Lexical database enrichment through semi-automated morphological analysis

  • Thomas Richens

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Derivational morphology proposes meaningful connections between words and is largely unrepresented in lexical databases. This thesis presents a project to enrich a lexical database with morphological links and to evaluate their contribution to disambiguation. A lexical database with sense distinctions was required. WordNet was chosen because of its free availability and widespread use. Its suitability was assessed through critical evaluation with respect to specifications and criticisms, using a transparent, extensible model. The identification of serious shortcomings suggested a portable enrichment methodology, applicable to alternative resources. Although 40% of the most frequent words are prepositions, they have been largely ignored by computational linguists, so addition of prepositions was also required. The preferred approach to morphological enrichment was to infer relations from phenomena discovered algorithmically. Both existing databases and existing algorithms can capture regular morphological relations, but cannot capture exceptions correctly; neither of them provide any semantic information. Some morphological analysis algorithms are subject to the fallacy that morphological analysis can be performed simply by segmentation. Morphological rules, grounded in observation and etymology, govern associations between and attachment of suffixes and contribute to defining the meaning of morphological relationships. Specifying character substitutions circumvents the segmentation fallacy. Morphological rules are prone to undergeneration, minimised through a variable lexical validity requirement, and overgeneration, minimised by rule reformulation and restricting monosyllabic output. Rules take into account the morphology of ancestor languages through co-occurrences of morphological patterns. Multiple rules applicable to an input suffix need their precedence established. The resistance of prefixations to segmentation has been addressed by identifying linking vowel exceptions and irregular prefixes. The automatic affix discovery algorithm applies heuristics to identify meaningful affixes and is combined with morphological rules into a hybrid model, fed only with empirical data, collected without supervision. Further algorithms apply the rules optimally to automatically pre-identified suffixes and break words into their component morphemes. To handle exceptions, stoplists were created in response to initial errors and fed back into the model through iterative development, leading to 100% precision, contestable only on lexicographic criteria. Stoplist length is minimised by special treatment of monosyllables and reformulation of rules. 96% of words and phrases are analysed. 218,802 directed derivational links have been encoded in the lexicon rather than the wordnet component of the model because the lexicon provides the optimal clustering of word senses. Both links and analyser are portable to an alternative lexicon. The evaluation uses the extended gloss overlaps disambiguation algorithm. The enriched model outperformed WordNet in terms of recall without loss of precision. Failure of all experiments to outperform disambiguation by frequency reflects on WordNet sense distinctions.
    Date of AwardJan 2011
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorIan T. Nabney (Supervisor) & Ramesh Krishnamurthy (Supervisor)


    • Morphological rules
    • automatic affix discovery
    • derivational morphology
    • segmentation fallacy
    • derivational tree

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