LINGUIST List 14.1501

Fri May 23 2003

Review: Computational Linguistics: Mitkov, ed. (2003)

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  1. Roland Stuckardt, The Oxford Handbook of Computational Linguistics

Message 1: The Oxford Handbook of Computational Linguistics

Date: Fri, 23 May 2003 11:22:30 +0000
From: Roland Stuckardt <>
Subject: The Oxford Handbook of Computational Linguistics

Mitkov, Ruslan, ed. (2003) The Oxford Handbook of Computational
Linguistics, Oxford University Press.

Announced at

Roland Stuckardt, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main,


The edited collection under review, the Oxford Handbook of
Computational Linguistics (OHCL), belongs to the Oxford Handbooks
series, which, according to the publisher, aims at providing ''an
authoritative and state-of-the-art survey of current thinking and
research'' in particular subject areas. According to the editor, the
OHCL addresses university researchers, teachers, and students in the
fields of Computational Linguistics, Computer Science and Linguistics,
as well as professionals such as industrial researchers, executives,
software engineers, and translators.

The book consists of thirty-eight chapters authored by fifty experts
from all over the world, and a preface by Martin Kay with a brief
description of the history of the discipline of Computational
Linguistics (CL). Each chapter covers a particular topic of
CL. Chapter lengths vary between eleven and twenty-nine pages, with
the majority of chapters comprising between fifteen and twenty pages.
Access to the individual chapters is facilitated by abstracts. Each
chapter includes a local list of bibliographic references, hints at
further reading, and pointers (in particular, URLs) to relevant
resources (software, corpora etc.).

The OHCL is divided into three parts, which are intended to reflect a
natural progression from theory to practice.

Part I, ''Fundamentals'', considers the issues typically covered by an
introductory text on general linguistics, corresponding to the various
levels of linguistic abstraction: 1. Phonology, 2. Morphology,
3. Lexicography, 4. Syntax, 5. Semantics, 6. Discourse, and
7. Pragmatics and Dialogue. However, the topics are discussed from a
computational perspective to develop an understanding of the specific
problems to be solved before a respective software technology can be
implemented. Two further chapters, 8. Formal Grammars and Languages,
and 9. Complexity, provide relevant background material of
mathematical linguistics and theoretical computer science, covering,
in particular, the fundamentals of automata theory, formal languages,
and computational complexity.

Part II, ''Processes, Methods, and Resources'', takes the
computation-oriented discussion of the linguistic and mathematical
fundamentals in part I as the point of departure. The following
detailed description of the basic stages of text and speech processing
and the employed methods, resources, and formalisms goes one step
ahead towards automatic natural language processing (NLP). Eight
chapters deal with specific problems of processing written and spoken
language: 10. Text Segmentation, 11. Part-of- Speech Tagging,
12. Parsing, 13. Word-Sense Disambiguation 14. Anaphora Resolution,
15. Natural Language Generation, 16. Speech Recognition, and
17. Text-to-Speech Synthesis. Another nine chapters describe the most
important general methods, resources, and formalisms employed in these
processing stages: 18. Finite-State Technology, 19. Statistical
Methods, 20. Machine Learning, 21. Lexical Knowledge Acquisition,
22. Evaluation, 23. Sublanguages and Controlled Languages, 24. Corpus
Linguistics, 25. Ontologies, and 26 Tree-Adjoining Grammars.

Part III, ''Applications'', focuses on the application of NLP
technology for solving real world problems, proceeding from the
description of the NLP base technology that is provided in part
II. Part III comprises twelve chapters: 27. Machine Translation:
General Overview, 28. Machine Translation: Latest Developments,
29. Information Retrieval, 30. Information Extraction, 31. Question
Answering, 32. Text Summarization, 33. Term Extraction and Automatic
Indexing, 34. Text Data Mining, 35. Natural Language Interaction,
36. Natural Language in Multimodal and Multimedia Systems, 37. Natural
Language Processing in Computer-Assisted Language Learning, and
38. Multilingual On-Line Natural Language Processing.

In addition, the OHCL provides a list of commonly used acronyms and a
glossary with brief definitions of about sixhundred key terms of CL
and NLP. There are two general indexes: one by subject, and one by


It would be beyond the scope of this review to provide a detailed
evaluation of each of the thirty-eight chapters. Thus, the OHCL will
be commented on at a general level. To some specific subjects it will
be looked at in detail.

The above description clearly shows that the OHCL covers all main
topics of CL. It deals with the whole range of text, speech, and
dialogue processing, and discusses issues of text and speech analysis
as well as generation. The OHCL is unique in that it bridges between
the linguistic fundamentals (as provided in part I), the respective
software base technology (as described in part II), and possible
applications (as discussed in part III). As such it complements the
recent textbook by Jurafsky and Martin (2000), which focuses on the
algorithmic, mathematical, and engineering aspects of NLP. Another
positive aspect is the inclusion of brief and quite comprehensive
surveys of the most central methods, resources, and formalisms, such
as machine learning, statistics, finite-state technology, and corpora.

The general organization of the handbook is excellent. In many cases,
multi-authored volumes consist of collections of more or less loosely
connected articles. Regarding the OHCL, editorial efforts concerning
the overall coherence have been highly successful, resulting in
self-contained chapters that provide a large number of useful cross-
references that foster the connectivity of the material. Coherence
and general accessibility are enhanced by the uniform style of
presentation, which enables the reader to quickly access the relevant
resources and further readings without skimming through the whole body
of text.

Content quality and actuality of the individual chapters are generally
high, fostered by the selection of authors that are world-leading
experts with extensive research experience on the respective
topics. However, the assignment of multiple authors also entails a
certain variance in the formal (organizational and presentational)
quality of the individual contributions and, more importantly, in the
accessibility for different types of readers. It goes without saying
that tight page limits always involve a trade-off between coverage on
one and verbosity and readability on the other hand. Regarding the
OHCL, with respect to both accessibility and formal quality, the
difference between the individual articles is considerable, which may
only partly be attributed to the varying degree of complexity of the
issues covered.

Beginning with the positive side of the gamut, the majority of
chapters is of high organizational and presentational quality, and
accessible, with reasonable efforts, for advanced students,
scientists, and professionals with moderate previous knowledge of CL,
NLP, or Linguistics. Among the many excellently written chapters are:
2. Morphology, 3. Lexicography, 7. Pragmatics and Dialogue, 10. Text
Segmentation, 15. Natural Language Generation, 25. Ontologies,
27. Machine Translation: General Overview, 28. Machine Translation:
Latest Developments, 29. Information Retrieval, 34. Text Data Mining,
35. Natural Language Interaction, 37. NLP in Computer-Assisted
Language Learning.

However, there is also room for further improvement. In part I,
''Fundamentals'', for instance, the strong direction of chapter 2
(Morphology) towards computational issues is in line with the
computational perspective to be assumed. Some other articles,
however, are to a lesser extent, such as the overall excellent chapter
5 on computational semantics, which could be further enhanced by an
assessment of the general computational feasibility of the
construction of compositional-semantic descriptions, their expected
coverage, and their potential contribution to robust NLP. More
importantly, the presentation and organization of the material covered
by chapters 8 (Formal Grammars and Languages) and 9 (Complexity)
should be revised. While these articles are useful references for
researchers with previous knowledge, their presentation may be in
parts too dense for an audience unfamiliar with these rather
mathematical issues. The author of the last- mentioned chapter himself
admits: ''For a true understanding of complexity, it is best to read a
serious algorithms book [?].'' (page 196). Since the topics covered in
these two chapters are highly related, it may be reasonable to
integrate them into a single chapter of forty to fifty pages. To
enhance the coherence of this rather formal subject matter with the
rest of the book, the important discussion of its implications for
practical issues of NLP may be expanded; the respective material,
which is currently scattered about various subsections (e.g., 9.2.6
and 9.3.8), should be put into a dedicated section.

Regarding part II, ''Processes, Methods, and Resources'', parts of the
generally well-written chapter 16 on speech recognition may be
considered as quite difficult to access. Section 16.2 (Acoustic
Parameterization and Modeling) refers to advanced technical notions
and presupposes a quite high amount of previous knowledge. On the
other hand, it misses out some fundamentals, e.g. the notion of
formants, which play a central role in the analysis of waveforms, and
which are not included in the glossary either (cf. Jurafsky and Martin
(2000), which provides a more extensive discussion of this topic).
However, the other sections of this chapter are readily accessible
without expert knowledge; in particular, the discussion of the
performance of state-of-the-art speech recognition technology is

Regarding part III, ''Applications'', chapter 31 on question answering
might be, to a certain extent, enhanced. While this article is
logically structured and well organized, some parts of the
presentation may be perceived as too dense, particularly section 31.7
on answer extraction. The details on training a perceptron, in
particular the formula for the computation of a relative comparison
score and the empirically determined weights and threshold values, are
of little value to a reader interested in the fundamentals of answer
extraction. Instead, more room should be given to the discussion of
the principal ideas of answer extraction methods, perhaps focusing on
the two most promising approaches and referring the reader to the
literature for further technical details.

There is an additional topic further editions of the OHCL should
include: discourse parsing. Fostered in large parts by the seminal
work of Marcu (2000), this subject area has made rapid progress in the
last few years. A chapter on algorithmic approaches to discourse
parsing would neatly fit in the book and supplement the current
edition?s single article on discourse in part II (14. Anaphora
Resolution). As such, it would provide a natural link between chapter
6 on the linguistic fundamentals of discourse and important
applications discussed in part III, in particular text summarization
(chapter 32, which explicitly refers to Marcu?s work). Moreover, part
III might be enhanced if chapters on text categorization and internet
search engines were included.

There are some further minor content-related issues. Chapter 14
(Anaphora Resolution) should include a brief discussion of the
intricacies of anaphor and ellipsis resolution in dialogue; this
important issue is referred to in chapter 35 on natural language
interaction. Chapter 20 on machine learning should include approaches
of unsupervised learning, which receive increasing attention in NLP
since supervised learning requires annotated corpora the gathering of
which is, in general, expensive. Chapter 22 on the central topic of
evaluation should be allotted more pages. Some practical examples of
formal, corpus-based evaluation tasks would be helpful. Furthermore,
the comparatively dense section 22.4 on the evaluation of interactive
systems should include more details. Chapter 30 on information
extraction should provide more pointers to concrete systems, including
an overview of software technology available for different
languages. Finally, chapter 35 on natural language interaction should
include a discussion on the emerging dialogue modeling standard

Two further marginal organizational issues: the table of contents
should provide at least the section headings in addition to the
chapter headings. Chapter 2 employs five different levels of section
embedding; this is inadequate with an article of only 23 pages.


In accordance with the intentions set out by the editor and the
publisher, the OHCL provides a comprehensive high- quality survey of
the theoretical fundamentals of CL and state-of-the-art NLP, as it
covers the base technology, the underlying methods, and a wide range
of application scenarios. Most chapters provide self-contained surveys
of specific CL topics that are adequate reading to an audience with
moderate previous knowledge, ranging from advanced students of CL,
Linguistics, and Computer Science to scientists and industrial
researchers. While it neither substitutes introductory textbooks nor
monographs on the issues under discussion, it is an excellent
reference book that provides a wealth of information and enables the
experienced reader to quickly enter into new subject areas of CL and
NLP. Thanks to its unique structure, it neatly complements books that
focus on the technological aspects of NLP such as the text of Jurafsky
and Martin (2000). Whereas these authors provide more thorough
descriptions and illustrations of algorithms, the particular strengths
of the OHCL are the comprehensive computation-oriented discussion of
the fundamental linguistic issues and the broad coverage of NLP
methods and resources. It thus extensively accounts for the
theoretical and methodological backgrounds of CL and NLP.

A final note on pricing: the relatively high price of GBP 95.- (US$
150.-) quoted by the publisher may put off many potential readers. The
publisher should consider issuing a moderately priced student?s
edition to make the OHCL affordable to the wide audience it definitely


Daniel Jurafsky and James H. Martin (2000). Speech and Language
Processing. An Introduction to Natural Language Processing,
Computational Linguistics, and Speech Recognition. Prentice Hall,
Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Daniel Marcu (2000). The Theory and Practice of Discourse Parsing and
Summarization. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.


Roland Stuckardt works as a postdoctoral researcher and consultant in
the fields of Computational Linguistics and Natural Language
Engineering. He received his Ph.D. in 2000 from the University of
Frankfurt am Main. His current research interests include anaphor
resolution, information extraction, text summarization, question
answering, and spoken dialogue systems. (web:
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