Foundations of Statistical Natural Language Processing


In 1993, Eugene Charniak published a slim volume entitled Statistical Language Learning. At the time, empirical techniques to natural language processing were on the rise — in that year, Computational Linguistics published a special issue on such methods — and Charniak's text was the first to treat the emerging field. Nowadays, the revolution has become the establishment; for instance, in 1998, nearly half the papers in Computational Linguistics concerned empirical methods (Hirschberg, 1998). Indeed, Christopher Manning and Hinrich Schütze's new, by-no-means slim textbook on statistical NLP — strangely, the first since Charniak's 1 — begins, " The need for a thorough textbook for Statistical Natural Language Processing hardly needs to be argued for ". Indubitably so; the question is, is this it? Foundations of Statistical Natural Language Processing (henceforth FSNLP) is certainly ambitious in scope. True to its name, it contains a great deal of preparatory material, including: gentle introductions to probability and information theory; a chapter on linguistic concepts; and (a most welcome addition) discussion of the nitty-gritty of doing empirical work, ranging from lists of available corpora to in-depth discussion of the critical issue of smoothing. Scattered throughout are also topics fundamental to doing good experimental work in general, such as hypothesis testing, cross-validation, and baselines. Along with these preliminaries, FSNLP covers traditional tools of the trade: Markov models, probabilis-tic grammars, supervised and unsupervised classification, and the vector-space model. Finally, several chapters are devoted to specific problems, among them lexicon acquisition, word sense disambigua-tion, parsing, machine translation, and information retrieval. 2 (The companion website contains further useful material, including links to programs and a list of errata.) In short, this is a Big Book 3 , and this fact alone already confers some benefits. For the researcher, FSNLP offers the convenience of one-stop shopping: at present, there is no other NLP reference in which standard empirical techniques, statistical tables, definitions of linguistics terms, and elements of information retrieval appear together; furthermore, the text also summarizes and critiques many individual research papers. Similarly, someone teaching a course on statistical NLP will appreciate the large number of topics FSNLP covers, allowing the tailoring of a syllabus to individual interests. And for those entering the field, the book records " folklore " knowledge that is typically acquired only by word of mouth 1 In the interim, the second edition of Allen's book (1995) did include some material on probabilistic methods, and …

DOI: 10.1023/A:1011424425034

Extracted Key Phrases

Showing 1-7 of 7 references

Every time I fire a linguist, my performance goes up, " and other myths of the statistical natural language processing revolution

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Statistical Methods for Speech Recognition

  • Frederick Jelinek
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