Trading Spaces: On the Lore and Limitations of Latent Semantic Analysis

  • Eduard Hoenkamp
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 6931)


Two decades after its inception, Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) has become part and parcel of every modern introduction to IR. For any tool that matures so quickly, it is important to check its lore and limitations, or else stagnation will set in. We focus here on the three main aspects of LSA that are well accepted, and the gist of which can be summarized as follows: (1) that LSA recovers latent semantic factors underlying the document space, (2) that such can be accomplished through lossy compression of the document space by eliminating lexical noise, and (3) that the latter can best be achieved by Singular Value Decomposition.

For each aspect we performed experiments analogous to those reported in the LSA literature and compared the evidence brought to bear in each case. On the negative side, we show that the above claims about LSA are much more limited than commonly believed. Even a simple example may show that LSA does not recover the optimal semantic factors as intended in the pedagogical example used in many LSA publications. Additionally, and remarkably deviating from LSA lore, LSA does not scale up well: the larger the document space, the more unlikely that LSA recovers an optimal set of semantic factors. On the positive side, we describe new algorithms to replace LSA (and more recent alternatives as pLSA, LDA, and kernel methods) by trading its l 2 space for an l 1 space, thereby guaranteeing an optimal set of semantic factors. These algorithms seem to salvage the spirit of LSA as we think it was initially conceived.


Singular Value Decomposition Compressive Sensing Latent Dirichlet Allocation Latent Semantic Analysis Semantic Space 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eduard Hoenkamp
    • 1
  1. 1.Queensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

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