RANLP 2011 in Hissar, BG

Last week was marked by the international RANLP (Recent Advances in Natural Language Processing) conference, taking place in a nice spa in Hissar, Bulgaria. The excellent folks from the computational linguistics group at the University of Wolverhampton were behind it, together with the Institute of Information and Communication Technologies from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
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A fountain with warm mineral spring water in Hissarya.
Picture by Miranda

I must begin by thanking them: the organization was impeccable! I’m not sure, but I think that at one point Ivelina was even running around buying routers to improve wifi coverage (which is already spectacular in Bulgaria — I’ve received reports from Miranda that you can get wifi in the mountains!)

The schedule was busy, with three tracks going in parallel, in order to cover a wide range of topics in computational linguistics. The student workshop should also be noted for the excellent quality of the works there.

Of course it would be infeasible to write about all the great people I met and their high quality work. And if I were to write about all the fun we had, it would probably make this post look unprofessional :). This doesn’t mean I forgot about any of you, and as soon as I get the chance to work on something related, I will most certainly write about it, and you.

So, if I would have to summarize the trends and the ideas stated during the conference and especially during the keynotes, I would say:

  • When talking about word sense disambiguation, it’s wrong to speak about the different meanings of a word, but rather about the potential a word has for bringing a certain meaning in a certain context. See Patrick HanksCorpus Pattern Analysis. Without something like this, to have good WSD you need to heavily adjust the overlapping meanings from a Wordnet-style ontology.
  • Certain relations, such as temporal and spacial ones, can naturally be modeled by complex domain-specific logics (see [Inderjeet Mani][]’s new book, Interpreting Motion: Grounded Representations for Spatial Language, that is due for publishing). But these only appear in a small subset of human communication. The attempt to map human language to a complete logic in which to do general-purpose inference seems futile: Ido Dagan suggests textual entailment: reasoning directly in natural language, and only abstracting away to a formal logic system when need arises.
  • If you have a large enough sample of n-gram frequency data, you can eventually beat the performance you can get with a limited amount of labeled data, and most importantly: it generalizes much better when going out of the domain you trained on. Apparently the best tool for this at the moment is the Google n-gram data, which has some limitations. In time, we can easily extend this data by huge amounts by mining n-grams from Wikipedia (which allegedly has a higher count of distinct n-grams than the Google dataset), and more importantly, by aligning multi-language data, making use of transliterations and cognate identification.

Please note that I may be (or most probably, am) ignorant of older instances of similar ideas, and I may have misunderstood certain claims. Please feel free to discuss in the comments whether you think I forgot about something important, or whether I am plain wrong about something. In particular, I seem to have been completely ignorant of the existence of the Google n-gram data, which has been around for quite a while, so I must have missed other important things as well.

Take care, kind readers, and express your opinion!

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