Section: Research Program
Modelling and Development of Language Resources
Language resources (raw and annotated corpora, lexical resources, etc.) are required in order to apply any machine learning technique (statistical, neural, hybrid) to an NLP problem, as well as to evaluate the output of an NLP system.
In data-driven, machine-learning-based approaches, language resources are the place where linguistic information is stored, be it implicitly (as in raw corpora) or explicitly (as in annotated corpora and in most lexical resources). Whenever linguistic information is provided explicitly, it complies to guidelines that formally define which linguistic information should be encoded, and how. Designing linguistically meaningful and computationally exploitable ways to encode linguistic information within language resources constitutes the first main scientific challenge in language resource development. It requires a strong expertise on both the linguistic issues underlying the type of resource under development (e.g. on syntax when developing a treebank) and the NLP algorithms that will make use of such information.
The other main challenge regarding language resource development is a consequence of the fact that it is a costly, often tedious task. ALMAnaCH members have a long track record of language resource development, including by hiring, training and supervising dedicated annotators. But a manual annotation can be speeded up by automatic techniques. ALMAnaCH members have also work on such techniques, and published work on approaches such as automatic lexical information extraction, annotation transfer from a language to closely related languages, and more generally on the use of pre-annotation tools for treebank development and on the impact of such tools on annotation speed and quality. These techniques are often also relevant for Research strand 1. For example, adapting parsers from one language to the other or developing parsers that work on more than one language (e.g. a non-lexicalised parser trained on the concatenation of treebanks from different languages in the same language family) can both improve parsing results on low-resource languages and speed up treebank development for such languages.
Construction, management and automatic annotation of Text Corpora
Corpus creation and management (including automatic annotation) is often a time-consuming and technically challenging task. In many cases, it also raises scientific issues related for instance with linguistic questions (what is the elementary unit in a text?) as well as computer-science challenges (for instance when OCR or HTR are involved). It is therefore necessary to design a work-flow that makes it possible to deal with data collections, even if they are initially available as photos, scans, wikipedia dumps, etc.
These challenges are particularly relevant when dealing with ancient languages or scripts where fonts, OCR techniques, language models may be not extant or of inferior quality, as a result, among others, of the variety of writing systems and the lack of textual data. We will therefore work on improving print OCR for some of these languages, especially by moving towards joint OCR and language models. Of course, contemporary texts can be often gathered in very large volumes, as we already do within the ANR project SoSweet, resulting in different, specific issues.
ALMAnaCH pays a specific attention to the re-usability (From a larger point of view we intend to comply with the so-called FAIR principles (http://force11.org/group/fairgroup/fairprinciples).) of all resources produced and maintained within its various projects and research activities. To this end, we will ensure maximum compatibility with available international standards for representing textual sources and their annotations. More precisely we will take the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) guidelines as well the standards produced by ISO committee TC 37/SC 4 as essential points of reference.
From our ongoing projects in the field of Digital Humanities and emerging initiatives in this field, we observe a real need for complete but easy work-flows for exploiting corpora, starting from a set of raw documents and reaching the level where one can browse the main concepts and entities, explore their relationship, extract specific pieces of information, always with the ability to return to (fragments of) the original documents. The pieces of information extracted from the corpora also need to be represented as knowledge databases (for instance as RDF “linked data”), published and linked with other existing databases (for instance for people and locations).
The process may be seen as progressively enriching the documents with new layers of annotations produced by various NLP modules and possibly validated by users, preferably in a collaborative way. It relies on the use of clearly identified representation formats for the annotations, as advocated within ISO TC 37/SC 4 standards and the TEI guidelines, but also on the existence of well-designed collaborative interfaces for browsing, querying, visualisation, and validation. ALMAnaCH has been or is working on several of the NLP bricks needed for setting such a work-flow, and has a solid expertise in the issues related to standardisation (of documents and annotations). However, putting all these elements in a unified work-flow that is simple to deploy and configure remains to be done. In particular, work-flow and interface should maybe not be dissociated, in the sense that the work-flow should be easily piloted and configured from the interface. An option will be to identify pertinent emerging platforms in DH (such as Transkribus) and to propose collaborations to ensure that NLP modules can be easily integrated.
It should be noted that such work-flows have actually a large potential besides DH, for instance for exploiting internal documentation (for a company) or exploring existing relationships between entities.
Development of Lexical Resources
ALPAGE, the Inriapredecessor of ALMAnaCH, has put a strong emphasis in the development of morphological, syntactic and wordnet-like semantic lexical resources for French as well as other languages (see for instance , ). Such resources play a crucial role in all NLP tools, as has been proven among other tasks for POS tagging , ,  and parsing, and some of the lexical resource development will be targeted towards the improvement of NLP tools. They will also play a central role for studying diachrony in the lexicon, for example for Ancient to Contemporary French in the context of the Profiterole project. They will also be one of the primary sources of linguistic information for augmenting language models used in OCR systems for ancient scripts, and will allow us to develop automatic annotation tools (e.g. POS taggers) for low-resourced languages (see already ), especially ancient languages. Finally, semantic lexicons such as wordnets will play a crucial role in assessing lexical similarity and automating etymological research.
Therefore, an important effort towards the development of new morphological lexicons will be initiated, with a focus on ancient languages of interest. Following previous work by ALMAnaCH members, we will try and leverage all existing resources whenever possible such as electronic dictionaries, OCRised dictionaries, both modern and ancient , , , while using and developing (semi)automatic lexical information extraction techniques based on existing corpora , . A new line of research will be to integrate the diachronic axis by linking lexicons that are in diachronic relation with one another thanks to phonetic and morphological change laws (e.g. XIIth century French with XVth century French and contemporary French). Another novelty will be the integration of etymological information in these lexical resources, which requires the formalisation, the standardisation, and the extraction of etymological information from OCRised dictionaries or other electronic resources, as well as the automatic generation of candidate etymologies. These directions of research are already investigated in ALMAnaCH , .
An underlying effort for this research will be to further the development of the GROBID-dictionaries software, which provides cascading CRF (Conditional Random Fields) models for the segmentation and analysis of existing print dictionaries. The first results we have obtained have allowed us to set up specific collaborations to improve our performances in the domains of a) recent general purpose dictionaries such as the Petit Larousse (Nénufar project, funded by the DGLFLF in collaboration with the University of Montpellier), b) etymological dictionaries (in collaboration with the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of sciences) and c) patrimonial dictionaries such as the Dictionnaire Universel de Basnage (an ANR project, including a PhD thesis at ALMAnaCH, has recently started on this topic in collaboration with the University of Grenoble-Alpes and the University Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris).
In the same way as we signalled the importance of standards for the representation of interoperable corpora and their annotations, we will keep making the best use of the existing standardisation background for the representation of our various lexical resources. There again, the TEI guidelines play a central role, and we have recently participated in the “TEI Lex 0” initiative to provide a reference subset for the “Dictionary” chapter of the guidelines. We are also responsible, as project leader, of the edition of the new part 4 of the ISO standard 24613 (LMF, Lexical Markup Framework) dedicated to the definition of the TEI serialisation of the LMF model (defined in ISO 24613 part 1 `Core model', 2 `Machine Readable Dictionaries' and 3 `Etymology'). We consider that contributing to standards allows us to stabilise our knowledge and transfer our competence.
Development of Annotated Corpora
Along with the creation of lexical resources, ALMAnaCH is also involved in the creation of corpora either fully manually annotated (gold standard) or automatically annotated with state-of-the-art pipeline processing chains (silver standard). Annotations will either be only morphosyntactic or will cover more complex linguistic levels (constituency and/or dependency syntax, deep syntax, maybe semantics). Former members of the ALPAGE project have a renowned experience in those aspects (see for instance , , , ) and will participate to the creation of valuable resources originating from the historical domain genre.
Under the auspices of the ANR Parsiti project, led by ALMAnaCH (PI: DS), we aim to explore the interaction of extra-linguistic context and speech acts. Exploiting extra-linguistics context highlights the benefits of expanding the scope of current NLP tools beyond unit boundaries. Such information can be of spatial and temporal nature, for instance. They have been shown to improve Entity Linking over social media streams . In our case, we decided to focus on a closed world scenario in order to study context and speech acts interaction. To do so, we are developing a multimodal data set made of live sessions of a first person shooter video game (Alien vs. Predator) where we transcribed all human players interactions and face expressions streamlined with a log of all in-game events linked to the video recording of the game session, as well as the recording of the human players themselves. The in-games events are ontologically organised and enable the modelling of the extra-linguistics context with different levels of granularity. Recorded over many games sessions, we already transcribed over 2 hours of speech that will serve as a basis for exploratory work, needed for the prototyping of our context-enhanced NLP tools. In the next step of this line of work, we will focus on enriching this data set with linguistic annotations, with an emphasis on co-references resolutions and predicate argument structures. The midterm goal is to use that data set to validate a various range of approaches when facing multimodal data in a close-world environment.