09 May Stratum Morphology
Morphology is about what happens to words to change their structure, impacting their meaning and usage. In English, we add -s or -es at the end of words to make them plural (guy –> guys, time –> times). Japanese, on the other hand, uses reduplication (hito –>hitobito, toki –> tokidoki) to make words plural. Adding to words, affixation, has three forms: before (prefix), in the middle (infix – found in Bahasa Indonesian words) and after (suffix). If every morphological form of a word is put in the dictionary or ontology, an automated interpretation mechanism may be able to simply ignore this stratum of language. Since language is dynamic, however, people may use old affixes to form new words. I remember when “actionable” became a word, and “-able” is one of those utility suffixes that can easily sneak into the vocabulary.
Steven Pinker says: “No one knows why languages like to recycle their suffixes and other ways of modifying words… Perhaps the reason is to help listeners recognize when a word is composed of a stem and a suffix rather than being a simple stem.Whatever its purpose, syncretism shows that in the language system, combination is in the blood; even the tiniest suffixes are combinations of smaller parts.” (Pinker 1999)
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Structural models now acknowledge the importance of morphology. Hammond & Noonan say that “we have now come full circle from the elimination of an autonomous morphology in the earliest generative model, Syntactic Structures, to a position similar to that of the pre-Chomskyan structuralist models in recognizing morphology as a central, independent component of the grammar” (1988, p.1). We will later consider what role morphological analysis should perform, what type of rules should apply, and what form the rules should take in such a formalism.
Here is an example of language dynamism as applied to morphology: The Halloween storm of 1991 in Minneapolis dumped two-and-a-half feet of snow on the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. A new word was invoked to describe what happened: megastorm. As “mega-” is a valid prefix meaning one million, a brittle system might interpret this word to mean a million storms. A system that accepts colloquial uses of “mega-” would be more likely to understand the new word.
Inflection, the act of modifying the form of a word to change its interpretation in some way, is stronger in some languages than others. English inflection is comparatively weak, for instance, and Hmong inflection is almost non-existent.
Because the inflection of nouns and verbs in Finnish can yield a great deal of the information necessary for lexical disambiguation, strong morphologically based analysis procedures may be preferred for analyzing that language. Feature and category information contained in the inflection of Finnish include comparative/superlative, number, possession, clitics, voice, mood, tense, person, verbal/nominal, and case markers. Cases marked include nominative, genitive, partive, essive, inessive, elative, illative, adessive, ablative, allative, abessive, translative, instructive, and comitative.
Finnish morphology contains so much information that it may be possible to disambiguate Finnish words by examining morphology alone. There are nonetheless constraints present in Finnish syntax, semantics, and pragmatics that are required for disambiguation of anaphoric referents and other complex ambiguities.
Whether the tools of manipulating structure include Elmer’s glue or heliarc welding, structure is important at both the micro and macro levels. Because of structure differences between languages, different approaches may be most efficient for handling different processes, such as summarization, translation or question answering.
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