Scientific Background: History, Approaches, and Visions

Language Technology is traditionally grounded in formal and computational accounts of the system of rules that govern human language use. After all, there is an infinite number of natural language utterances, and in everyday use a significant proportion of utterances have never been coined in this exact form before. The human ability to constantly produce new utterances, as well as the observation that natural language serves its purpose—communication— very effectively, both suggest strongly that there is indeed such a system of rules, with ‘grammar’ at its core. Research in our group is grounded in this assumption, and we employ (and develop futher) specialized descriptive formalisms that enable computers to take advantage of grammatical knowledge.

Making the rules of grammar accessible to computation, however, is but one part of contemporary language technology. Natural language utterances are notoriously ambiguous. For example, the string Time flies like an arrow. may be interpreted in a variety of ways, including (among others) the observation that ‘time moves quickly just like an arrow does’, the instruction to ‘measure the speed of flying insects like one would measure that of an arrow’, or as a statement about a specific species of insects (‘time flies’, in contrast to, say, ‘fruit flies’) and their fondness of arrows. Obviously, some of these interpretations are much more plausible than others, with some bordering on non-sensical.

By Stephan Oepen
Published Feb. 8, 2012 09:46 AM - Last modified Mar. 24, 2013 10:34 PM