Ontologies in Manchine Translation
An ontology is a formal representation of knowledge which includes the concepts (such as objects, processes etc.) in a domain and some relations between them. If the stored information is of linguistic nature, one can speak of a lexicon. In NLP, ontologies can be used as a source of knowledge for machine translation systems. With access to a large knowledge base, systems can be enabled to resolve many (especially lexical) ambiguities on their own. In the following classic examples, as humans, we are able to interpret the prepositional phrase according to the context because we use our world knowledge, stored in our lexicons:
"I saw a man/star/molecule with a microscope/telescope/binoculars."
A machine translation system initially would not be able to differentiate between the meanings because syntax does not change. With a large enough ontology as a source of knowledge however, the possible interpretations of ambiguous words in a specific context can be reduced. Other areas of usage for ontologies within NLP include information retrieval, information extraction and text summarization.
The ontology generated for the PANGLOSS knowledge-based machine translation system in 1993 may serve as an example of how an ontology for NLP purposes can be compiled:
- A large-scale ontology is necessary to help parsing in the active modules of the machine translation system.
- In the PANGLOSS example, about 50.000 nodes were intended to be subsumed under the smaller, manually-built upper (abstract) region of the ontology. Because of its size, it had to be created automatically.
- The goal was to merge the two resources LDOCE online and WordNet to combine the benefits of both: concise definitions from Longman, and semantic relations allowing for semi-automatic taxonomization to the ontology from WordNet.
- A definition match algorithm was created to automatically merge the correct meanings of ambiguous words between the two online resources, based on the words that the definitions of those meanings have in common in LDOCE and WordNet. Using a similarity matrix, the algorithm delivered matches between meanings including a confidence factor. This algorithm alone, however, did not match all meanings correctly on its own.
- A second hierarchy match algorithm was therefore created which uses the taxonomic hierarchies found in WordNet (deep hierarchies) and partially in LDOCE (flat hierarchies). This works by first matching unambiguous meanings, then limiting the search space to only the respective ancestors and descendants of those matched meanings. Thus, the algorithm matched locally unambiguous meanings (for instance, while the word seal as such is ambiguous, there is only one meaning of "seal" in the animal subhierarchy).
- Both algorithms complemented each other and helped constructing a large-scale ontology for the machine translation system. The WordNet hierarchies, coupled with the matching definitions of LDOCE, were subordinated to the ontology's upper region. As a result, the PANGLOSS MT system was able to make use of this knowledge base, mainly in its generation element.