Tag Archives: conference

QPL Semantic Spaces Workshop, University of Strathclyde

The workshop day, titled ‘Semantic Spaces at the Intersection of NLP, Physics, and Cognitive Science’, was part of a larger Quantum Physics and Logic (QPL) conference held at the University of Strathclyde. The workshop focussed on computational approaches to modelling semantics and semantic relations in language. The day was divided into three parts: the first session was concerned with the application of principles derived from physics and formal logic to the expression of linguistic phenomena; the middle section segued this into consideration of Natural Language Processing (NLP); whilst the final section covered cognitive science and cognitive linguistics’ views of semantics. My interest in attending this was to get an idea of the approach which ‘hard science’ is taking to aspects of semantics which overlap with the research of the Linguistic DNA project, as well as to see if there were anything that we might be able to apply to our own work.

A subject which struck a chord was the discussion of vector space modelling, which is near the top of our list of topics to be implemented as we approach the point where we move from identifying word pairs to establishing clusters of related words. The subject was touched on in several of the papers, with particular relevance to the final paper of the day, in which Stephen McGregor described work done by himself and colleagues to locate ‘subspaces’ within vector space models which delineate an analogical relationship between different words. Beginning with an SAT-style statement that ‘dog is to cat as puppy is to kitten’, the paper used PMI measurements as a basis on which to plot these words in vector space, and then examined the geometrical relationship of the points to demonstrate how it might be possible to define a subspace within the vector space and thus automatically identify the positions of analogical partners words or concepts.

The NLP section of the workshop was dominated by Categorical Compositional Distributional semantics and the ways in which researchers using this approach are mapping the emergence of meaning from syntactic structure. The morning’s physics papers had discussed in some detail the application of formal logic expressions to sentence semantics, describing, for example, the way in which a transitive verb combines with subject and object nouns to ‘output’ the meaning of the sentence. These papers applied this theoretical approach to specific sentence elements, such as Dimitri Kartsaklis’ analysis of coordination and Mehrnoosh Sadrzadeh’s study of quantifiers. To me, these papers chimed with work Seth has been doing, considering the importance of handling different parts of speech in different ways during processing; they made clear the flaws in the so-called ‘bag-of-words’ approach to computational linguistics and highlighted that, in the long run, consideration of syntax should be an important part of the kind of computational semantics we’re undertaking.

Also of special interest was Peter Gärdenfors’ consideration of domains as components of word meanings. In the main, the point was illustrated through consideration of nouns (although touching on other parts of speech), asking whether it might be helpful to think of words as fundamentally dependent on domains such as place, shape, and temperature (so that, for example, ‘round’ maintains some connection to the sense of a curve in physical space even when not used as a noun, whilst most ‘verbed’ nouns retain important connections to their parent’s referent). Whilst bearing mostly indirect applicability to current LDNA work, this discussion is important food for thought, especially for its potential impact on the encyclopedic aspect of a word’s semantics in context.

The workshop provided a thought-provoking day to a relative outsider, offering an important viewpoint on the other approaches to semantics which are being pioneered outside of arts faculties, an awareness which can only strengthen our own work. I’d like to thank the organisers and contributors to the workshop for a hugely interesting and intellectually engaging day.

From Spring to Summer: LDNA on the road

June 2016:
For the past couple of months, our rolling horizon has looked increasingly full of activity. This new blogpost provides a brief update on where we’ve been and where we’re going. We’ll be aiming to give more thorough reports on some of these activities after the events.

Where we’ve been

Entrance to University Museum, UtrechtIn May, Susan, Iona and Mike travelled to Utrecht, at the invitation of Joris van Eijnatten and Jaap Verheul. Together with colleagues from Sheffield’s History Department, we presented the different strands of Digital Humanities work ongoing at Sheffield. We learned much from our exchanges with Utrecht’s AsymEnc and Translantis research programs, and enjoyed shared intellectual probing of visualisations of change across time. We look forward to continued engagement with each others’ work.

A week later, Seth and Justyna participated in This&THATCamp at the University of Sussex (pictured), with LDNA emerging second in a popular poll of topics for discussion at this un-conference-style event. Productive conversations across the two days covered data visualisation, data manipulation, text analytics, digital humanities and even data sonification. We hope to hear more from Julie Weeds and others when the LDNA team return to Brighton in September.

Next week, we’ll be calling on colleagues at the HRI to talk us through their experience visualising complex humanities data. Richard Ward (Digital Panopticon) and Dirk Rohman (Migration of Faith) have agreed to walk us through their decision-making processes, and talk through the role of different visualisations in exploring, analysing, and explaining current findings.

Where we’re going

The LDNA team are also gearing up for a summer of presentations:

  • Justyna Robinson will be representing LDNA at Sociolinguistics Symposium (Murcia, 15-18 June), as well as sharing the latest analysis from her longitudinal study of semantic variation focused on polysemous adjectives in South Yorkshire speech. Catch LDNA in the general poster session on Friday (17th), and Justyna’s paper at 3pm on Thursday. #SS21
  • Susan Fitzmaurice is in Saarland, as first guest speaker at the Historical Corpus Linguistics event hosted by the IDeaL research centre, also on Thursday (16th June) at 2:15pm. Her paper is subtitled “Discursive semantics and the quest for the automatic identification of concepts and conceptual change in English 1500-1800”. #IDeaL
  • In July, the Glasgow LDNA team are Krakow-bound for DH2016 (11-16 July). The LDNA poster, part of the Semantic Interpretations group, is currently allocated to Booth 58 during the Wednesday evening poster session. Draft programme.
  • Later in July, Iona heads to SHARP 2016 in Paris (18-22). This year, the bi-lingual Society are focusing on “Languages of the Book”, with Iona’s contribution drawing on her doctoral research (subtitle: European Borrowings in 16th and 17th Century English Translations of “the Book of Books”) and giving attention to the role of other languages in concept formation in early modern English (a special concern for LDNA’s work with EEBO-TCP).
  • In August, Iona is one of several Sheffield early modernists bound for the Sixteenth Century Society Conference in Bruges. In addition to a paper in panel 241, “The Vagaries of Translation in the Early Modern World” (Saturday 20th, 10:30am), Iona will also be hosting a unique LDNA poster session at the book exhibit. (Details to follow)
  • The following week (22-26 August), Seth, Justyna and Susan will be at ICEHL 19 in Essen. Seth and Susan will be talking LDNA semantics from 2pm on Tuesday 23rd.

Back in the UK, on 5 September, LDNA (and the University of Sussex) host our second methodological workshop, focused on data visualisation and linguistic change. Invitations to a select group of speakers have gone out, and we’re looking forward to a hands-on workshop using project data. Members of our network who would like to participate are invited to get in touch.

And back in Sheffield, LDNA is playing a key role in the 2016 Digital Humanities Congress, 8-10 September, hosting two panel sessions dedicated to textual analytics. Our co-speakers include contacts from Varieng and CRASSH.  Early bird registration ends 30th June.

Conference report: Diachronic corpora and genre in Nottingham

On Friday 8 April 2016, Susan Fitzmaurice and Seth Mehl attended Diachronic corpora, genre, and language change at the University of Nottingham, where Seth gave a paper entitled Automatic genre identification in EEBO-TCP: A multidisciplinary perspective on problems and prospects. The event featured researchers from around the globe, exploring issues in historical data sets; the nature of genre and text types; and modelling diachronic change.

The day’s plenary speeches were engaging and insightful: Bethany Gray spoke about academic writing as a locus of linguistic change, in contrast to the common expectation that change originates in spoken language. This is particularly relevant for those of us working with older historical data, such that written language is our only evidence for change. Thomas Gloning described the Deutsche Textarchiv, and in particular the recent addition to that corpus of the Dingler Corpus, an essential record of written scientific German representing 1820 to 1932. Gloning presented the useful definition of text types or genres as ‘traditions of communicative action’. In analysing such text types, or traditions, it is possible to map syntax and lexis to text functions and topics, though Gloning cautions that some of the most important elements of such mapping are not currently achievable by machines. This is a careful, valuable perspective and approach, which relates to our own (as discussed below).

Other research papers included a presentation by Fabrizio Esposito who, like the Linguistic DNA project, is using distributional semantic methods. His work looks at recent change in White House Press Briefings. Bryan Jurish presented DiaCollo, a powerful tool for analysing and visualising collocation patterns as they change over time in very large data sets. Vaclav Brezina analysed lexical meaning in EEBO-TCP by measuring differences in collocation patterns across overlapping, sliding diachronic windows.

What did LDNA contribute?

LDNA is asking whether specific concepts emerge uniquely in particular genres, and whether and how those concepts are then adopted and adapted in other genres. Genre is a fuzzy concept, representing categories of texts. Such categories are characterised by formal features such as print layout, phonetics, morphosyntax, lexis, and semantics; and functional features such as purpose of composition, reader expectations, and social and cultural contexts. It is productive to distinguish approaches to genre in different contexts. For Early Modern Studies, categories may be inherited in the canon, and questioned and explored in relation to literature, history, or philosophical or cultural studies; corpus linguistics, often seeks a scientifically reproducible approach to genre and aims to learn about language and variation; while Natural Language Processing (NLP)often aims to engineer tools for solving specific tasks. At the Nottingham conference, Seth illustrated his remarks by reflecting on Ted Underwood’s work automatically identifying genres in HathiTrust texts via supervised machine learning. He then laid out the project’s plan of investigating genre (or text types) by categorising Early Modern texts using the outputs of the LDNA processor, alongside other formal text features. This relates to Gloning’s aforementioned assertion that text topic and function might be mapped onto syntax and lexis; in our case, it is a combined mapping of discursive topics or conceptual fields, lexis, morphosyntax, and additional formal features such as the presence of foreign words or the density of punctuation or parts of speech that will allow us to group texts into categories in a relatively data-driven way.

The conference was very well organised by Richard J. Whitt, with a lovely lunch and dinner in which attendees shared ideas and dug further into linguistic issues. Susan and Seth were delighted to participate.

From Data to Evidence (d2e): conference reflections

HelsinkiFraser and Iona report (November 2015):

Six members of the Linguistic DNA team were present at the recent d2e conference held by the VARIENG research unit at the University of Helsinki, Finland. The focus of the conference was on tools and methodologies employed in corpus linguistics, whilst the event took for its theme ‘big data, rich data, uncharted data’. The conference offered much food for thought, raising our awareness of the tools and methods employed by other researchers in similar fields. Frequently it was clear that despite the differences between the goals of, for example, sociolinguistics and historical semantics, the knowledge and approach towards data taken by one could be effectively and productively applied to another.

The conference’s plenary speeches were of particular interest. Tony McEnery delineated potential limitations of corpus data and its analysis. His call for researchers to remain aware of the limitations of their data struck a chord with our findings from close examination of EEBO data in its raw and processed forms. One of his main conclusions was the importance of conducting cyclical researchanalysing the data with software tools and then returning to the data itself to verify the validity of the findings. LDNA is set up to follow this approach, and Professor McEnery’s presentation reaffirmed its importance. Plenaries by Jane Winters and Päivi Pahta looked further into working with historical data andin the latter particularlyhistorical linguistic data, whilst a fascinating presentation by Mark Davies emphasised the importance of corpus size in the type of research which we are undertaking.

LDNA is also taking an active interest in innovative approaches to data analysis and visualisation. Demonstrating software, Gerold Schneider, Eetu Mäkelä, and Jonathan Hope each showcased new tools for representing historical language data and wrangling with metadata. As we progress in our thinking about the kinds of processing which will allow us to identify concepts in our data, we are always on the lookout for ideas and methodological developments which might help us to improve our own findings.

Several research papers connected with the interests of LDNA, especially when they adhered closely to the conference’s theme of exploring large and complex datasets in ways which reveal new patterns in the data. James McCracken’s presentation on adding frequency information to the Oxford English Dictionary was very exciting for the possibilities it could open up to future historical linguistics. (We’ve blogged before about the drawback of not having relevant frequency data when using tools like VARD.) Meanwhile, the techniques used to track change in words’ behaviour, with different dimensions of semantic evolution scrutinised by Hendrik De Smet (for Hansard), Gerold Schneider (in COHA), and Hannah Kermes and Stephania Degaetano-Ortlieb of Saarland University (working with the Royal Scientific Corpus) were not only intrinsically fascinating but provide useful pointers towards the depth and complexity of linguistic features LDNA will need to consider. We will also aim to keep in view Joseph Flanagan’s insistence that linguistic studies should aim for reproducibility, an insistence aided (for those who code with R) by the suite of tools he recommended.

The d2e conference packed a lot into a few days, creating an intense and productive atmosphere in which participants could meet, exchange ideas, and become more aware of the scope of others’ work in related fields. We enjoyed the conversations around our own poster, and much appreciated the hospitality throughout. It was a great opportunity for the LDNA team, providing more invaluable input to our thought and approach to our work.


Abstracts from the conference are available from the d2e pages on the Varieng website.

Anni Aarinen provides a write-up of McEnery’s keynote.

Glasgow-based LDNA member Brian Aitken has written up his d2e experience on the Digital Humanities blog.