Asymmetry in Conversation


Although we tend to take our conversational abilities for granted, spontaneous dialogue requires a substantial amount of linguistic, cognitive, and social skills. Uncovering how these hidden skills manifest themselves in language is of crucial importance to be able to understand human communication, to help people communicate more effectively, and to build computer systems that successfully interact with people using natural language. This research programme will contribute to this fascinating challenge by specifically focusing on linguistic interaction in the presence of asymmetry, i.e., imbalances or mismatches between dialogue participants on three different dimensions: (i) linguistic abilities, as in child-adult dialogue; (ii) topical knowledge, as in interaction between experts and novices; and (iii) social roles, as in conversations between individuals with power differences. Looking into asymmetric settings provides a great opportunity for investigating the dynamic changes that linguistic interaction can potentially bring about -- how do our choices of words and phrases contribute to language learning, to knowledge transfer, or to opinion shifts? I will seek to answer such questions by exploiting theoretical insights from linguistics, psycholinguistics, and sociology and by applying sophisticated computational techniques to large amounts of data collected from real conversations. The proposed research programme thus falls within the area of Dialogue Modelling, a research field devoted to the study of linguistic interaction that lies at the interface of theoretical and computational linguistics, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. The outcome of this research will be a comprehensive, unified, computational theory of asymmetric dialogue interaction that will feed back into all of these fields and lead to new cross-fertilisation. Besides being of great scientific significance, the knowledge generated is also of wider societal relevance as it can inform the practical design of computer systems that assist humans with a variety of tasks through interactive natural language interfaces.


Scientific article


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. R. Fernández Rovira

Affiliated with

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Natuurwetenschappen, Wiskunde en Informatica, Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC)

Team members

E Bruni MSc, Dr. R. Fernández Rovira, A.K. Jørgensen MSc, M Del Tredici MSc


01/12/2015 to 30/11/2020