perspective.

  • Weiyun He, Agnes. 2003. Discourse analysis. In The handbook of linguistics. Edited by Mark Aronoff and Janie Rees-Miller, 428–445. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470756409

    Sociolinguistic point of view; includes brief surveys of dialogue-related notions from pragmatics (e.g., speech acts) and Conversation Analysis (e.g., sequentiality, turn taking, repair).

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