Why Indeed?
Questions at the Interface of Theoretical and Computational Linguistics

Workshop at the 40th Annual Conference of the German Linguistic Society 

(DGfS 2018)

Stuttgart, Germany

7 – 9 March 2018

With the advancement of the digital age and the increasing use of communication devices, the demand for automatically understanding spontaneous speech is expanding. A central linguistic phenomenon in human-computer interaction are questions, posed by the user in response to the system or by the system itself. Making the communication seem natural requires the system to be able to distinguish whether a question is purely information-seeking, structures the discourse or is used rhetorically, among many other functions. A well-motivated analysis of questions is therefore becoming an important component of Natural Language Processing (NLP) applications, not only in question-answering systems, speech recognition and synthesis, but also in machine translation scenarios.

However, to date questions are an under-resourced and under-investigated phenomenon in computational linguistics. The challenges are multifold: First, there is no unified definition of what is considered a question. Second, questions and their classification into different types (e.g. information-seeking versus rhetorical) can be hard even for humans. Third, it is not immediately clear how computational models can capitalize on recent theoretical linguistic advances on questions, for example in prosody, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. The aim of this workshop is to provide a forum for joining formal theoretical work on the linguistic structure of questions with computational approaches targeted at question classification, interpretation, processing, or generation. Our goals are two-fold: On the one hand, we aim to promote theoretical linguistic investigations of questions that are amenable to computational formalization. On the other hand, we are interested in computational analyses of questions and NLP systems that make use of existing linguistic insights or shed new light on specific issues regarding the linguistics of questions.

Topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Formal theoretical approaches to the linguistic structure of questions;
  • the applicability of formal-linguistic definitions and analyses of the notion of “question” in NLP applications;
  • models for representing questions in computational applications;
  • the automatic detection of questions in different types of corpora;
  • the automatic classification of questions;
  • question annotation and
  • corpus linguistic approaches to questions, both across and within languages.

We particularly invite work which uses data other than textual data, for instance spoken or sign language data, advancing the field in a broader manner and allowing for a more holistic view on questions across linguistic subfields.