University of Copenhagen

ALLG International Meeting and AGM

Dec 11-12

This two day meeting began with reports on recent activities in the field of literary and linguistic computing from the various ALLC Representatives around the world: about ten different countries (all European except for the ubiquitous J.Joyce (USA-East)) were represented in person, while nearly 40 written reports had been submitted. The report of the ALLC Working Party on networking and databases was also tabled; it includes a recommendation that a database of information about machine-readable texts and software for processing them should be established along the lines discussed at an earlier meeting of the working party in London. Both at this meeting and at the ALLC's subsequent AGM I briefly described the proposed format of this database and requested information for it. Initial validation of the designed system will be carried out in early 1981, by using it to keep track of issues of OCP. It will then be expanded to include issues of texts from the Oxford Archive. Data collection from other sources will continue in parallel, in collaboration with University College Swansea, using the UMRCC filestore as a staging post.

There were two formal sessions of invited papers, one on machine translation and the other on computer-aided lexicography. The MT session was opened by from the EEC with the disarming statement that SYSTRAN (the product in which 5 million units of account -about $20 m- will be invested over the next 5 years on your behalf and mine) is obsolete from both the linguistic and the computational standpoints. Nevertheless (as is often said) it WORKS for translation of scientific and technical literature only for certain host/target pairs of languages only and with no post-editing.An experimental batch system for translation of scientific abstracts will be made available via EURONET within the coming year. Meanwhile research towards a European replacement for Systran (EUROTRA) would continue, though funding was not yet committed. Subsequent speakers summarised the main features of the Eurotra project. Keill (UMIST) demonstrated that Systran (which is entirely written in uncommented IBM Assembler) could not easily be enhanced except by adding greatly to the complexity of the existing dictionaries. Eurotra by contrast would be a modular system of great flexibility, deriving from 4 dynamic 'strategic' component which interfaces its -fairly traditional- parsing algorithms with its equally traditional static dictionaries. Eurotra however has no 'real world knowledge' built into it and is light years away from an 'Understanding' system. Maegaard & (Copenhagen) described Eurotra's interface structure which is essentially a simple dependency tree the nodes of which are labelled for four levels of analysis (morpho-syntactic, syntactic function, logico-semantic and semantic-relational) Ambiguity is more easily resolved when these four levels of linguistic description are available simultaneously, while the loss of word-order inherent in a tree represent­ation actually (it is claimed) aids translation. There is of course nothing particularly novel in this formalism and its limitations (chiefly the absence of a knowledge component) have been known for many years. M. King (Cambridge) 's description of the so-called Semantic Component in Eurotra was clearly aimed at a non-specialist audience and did little more than exemplify some of these limitations. Nevertheless, for a system designed to deal only with technical writing, Eurotra seems a great advance on Systran if only because it has a clear underlying linguistic model, the inadequacies of which are clearly defined and understood. It is in no sense an experimental design, and appears to have learned very little from even comparatively recent advances in AI.

For no very good reason, delegates were then treated to a short presentation of ADA by one C.Gram (Copenhagen). The main features of this latest attempt to emulate the perfection of Algol68 were however clearly of little interest to the majority of the somewhat bemused audience and of no interest at all to anyone who has read an article in Computing.

The next day's session was opened by W.Kartin (Liege) at his most magisterial with a panoramic survey of the various activities that might be described as computational lexicography. As is often the case with such surveys I gleaned little from it save the classic assertion that "AI people are concerned with how to understand language, i.e. how not to misunderstand language". The level of computational expertise involved is best illustrated by a lengthy discussion of how the text of dictionary entries could be sorted on secondary fields in order to produce lists of synonyms or 'pseudo-synonyms'. Zettersten (Copenhagen) gave an informative account of the newly-revived Dictionary of Early Modern English Pronuciation Project (DEMEP). Dictionary slips indicating pronunciation are being gathered in a fairly conventional form by teams of scholars based at Stockholm, Bergen, Berlin and Aachen from hundreds of early printed sources to produce what will (if it comes to fruition) be an invaluable reference work on the development of English pronun­ciation over the period 1500-1800. The project is linguistically unfashionable and computationally unexciting; nevertheless it has the far from insignificant merits of a well-defined and worthwhile goal.

Winfried Lenders (Bonn) gave a workmanlike description of the 6 or 7 computer held lexicographic databases available in Germany (where such activites are now co-ordinated by a government agency, of course). His account was informative rather than analytic. As might have been expected there was little common ground amongst the materials described since they had all been tailor-made for different purposes. The problems of integrating such disparate sources (which seemed tthe obvious next step) were only touched upon. Finally Marie Bonner (Saarbrucken) described the six year old Old Icelandic Dictionary project in which half a million words of legal texts are to be the basis of the first ever lemmatised word index of Old Icelandic. The project had evidently benefited from a clear linguistic analysis of the process of lemmatisation (particularly difficult when dealing with old manuscript material); but no evidence was given of any comparably sophisticated computational analysis during the development of the project.