University of Pittsburgh

Chat and chunk phases in conversation, and what they tell us about how to talk.

Friday, September 21, 2018 - 12:30pm - 1:30pm

Much human talk is casual and multiparty, forming a soundtrack to social bonding and mutual co-presence rather than strictly exchanging information in order to complete a well-defined practical task. While there has been much work on the technological or task-based applications of spoken interaction, between humans and more recently in spoken dialog technology, there has been less focus on casual or social talk - which is almost universally present whenever people congregate. HCI applications capable of participating as a speaker or listener in such talk would be useful for companionship, educational, and social applications. However, such applications require dialogue structure beyond the adjacency pair  sequences which may be sufficient to model a well-defined task. While there is body of theory on multiparty casual talk, there is a lack of work quantifying such talk.  Longer casual conversations have been observed to follow a sequence of chat and chunk phases, where short interactive stretches of talk (chats) are interleaved with longer turns (chunks), where a single participant dominates the conversation, often telling a story or giving an extended opinion. My PhD work concentrated on these phases and how they manifest in casual talk.

In this talk I will provide an overview of the structure of casual conversation, and chat and chunk phases in particular, reporting corpus based studies of how these elements occur in multiparty casual talk. It appears that dialog features such as timing and the distribution of laughter and overlap differ between chat and chunk phases, which could have major implications for interaction design. I will discuss how such knowledge might be used in the design of casual interfaces, and describe my current Fulbright project investigating how chunks in particular may be used in spoken language modules for an online tutor for migrants living, working, or studying in a new country.



Emer Gilmartin is a researcher at the ADAPT Centre, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. She works on spoken dialogue and spoken dialogue technology and is interested in use of dialogue technology for language learning. She holds degrees in Mechanical Engineering (B.E),  Speech and Language Technology (Dip. PostGrad), Theoretical Linguistics (M.Phil), and her PhD work was on the structure of multiparty casual conversation. Prior to her work in academia, she worked in English Language Teaching, as a teacher, teacher trainer, and as Executive Manager of Ireland's programme for Language and Integration for adult and child migrants. She is currently a Fulbright TechImpact Scholar at the Language Technologies Institute at CMU, where she is working on the creation and testing of web-based language learning resources for migrants and refugees.

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