Semantic Modelling

Attempts to create general-purpose natural language processing systems are frustrated by the problem of world knowledge; however sophisticated grammars become, interpretation of texts that are unrestricted in form or subject-matter requires the ability to access and reason over unpredictably large amounts of non-linguistic information. Nevertheless, many individual applications permit a much simpler approach, in which the texts to be handled are of limited complexity (characterizable in terms of a `sublanguage') and the knowledge needed to interpret them is finitely specifiable. The FNSRS is currently funding a project at ISSCO entitled ``Sublanguage and Semantic Modelling for MT in a Finite Domain'', which investigates
  1. Domain modelling: given a corpus of texts, create a semantic model (ontology, knowledge base, etc.) representing the objects and events referred to in the corpus, and relations between them.
  2. Sublanguage definition: given a corpus of texts, discover the least complex language sufficient to express their content.
  3. Grammar construction: given a sublanguage definition and a domain model, devise a grammar which relates expressions in the sublanguage to representations interpretable within the domain model.
We adopt a pragmatic approach to these objectives, employing a mixture of rule-based and statistical methods as appropriate, without excluding the possibility of guidance by a human expert. The impetus for this research proposal derives from a programme of work which ISSCO has been following for a number of years. The Swiss Federal Institute for the Study of Snow and Avalanches (IFENA) requires a system to translate avalanche warning bulletins from German into French, and eventually Italian, and ISSCO has been developing a prototype translation system for avalanche bulletins using the ELU linguistic environment.

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