Faculty Publications


Disfluencies, language comprehension, and Tree Adjoining Grammars

Document Type


Publication Date

February 2010


Disfluencies include editing terms such as uh and um as well as repeats and revisions. Little is known about how disfluencies are processed, and there has been next to no research focused on the way that disfluencies affect structure-building operations during comprehension. We review major findings from both computational linguistics and psycholinguistics, and then we summarize the results of our own work which centers on how the parser behaves when it encounters a disfluency. We describe some new research showing that information associated with misarticulated verbs lingers, and which adds to the large body of data on the critical influence of verb argument structures on sentence comprehension. The paper also presents a model of disfluency processing. The parser uses a Tree Adjoining Grammar to build phrase structure. In this approach, filled and unfilled pauses affect the timing of Substitution operations. Repairs and corrections are handled by a mechanism we term “Overlay,” which allows the parser to overwrite an undesired tree with the appropriate, correct tree. This model of disfluency processing highlights the need for the parser to sometimes coordinate the mechanisms that perform garden-path reanalysis with those that do disfluency repair. The research program as a whole demonstrates that it is possible to study disfluencies systematically and to learn how the parser handles filler material and mistakes. It also showcases the power of Tree Adjoining Grammars, a formalism developed by Aravind Joshi which has yielded results in many different areas of linguistics and cognitive science.

Journal Title

Cognitive Sciences