Semantics of ambiguity

Topic Description

At the OU, we are interested in ambiguity as a phenomenon which affects groups of interpreters, rather than as a property of the text itself. We have studied the phenomenon of nocuous ambiguity, which occurs when groups of people disagree on the intended interpretation of ambiguous text. The task of recognising nocuous ambiguity differs from that of traditional disambiguation, and we have worked on systems to recognise anaphoric ambiguity and coordination modifier ambiguity, both in the context of software requirements. Future work could look at:

1. extending the range of phenomena for which we can recogise nocuous ambiguity,

2. developing innovative ways of gathering multiple human judgements of sentence meanings, or

3. supporting ambiguous document handling in different domains.

I also have a long standing interest in semantic representations of coordinated NPs, and how ambiguous coordinations are interpreted. A valuable task would be to simplify sentences containing coordination either to improve readability or accuracy (which we are currently doing with requirements documents), or to make them more amenable to techniques such as information extraction. I would also be interested in extending the work to VP coordination.

Skills Required:

You should have a good undergraduate or masters degree in Computing or a related subject, and a strong interest in how computers can be used to understand natural language. This project could also be suitable for students from areas such as linguistics or psychology if you are able to show sufficiently advanced programming skills.

Background Reading:

Willis, Alistair; Chantree, Francis and De Roeck, Anne (2008). Automatic identification of nocuous ambiguity. Research on Language and Computation, 6(3-4) pp. 355–374.

Yang, Hui; De Roeck, Anne; Willis, Alistair and Nuseibeh, Bashar (2010). A methodology for automatic identification of nocuous ambiguity. In: The 23rd International Conference on Computational Linguistics (Coling 2010), 23-27 Aug 2010, Beijing, China, pp. 1218–1226.

Willis, Alistair (2007). NP coordination in underspecified scope representations. In: Seventh International Workshop on Computational Semantics, 10-12 January 2007, Tilburg, Netherlands.

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