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Communications of the ACM

DIAGRAM: a grammar for dialogues


An explanatory overview is given of DIAGRAM, a large and complex grammar used in an artificial intelligence system for interpreting English dialogue. DIAGRAM is an augmented phrase-structure grammar with rule procedures that allow phrases to inherit attributes from their constituents and to acquire attributes from the larger phrases in which they themselves are constituents. These attributes are used to set context-sensitive constraints on the acceptance of an analysis. Constraints can be imposed by conditions on dominance as well as by conditions on constituency. Rule procedures can also assign scores to an analysis to rate it as probable or unlikely. Less likely analyses can be ignored by the procedures that interpret the utterance. For every expression it analyzes, DIAGRAM provides an annotated description of the structure. The annotations supply important information for other parts of the system that interpret the expression in the context of a dialogue. Major design decisions are explained and illustrated. Some contrasts with transformational grammars are pointed out and problems that motivate a plan to use metarules in the future are discussed. (Metarules derive new rules from a set of base rules to achieve the kind of generality previously captured by transformational grammars but without having to perform transformations on syntactic analyses.)

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