Accurate Unlexicalized Parsing


We demonstrate that an unlexicalized PCFG can parse much more accurately than previously shown, by making use of simple, linguistically motivated state splits, which break down false independence assumptions latent in a vanilla treebank grammar. Indeed, its performance of 86.36% (LP/LR F 1) is better than that of early lexicalized PCFG models, and surprisingly close to the current state-of-the-art. This result has potential uses beyond establishing a strong lower bound on the maximum possible accuracy of unlexicalized models: an unlexical-ized PCFG is much more compact, easier to repli-cate, and easier to interpret than more complex lexical models, and the parsing algorithms are simpler, more widely understood, of lower asymptotic complexity , and easier to optimize. In the early 1990s, as probabilistic methods swept NLP, parsing work revived the investigation of prob-abilistic context-free grammars (PCFGs) (Booth and Thomson, 1973; Baker, 1979). However, early results on the utility of PCFGs for parse disambigua-tion and language modeling were somewhat disappointing. A conviction arose that lexicalized PCFGs (where head words annotate phrasal nodes) were the key tool for high performance PCFG parsing. This approach was congruent with the great success of word n-gram models in speech recognition, and drew strength from a broader interest in lexicalized grammars, as well as demonstrations that lexical dependencies were a key tool for resolving ambiguities such as PP attachments (Ford et al., 1982; Hindle and Rooth, 1993). In the following decade, great success in terms of parse disambiguation and even language modeling was achieved by various lexicalized PCFG However, several results have brought into question how large a role lexicalization plays in such parsers. Johnson (1998) showed that the performance of an unlexicalized PCFG over the Penn tree-bank could be improved enormously simply by annotating each node by its parent category. The Penn treebank covering PCFG is a poor tool for parsing because the context-freedom assumptions it embodies are far too strong, and weakening them in this way makes the model much better. More recently, Gildea (2001) discusses how taking the bilexical probabilities out of a good current lexicalized PCFG parser hurts performance hardly at all: by at most 0.5% for test text from the same domain as the training data, and not at all for test text from a different domain. 1 But it is precisely these bilexical dependencies that backed the intuition that lexicalized PCFGs should be very successful, for example in Hindle and Rooth's demonstration …

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