University of Sussex--view of campus from above

University of Sussex--view of campus from above

A fortnight ago, our first methodology workshop was held at the University of Sussex. It was a full programme and productive for the project team with lots of opportunities for us to test out our thinking about how we move forward, and it has given us plenty to think about. We can perhaps best summarise some of the overarching themes by starting with the questions we began with and some more that were raised during the event.

Top in our minds going in were questions such as ‘What is a concept?’ How will we recognise one when we find it? How exactly do we (should we) go about finding concepts in the first place? Our thinking on these matters has taken a step forward thanks to these discussions, and the next couple of blog posts are already in preparation to explore what we’ve learned and the directions that this suggests for us in the coming months. Suggestions that were raised included investigating synonymous terms, and the relationships between onomasiological conceptual fields. Our ideas are to some extent still forming as we consider these suggestions afresh and work on developing our ideas in the process.

Another major question was of the importance of marking up and pre-processing the data before we begin to run our own processes. The issue of spelling regularisation has formed a large part of our initial work on the data of EEBO, with our comparison of the VARD and MorphAdorner tools being documented in several earlier posts. It is not only spelling that is at issue; pre-processing texts with MorphAdorner and the Historical Thesaurus Semantic Tagger also offer layers of annotation. As a result, because our new processes can be designed to take in multiple types of input (e.g. lemma, part of speech) or combinations of these, we were curious to learn what workshop participants thought we should prioritise.

There was extensive discussion about the extent to which the text should be pre-processed before being loaded into the parser, and there was some disagreement over whether spelling regularisation is itself a necessary step or whether it ought not to be used because it skews word frequency counts. Whether or not an individual method of pre-processing proves fruitful – or, indeed, if it is better to process the raw text itself – it is ultimately to our benefit to have explored these avenues and to be able to say with authority what has been successful and what has not.

A final core point was the question of the technology which we plan to use and how we can build on the most effective tools already produced for linguistic research.  As the Digital team at Sheffield (@HRIDigital) are beginning work on building the parser, we wanted to consider what parts of that process should be created from scratch and what parts can be effectively accomplished using software which already exists.

In the course of presentations and discussions, participants drew our attention to a variety of tools. We have prioritised these for our attention, including those for identifying synonymy and polysemy, word sense disambiguation, novel sense detection, and topic identification. The result is fresh ideas for some technologies to investigate, and so the research associates have got to work learning about tools such as Gensim, HiDEx (High Dimensional Explorer), and BlackLab.

From the very start, we have been clear that we want to be able to understand and explain as much as possible how our processes work, rather than create something which acts as a ‘black box’, devouring input and producing results in a manner that cannot be evaluated or understood. Conducting these discussions while we’re still in the design phase has helped reinforce the value of that ideal for the team.

We firmly believe that drawing on the expertise and experience of the academic community in our field will make Linguistic DNA a stronger project. The workshop helped to progress our thinking, and we’d like to thank again everyone who attended the event—your input is hugely appreciated, and we look forward to sharing with you where it takes us!

Workshop Reflections

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