[b-hebrew] Generation grammar and b-hebrew

James Christian jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com
Wed Jun 16 15:55:42 EDT 2010

Hi all,

further to Pere's question I'll explain with an example of why I believe
joint participation from list members on an experiment of this kind could
make for good linguistic discussion on this list.

Let's assume that in defining our grammar we want to start with high
frequency phenomenon to increase our chances of developing a wide coverage
grammar. Doing a simple word count on words that occur in the Tanakh we see
that with the exception of Yhwh the most common words (as in most languages)
are prepositions. This would suggest that prepositional phrases are high
frequency linguistic chunks and a good place to start developing a wide
coverage grammar.

Following a theory of constituency it is pretty much standard to create high
level definitions of prepositional phrases (PP) with DCG rules like the
following (for English):

PP --> P NP

NP --> (Det) N

Obviously, in practice such an over generic rule set is bound to over
generate because of the lack of fine grained control on the rule set. In
certain contexts certain pseudo-legal PP's are ungrammatical at some level
of grammar that goes beyond simple constituent structure. This is perhaps a
partial motivation of formalisms like LFG (lexical functional grammar) which
add a functional structure to the generation grammar.

In any case, the general idea is to get list members involved in an
experiment of developing a generational grammar so that we can discover the
finer nuances of b-hebrew together by experimenting with rule sets on real
data. I predict that such a practical experience will be eye-opening to the
intricacies of b-hebrew grammar and will stimulate many a linguistically
based discussion (something we keep aiming at on b-hebrew but always seem to
end up straying away from).

The reason I suggested we do something like this using Prolog is simple.
Prolog (IMO) is a shoddy programming language which is inefficient and I
would never dream of using for a serious linguistic technology. However, it
has inbuilt DCG support and so no programming skills required. If you can
understand what PP --> P NP means then you can start working straight away
with Prolog to build a generation grammar. It really is that simple. Totally
linguist friendly.


In any case, I've already had some positive responses off list and I would
welcome some more and would like as many to get involved as possible. Please
keep writing to express interest if you haven't already done so. I've
already decided the positive response was large enough to attempt to get
something going. I'll go ahead and make a simple toy grammar to play with,
experiment with, build on etc. Those who are interested in participating the
best thing to do while waiting for me to post further information is to
download and install Prolog and perhaps play around with it.

If you're running Unix or Linux then you may already have it installed. If
not there are plenty of distributions available. GNU Prolog is probably the
most common standard.


Obviously, GNU Prolog can be run in Windows using an emulator like Cygwin.
I've been told there are other good Prolog distributions that run on windows
but can't recommend any as I've never used them. If you can get Prolog
running on your system and your installation can interpret DCG's then your
ready to make a start.

I'll let you all know when I've got a toy grammar ready to start playing
with. It shouldn't take too long and I should be able to fit it in around
other things going on. If no-one has any objections to discussing b-hebrew
grammar via experimentation with a generational grammar on the b-hebrew list
then I'll continue to communicate via the list. If not, then we can always
take it off list amongst those who have expressed an interest.

Again, thanks for your responses. Keep them coming.

James Christian

On 15 June 2010 12:01, Pere Porta <pporta7 at gmail.com> wrote:

> (As a replying to James Christian's mail about his project on generation
> grammar, which I mistakenly sent only to him and not to the list)
> In this case, James, start, please.
> Now, I do not know whether this can be done within b-hebrew list or rather
> privately...
> Dear b-hebrew Moderators, what is your mind and/or advice? Could James's
> project or proposal be interesting for b-hebrew list members in a general
> way?
> Pere Porta
> (Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)
> On 10 June 2010 09:55, James Christian <jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com> wrote:
>> Hi all,
>> I don't how familiar everybody is with theories of generation grammar. In
>> a
>> nutshell theories of generation grammar can be summarised as follows.
>> There
>> is a set of words and rules which describe any given natural language.
>> Given
>> a correctly defined set of words and rules the generation grammar will
>> accept all grammatically correct utterances of that language and reject
>> ill
>> formed utterances.
>> Attempts to form a generation grammar for any given language generally
>> suffer from problems of over generation and under generation. Over
>> generation is when the grammar is poorly defined and, as such, accepts ill
>> formed utterances as well formed utterances. Under generation is when the
>> grammar rejects utterances which are known to be well formed.
>> Testing of generation grammars consists of having two different test sets.
>> One test set of well formed utterances and the other of ill formed
>> utterances. The goal is that the grammar we define will accept the
>> utterances known to be well formed and reject the utterances known to be
>> poorly formed.
>> If we were to extend this method to b-hebrew we already have a corpus of
>> utterances we can consider to be well formed. Defining a corpus of ill
>> formed phrases is a little more difficult as informants are lacking.
>> I was toying with the idea of encouraging fans of b-hebrew to put their
>> theoretical knowledge into practice by playing with building a generation
>> grammar of b-hebrew using a simple linguist friendly Prolog driven
>> interface. I just wanted to get a quick idea of numbers of who may be
>> interested in participating in such an experiment. Please let your
>> students
>> etc. know about the prospect and get them to write to me either on or off
>> list so that I can get an idea of whether it would be worth putting this
>> together.
>> James Christian
>> _______________________________________________
>> b-hebrew mailing list
>> b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
>> http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/b-hebrew

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