LINGUIST List 9.1360

Wed Sep 30 1998

Sum: Machine Translation of PP

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. Keith J. Miller, Machine Translation of prepositional phrases

Message 1: Machine Translation of prepositional phrases

Date: Thu, 24 Sep 1998 12:15:07 -0400
From: Keith J. Miller <>
Subject: Machine Translation of prepositional phrases

A while back, I posted a message requesting pointers to

1. articles directly addressing the problem of _Machine Translation_ of
prepositional phrases - in particular, previous proposed solutions and/or
implementations/evaluations of those solutions.


2. articles relating to evaluation of the current state of the art in PP
translation. Both a) pointers to articles and b) suggestions for
handling the fact that there may not be numeric (hard, factual)
metrics that demonstrate that PP translation is an area in MT
that needs improvement would be appreciated.

I would like to thank all who responded:

Francis Bond
Ted Dunning
David Farwell
Stephen Helmreich
John Hutchins
Marion Kee
Marc Picard
Irina Reyero-Sans
Deborah D K Ruuskanen
Ralf Steinberger
Arturo Trujillo

Their responses are incorporated into the summary below.

I. Articles addressing the Machine Translation of Prepositional Phrases

With respect to the first request above, as John Hutchins
notes "there are few treatments specifically devoted to
prepositional phrases in MT. However, this problem area will
have been treated in the context of valency, case grammar,
and general syntactic and semantic analysis -- particularly for
languages such as Japanese, German and Russian." I have
certainly found this to be the case. Nonetheless, he and several
others did uncover several references pertaining specifically
to the MT of PPs. These are listed below. In particular, two
Ph.D. theses have recently been completed that deal with
prepositions in machine translation:
Reyero-Sans (1998) and Trujillo (1995).

In addition to specific articles, I received a couple of
pointers to projects/departments:

There is work at the University of Helsinki on the translation
from Finnish case endings to English prepositions.

I was referred to the "Catalyst Project" at CMU, where there
was detailed empirical work done on the semantic categorization
of English PPs, starting from the discussion of PP usage in
Quirk et al., and the subsequent arrangement of the resultant
categories into a hierarchy. Similar analyses were done for the
target languages.

II. Evaluation of the current state of the are in PP translation

Unfortunately, with respect to the second request, the jury seems
still to be out. This is not surprising, given the lack of
agreement surrounding MT evaluation methodologies. Several people
did cite internal evaluations of systems, often stating that
performance on PPs was not broken out specifically. One respondent
gave a personal impression that the system correctly translates
75-80% of PPs, based on human inspection of the output.

As a way of handling the fact that there are no 'benchmark' numbers
in the literature for the translation of PPs, it was suggested
that Systran be used as the gold standard - comparing the rate of
correct translations of PPs by Systran to that of whatever
approach(es) I suggest in my work, in order to determine an upper
bound on the improvement expected based on my methods. It was
further suggested that I could perform a direct comparison of my
methods to available MT systems, using a human translation as the
standard. I am interested to hear any reactions (positive or
negative) to this methodology.

Thanks again to all who responded.

							----- Keith J. Miller

(references included below sig.)

Georgetown University 							The MITRE Corporation
Department of Languages and Linguistics 				Washington C3 Center
Computational Linguistics 						1820 Dolley Madison Blvd.
37th & O Streets 								MailStop W647
Washington, DC 20057 							McLean, VA 22102

- -----

Below is a compilation of the references sent by people responding to my
initial query. Some I was previously aware of; many I was not. For
completeness, I have attempted to include all references and pointers to
information that were provided to me. The (somewhat rough) classification of
references is mine, and is used in an attempt to give some structure to the
list. It is based on information from the person providing the reference, a
quick glance at the material, or in some cases, simply from the title of the
reference itself.

(Semantics of) PPs in MT

Bond, Francis and Kentaro Ogura and Hajime Uchino. Temporal expressions in
{Japanese}-to-{English} Machine Translation, Seventh International
Conference on Theoretical and Methodological Issues in Machine Translation:
TMI-97, Santa-Fe: 55--62. 1997.

Bourquin-Launey, Marie-Claude. De la traduction automatique a la reflexion
linguistique: La Traduction de la preposition anglaise through. Contrastes:
Revue de l'Association pour le Developpement des Etudes Contrastives, Nice,
France (Contrastes). 1984 Jan. 81-99.

Burns, J. English prepositions in automatic translation. Beitrage zur
Linguistik und Informationsverarbeitung. 1965; 7:50-61.

Durand, Jacques. On the translation of prepositions in multilingual MT. In:
Van Eynde, Frank, ed. Linguistic issues in machine translation. London, New
York: Pinter Publishers; 1992: 138-159.

(Andrea Foertsch (=Frtsch) wrote on Semantic Types of PPs (for METAL).

Gough, James. On the German locative: a study in symbols. Mechanical
Translation. 1967; 10(3-4): 68-84.

Japkowitz, Nathalie; Wiebe, Janyce M. A system for translating locative
prepositions from English into French. In: 29th Annual Meeting of the
Association for Computational Linguistics:proceedings of the conference;
1991 Jun 18; Berkeley, California.: ACL; 1991: 153-160.

Meijer, Siety (Essex Univ.) La traduction de prepositions temporelles. In:
Clas, Andre; Bouillon, Pierrette, eds. TA-TAO:recherches de pointe et
applications immediates. Troisiemes Journees scientifiques du reseau
thematique "Lexicologie, Terminologie, Traduction" ; 30 septembre, 1er et 2
octobre 1993; Montreal. Montreal (Quebec)Canada: AUPELF, UREF; 1994:

Nuebel, Rita. Knowledge sources for the disambiguation of prepositions in
machine translation. In: FIMTP96. 1996.

Reyero Sans, Irina. The semantics of Locative Expressions in English and
Spanish: A Formal and Computational Approach, PhD Thesis, UMIST, UK, 1998.

Trujillo, Arturo, "Lexicalist Machine Translation of Spatial Prepositions",
Ph.D. thesis, UMIST, 1995.
(available in PostScript from

Trujillo, Arturo. Towards a cross-linguistically valid classification of
spatial prepositions. Machine Translation. 1995; 10(1-2): 93-141; ISSN:

Trujillo, Arturo. Spatial lexicalization in the translation of prepositional
phrases. In: 30th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational
Linguistics: proceedings of the conference; 1992 Jun 28; Newark, Delaware. :
ACL; 1992: 306-308.

Trujillo, Arturo. Locations in the machine translation of prepositional
phrases. In: Fourth International Conference on Theoretical and
Methodological Issues in Machine Translation (TMI-92); June 25-27, 1992;
Montreal, Canada. Laval (Quebec): CWARC; 1992: 13-20.

Zelinsky-Wibbelt, Cornelia (IAI, Saarbrucken). The semantic representation
of spatial configurations: a conceptual motivation for generation in machine
translation. In: Karlgren, H., ed. Coling-90: papers presented to the 13th
International Conference on Computational Linguistics...; 1990 Aug;
Helsinki, Finland. Helsinki: Yliopistopaino; 1990; 3: 299-303.

Semantics of PP's (not specifically MT-related)

Farwell, David. The Conceptual Representation of Functional Structure. PhD
Dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL.

Zelinsky-Wibbelt, C. (ed), "The Semantics of Prepositions", Mouton de
Gruyter, Berlin/New York, 1993.

Other references and pointers (PP attachment, other)

Chen, Kuang hua; Chen, Hsin hsi (National Taiwan Univ.) A rule-based and
MT-oriented approach to prepositional phrase attachment. In: Coling-96: the
16th International Conference on Computational Linguistics. Proceedings;
1996 Aug 5; Copenhagen. :[ACL]; 1996: 216-221.

Harper, Kenneth E. The position of prepositional phrases in Russian.
Mechanical Translation. 1964; 8(1): 5-10.
Sigurd, Bengt. The Problems of Multi-Word Prepositions and Subjunctions.
Working-Papers, Lund, Sweden (WPLU). 1993, 40, 197-212.

Steinberger, Ralf, _A Study of Word Order Variation in German, with Special
Reference to Modifier Placement_, Ph.D. thesis, UMIST, 1994.

Sumita, Eiichiro; Furuse, Osamu; Iida, Hitoshi (ATR). An example-based
disambiguation of prepositional phrase attachment. In: TMI-93: the Fifth
International Conference on Theoretical and Methodological Issues in Machine
Translation with special emphasis on: MT in the next generation; July 14-16,
1993; Kyoto International Community House, Kyoto, Japan. [Kyoto: TMI
Secretariat]; 1993: 80-91.

Sumita, Eiichiro; Iida, Hitoshi. Example-based transfer of Japanese
adnominal particles into English. IEICE Transactions on Information and
Systems. 1992; E75-D(4): 585-594.

Togeby, Ole. Translation of prepositions by neural networks. In: Pind,
Jrgen; Rgnvaldsson, eds. Papers from the Seventh Scandinavian Conference
of Computational Linguistics; 1989; Reykjavik. Reykjavik: Institute of
Lexicography and Institute of Linguistics: 237-249.

At the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, Germany, several students
(recently) submitted M.A. theses on PP-related problems (written in German)

Inge Mahlmeister wrote on the syntactic description and the automatic
analysis of the PP-internal structure using the (Siemens) SUNDIAL system.
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