[b-hebrew] Generation grammar and b-hebrew

Eric Inman eric-inman at comcast.net
Sat Jun 19 13:54:22 EDT 2010

Hi James,
By out of hand I mean that the number of generative grammar rules becomes so
large that they obscure what the underlying general rules and structures of
the language really are. Thus there would probably be some other model that
would do a better job of describing the language. My guess is that that
model would probably include a generative grammar as a component, but other
things would need to be involved along with it. If that's the case, then
your project might still be useful by proceeding with your bottom-up
approach until if and when it gets bogged down. At that point it might be
clear what to add to the model in order to get it further along without
getting bogged down.
On the other hand, there might already be information about where things
would get bogged down, and we could start looking at that much more quickly.
If these problems exist, I don't think they would be due to using a top-down
approach rather than a bottom-up one. I think the problems would occur
either way. Nevertheless, I think a bottom-up approach would be my
Eric Inman


From: James Christian [mailto:jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com] 
Sent: Saturday, June 19, 2010 12:12 PM
To: Eric Inman
Cc: dwashbur at nyx.net; b-hebrew
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Generation grammar and b-hebrew

Hi Eric, 

traditionally in computational linguistics literature a distinction is made
between deep and shallow methods. In general, deep methods are considered to
be rule based while shallow methods are typical driven by statistical
information. Obviously, shallow methods of generation can be used as well as
deep methods and, no surprises, shallow methods are performing better than
deep methods as in just about every other area of computational linguistics.
But please don't fall into the classic trap of assuming that shallow methods
have no rule system. They have a rule system, a very complex one. It just
isn't made explicit. 

As you note 'the number of rules could get out of hand'. However, I would
venture that the very reason shallow methods are working better than deep
methods is precisely because they have many more implicit rules that give a
wider coverage of real linguistic high frequency phenomenon. And so I would
like to address the following part of your statement 'out of hand'.

Now I'm not sure exactly what you mean by out of hand. If you are assuming
that a large amount of rules is a bad thing then I don't necessarily agree.
In fact, precisely the opposite. The very reason that most modern attempts
to define a generative grammar aren't as wide coverage as they set out to be
is because they are designed to be compact and, as a result, over generate.

That is not to say I disagree with you entirely. If many rules are defined
with no control of how they affect each other then unpredictable results
will naturally arise. My personal experience suggests to me that starting
from the specific and working up to the generic is a wiser approach to
defining a generative grammar. Most attempts to build a generative grammar
start with a generic sentence rule like:

S --> NP VP

It comes as no surprise that such attempts generally fail. They are starting
with a linguistic assumption about the data that they have not extracted
from the data but rather imposed upon it. This is what I would call a top
down approach starting with a linguistic assumption about what the top is.
It would seem to make more sense to me to adopt a bottom up approach with no
linguistic assumptions other than letting the data speak for itself. That is
to say to start by defining rules for the smallest frequently observable
phenomenon and working your way up to sentence structure, paragraph
structure etc. and thus letting the data speak for itself what the
definition of S is. It may be S --> NP VP, it may be something entirely
different or it may even be a whole collection of statements. The point is
to let the data speak for itself.

And so, Eric, what I would like you to consider is that it is not generative
grammar in itself that is the problem. It the method of defining one that
may be at fault. Please also bear in mind that statistical methods of
generative grammar are also rule based. They only differ in that their rules
system is superior and machine learned from the data.

James Christian  

On 19 June 2010 14:55, Eric Inman <eric-inman at comcast.net> wrote:

Here's why I think word order can be a problem. It's true that if you have
multiple word orders then you can define multiple rules. If you have a unit
of speech where the next-level components can occur in different orders,
then providing the multiple rules to represent the different orders is not a

Where I think there might be a problem is when you have two or more units of
speech whose components are intermingled with each other and can be
intermingled in many different ways. It's true that you can still define
multiple rules to handle this situation, but the problem is that the number
of rules required to represent all of the permutations can get out of hand.
At this point it appears that a generative grammar ceases to be a useful
model for describing the language, and I think there are probably other
models that would be more useful. I think this situation arises in Greek but
I don't know if it would arise in Hebrew.

I think whether or not this issue is premature would depend on whether or
not this is already known to be a problem in Hebrew. If it is, then bringing
it up now might allow people to avoid repeating steps that have already been
taken and instead move more directly to seeking a better approach to
handling what would be a known problem.

What do you think?

Eric Inman

-----Original Message-----
From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org

[mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of dwashbur at nyx.net
Sent: Friday, June 18, 2010 11:22 AM
To: b-hebrew
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Generation grammar and b-hebrew

Agreed.  In this vein I should also mention that I maintain a strict
separation between syntax and semantics/pragmatics/discourse/etc.  With the
earlier Chomsky, I see syntax as a distinct component of the internal
grammar, and approach it as such.

On 18 Jun 2010 at 14:46, James Christian wrote:

> Hi,
> word order isn't a problem. If you have multiple word orders you can
> define multiple rules. You just define whatever rules the data
> supports whatever the language. However, at a higher level of grammar,
> the discourse level, word orders are not as arbitrary as they may
> seem. Word order, in many languages, expresses what in English is
> expressed by accenting an emphasised word or phrase. There may be
> contextual reasons for producing this kind of emphasis. Defining a
> contextual rule set that captures these nuances of a language would be
> challenging. You raise a good point. However, this is all a little too
> premature. If we've already got to the point where we are worrying
> about rules at this level then you already have a pretty darn good
> grammar. I foresee many lower level problems is properly defining
> rules for smaller chunks of language before we could even dream of
> being able to boast we are only left with these high level problems.
> James Christian
> _______________________________________________
> b-hebrew mailing list
> b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/b-hebrew

Dave Washburn

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