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Oxford Quantum Talks Archive

Compositional and distributional models of meaning for natural language

Stephen Clark, University of Cambridge
Flowin'Cat 2010, October 2010, University of Oxford

There have been two main approaches to modelling the meaning of language in Computational Linguistics and Natural Language Processing. The first, the compositional approach, is based on classical ideas from Philosophy and Mathematical Logic, and implements the ideas from Formal Semantics which followed Montague's work in the 1970s. The second, more recent, approach focuses on the meanings of the words themselves. This is the distributional approach to lexical semantics and is based on the ideas of structural linguists such as Firth, and is sometimes related to the Wittgensteinian philosophy of ``meaning as use". The idea is that the meanings of words can be determined by considering the contexts in which words appear in text. In this introductory talk I will survey some recent advances in natural language parsing and lexical semantics which have led to language processing tools which can efficiently and accurately produce sophisticated linguistic representations of naturally occurring text. The talk will also serve as a tutorial for later talks in the meeting, in particular those which consider how the two approaches to meaning can be combined, to produce a unified theory of compositional distributional semantics.

[video] [streaming video] [slides]