Machine Translation

, Volume 10, Issue 1–2, pp 59–92 | Cite as

Verb semantics for English-Chinese translation

  • Martha Palmer
  • Zhibiao Wu


A common practice in operational Machine Translation (MT) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) systems is to assume that a verb has a fixed number of senses and rely on a precompiled lexicon to achieve large coverage. This paper demonstrates that this assumption is too weak to cope with the similar problems of lexical divergences between languages and unexpected uses of words that give rise to cases outside of the pre-compiled lexicon coverage. We first examine the lexical divergences between English verbs and Chinese verbs. We then focus on a specific lexical selection problem—translating Englishchange-of-state verbs into Chinese verb compounds. We show that an accurate translation depends not only on information about the participants, but also on contextual information. Therefore, selectional restrictions on verb arguments lack the necessary power for accurate lexical selection. Second, we examine verb representation theories and practices in MT systems and show that under the fixed sense assumption, the existing representation schemes are not adequate for handling these lexical divergences and extending existing verb senses to unexpected usages. We then propose a method of verb representation based on conceptual lattices which allows the similarities among different verbs in different languages to be quantitatively measured. A prototype system UNICON implements this theory and performs more accurate MT lexical selection for our chosen set of verbs. An additional lexical module for UNICON is also provided that handles sense extension.


verb semantics lexical divergences lexical organization 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martha Palmer
    • 1
  • Zhibiao Wu
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Computer and Information ScienceUniversity of Pennsylvania
  2. 2.Linguistic Data ConsortiumUniversity of Pennsylvania

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