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Compositional Distributional Models of Meaning

Where natural language semantics meets quantum information flow...

Computing Compositionality
         with Diagrams

The problem of representing natural language meaning in a computationally tractable way has been approached in various and often mutually incompatible ways. Two such orthogonal classes of semantic representation are distributional and symbolic models of meaning. Distributional models of meaning exploit the co-occurrence of other terms with the term being modelled to determine its semantic content, applying Firth's well-known dictum that "You shall know a word by the company it keeps"; while the symbolic approach usually exploits grammatical features of sentences to model relations between entities in the world, thereby expressing the truth conditions of sentences.

These approaches seem theoretically orthogonal, and hence incompatible in implementation. Distributional models of meaning are quantitative and express the semantic relation between terms but offering no immediately obvious way of modelling the contribution of sentence structure to meaning; while typically the semantics of individual words in qualitative symbolic approaches is left "mysterious" and ill-defined.

This project seeks to reconcile these apparently orthogonal representations, guided by the intuition that lexical co-relation and grammatical roles both correspond to different ways of "knowing how to use" language, thus both aspects provide relevant information when we understand the meaning of an expression, and hence they are viable components for a new representation modelling natural language semantics. Category theoretic methods from quantum information theory provide the building blocks for a general framework in which to combine symbolic and distributional approaches to expressing and comparing the meaning of sentences.

In bringing together expertise from the fields of formal logic, philosophy of language, computational linguistics, pure mathematics and theoretical physics, this project aims to produce a new model of natural language semantics for use in the development of more sophisticated text processing applications, document retrieval systems, intelligent agents, etc.

Project Links

EPSRC Logo This research is currently supported by the EPSRC (grant EP/I03808X/1) as part of a multi-site grant (Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, Sussex, York) for the project A Unified Model of Compositional and Distributional Semantics: Theory and Applications (Principle Investigators: Profs Bob Coecke and Stephen Pulman).

A public mailing list,, has been created for interested parties wanting to receive updates about the project regarding publications, workshops, conference talks and other matters. This mailing list can be joined by emailing

An internal mailing list exists for local activity participants. To be added please contact Martha Lewis.

A list of relevant upcoming conferences and workshops, as well as publication venues, is maintained here.

External Collaborators

Past Events


Emeritus Faculty

Past Members

Edward Grefenstette
Nal Kalchbrenner
Martha Lewis
Dan Marsden
Robin Piedeleu
Ondrej Rypacek

Selected Publications

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