Parsing as semantically guided constraint solving: the role of ontologies

  • Veronica Dahl
  • Sergio TessarisEmail author
  • Mariano De Sousa Bispo


In the Parsing-as-Constraint-Solving model of language processing, grammar syntax is described modularly through independent constraints among direct constituents of a phrase - constraints such as: “in verb phrases, a verb must precede its complements”, or “in noun phrases, a noun requires a determiner”. Parsing reduces to verifying the constraints relevant to an input phrase, but instead of the typical hierarchical (i.e., parse tree) representations of a successful parse (and also typical complete silence upon unsuccessful parses), the main result is a list of satisfied constraints, and if the input is not totally conforming, also a list of unsatisfied constraints. The latter can serve various purposes beyond plain parsing, such as guiding the correction of any imperfections found in the input- and we can still construct a parse tree if needed, as a side effect. While almost purely syntax-based, the Parsing-as-Constraint-Solving model lends itself well to accommodating interactions with other levels of analysis. These however have been little explored. In this position paper we discuss how to extend this model to incorporate semantic information, in particular from ontologies, and with particular guidance from unsatisfied constraints. This departs from more typical constraint-solving schemes, where failed constraints are simply listed and do not actively contribute to the parse. By giving failed constraints a more active role, we can arrive at more precise analyses and at more appropriate corrections of flawed input. Because even not totally conforming sentences can be more precisely parsed, we gain in expressivity with respect to both the classical, strictly stratified approach to NLP, and the less precise and less reliable statistically-based methods.


Robust parsing Incorrect or incomplete queries Womb grammars Ontologies Constraint-based parsing Failure-driven parsing Compositional semantics 


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Veronica Dahl is thankful for the support provided for this work by NSERC’s Discovery grant 31611024. Mariano De Sousa Bispo wishes to thank the government of Canada and in particular Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada for the support that made this work possible, in the form of his scholarship within the Emerging Leaders in the America’s program. Thanks are also due to Saskia Wolsak for pointing us to Turner’s work on ethnobotany, and to the anonymous referees, for their very useful comments in a first draft of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Veronica Dahl
    • 1
  • Sergio Tessaris
    • 2
    Email author
  • Mariano De Sousa Bispo
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Simon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.Free University of Bozen–BolzanoBolzanoItaly
  3. 3.University of Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina

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