Computers and the Humanities

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 91–113 | Cite as

"I Don’t Believe in Word Senses"

  • Adam Kilgarriff


Word sense disambiguation assumes word senses. Withinthe lexicography and linguistics literature, they areknown to bevery slippery entities. The first part of the paperlooks at problemswith existing accounts of ‘word sense’ and describesthe various kinds of ways in which a word's meaning candeviate from its coremeaning. An analysis is presented in which wordsenses areabstractions from clusters of corpus citations, inaccordance withcurrent lexicographic practice. The corpus citations,not the wordsenses, are the basic objects in the ontology. Thecorpus citationswill be clustered into senses according to thepurposes of whoever or whatever does the clustering. In theabsence of suchpurposes, word senses do not exist.

Word sense disambiguation also needs a set of wordsenses todisambiguate between. In most recent work, the sethas been takenfrom a general-purpose lexical resource, with theassumption that thelexical resource describes the word senses ofEnglish/French/...,between which NLP applications will need todisambiguate. Theimplication of the first part of the paper is, bycontrast, that wordsenses exist only relative to a task. Thefinal part of the paper pursues this, exploring, bymeans of asurvey, whether and how word sense ambiguity is infact a problem forcurrent NLP applications.

ambiguity disambiguation lexicography polysemy word sense 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adam Kilgarriff
    • 1
  1. 1.Information Technology Research InstituteUniversity of BrightonBringhtonUK

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