Words and Their Parts

Morphology: Words
and their Parts
CS 4705
Julia Hirschberg
CS 4705
• In formal languages, words are arbitrary strings
• In natural languages, words are made up of
meaningful subunits called morphemes
– Morphemes are abstract concepts denoting
entities or relationships
– Morphemes may be
• Stems: the main morpheme of the word
• Affixes: convey the word’s role, number, gender,
• cats == cat [stem] + s [suffix]
• undo == un [prefix] + do [stem]
Why do we need to do Morphological Analysis?
• The study of how words are composed from
smaller, meaning-bearing units (morphemes)
• Applications:
– Spelling correction: referece
– Hyphenation algorithms: refer-ence
– Part-of-speech analysis: googler [N], googling
– Text-to-speech: grapheme-to-phoneme
• hothouse (/T/ or /D/)
– Let’s us guess the meaning of unknown words
• ‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves…
• Muggles moogled migwiches
• What are the ‘rules’ for constructing a word in a
given language?
– Pseudo-intellectual vs. *intellectual-pseudo
– Rational-ize vs *ize-rational
– Cretin-ous vs. *cretin-ly vs. *cretin-acious
• Possible ‘rules’
– Suffixes are suffixes and prefixes are prefixes
– Certain affixes attach to certain types of stems
(nouns, verbs, etc.)
– Certain stems can/cannot take certain affixes
• Semantics: In English, un- cannot attach to
adjectives that already have a negative
– Unhappy vs. *unsad
– Unhealthy vs. *unsick
– Unclean vs. *undirty
• Phonology: In English, -er cannot attach to words
of more than two syllables
– great, greater
– Happy, happier
– Competent, *competenter
– Elegant, *eleganter
– Unruly, ?unrulier
Regular and Irregular Morphology
• Regular
– Walk, walks, walking, walked, (had) walked
– Table, tables
• Irregular
– Eat, eats, eating, ate, (had) eaten
– Catch, catches, catching, caught, (had) caught
– Cut, cuts, cutting, cut, (had) cut
– Goose, geese
Morphological Parsing
• Algorithms developed to use regularities -- and
known irregularities -- to parse words into their
• Cats
cat +N +PL
• Cat
cat +N +SG
• Cities
city +N +PL
• Merging merge +V +Presentparticiple
• Caught catch +V +past-participle
Morphology and Finite State Automata
• We can use the machinery provided by FSAs to
capture facts about morphology
• Accept strings that are in the language
• Reject strings that are not
• Do this in a way that does not require us to list
all the words in the language
How do we build a Morphological Analyzer?
• Lexicon: list of stems and affixes (w/
corresponding part of speech (p.o.s.))
• Morphotactics of the language: model of how and
which morphemes can be affixed to a stem
• Orthographic rules: spelling modifications that
may occur when affixation occurs
– in  il in context of l (in- + legal)
• Most morphological phenomena can be described
with regular expressions – so finite state
techniques often used to represent morphological
Some Simple Rules
• Regular singular nouns stay as is
• Regular plural nouns have an -s on the end
• Irregulars stay as is
Simple English NP FSA
Expand the Arcs with Stems and Affixes
• We can now run strings through these machines to recognize
strings in the language
• Accept words that are ok
• Reject words that are not
• But is this enough?
• We often want to know the structure of a word (understanding/parsing)
• Or we may have a stem and want to produce a surface form
• Example
• From “cats” to “cat +N +PL”
• From “cat + N + PL” to “cats”
Finite State Transducers (FSTs)
• Turning an FSA into an FST
• Add another tape
• Add extra symbols to the transitions
• On one tape we read “cats” -- on the other we
write “cat +N +PL”
• Or vice versa…
Koskenniemi 2-level Morphology
Kimmo Koskenniemi’s two-level morphology
Idea: a word is a relationship between lexical
level (its morphemes) and surface level (its
• c:c means read a c on one tape and write a c on the other
• +N:ε means read a +N symbol on one tape and write nothing on the other
• +PL:s means read +PL and write an s
Not So Simple
• Of course, its not all as easy as
• “cat +N +PL” <-> “cats”
• What do we do about geese, mice, oxen?
• Many spelling/pronunciation changes go along with
inflectional changes, e.g.
• Fox and Foxes
Multi-Tape Machines
• Solution for complex changes:
– Add more tapes
– Use output of one tape machine as input to the
• To handle irregular spelling changes, add
intermediate tapes with intermediate symbols
Example of a Multi-Tape Machine
• We use one machine to transduce between the
lexical and the intermediate level, and another to
transduce between the intermediate and the
surface tapes
FST Fragment: Lexical to Intermediate
• ^ is morpheme boundary; # is word boundary
FST Fragment: Intermediate to Surface
• Rule: insert an e after a morpheme-final x, s or z
and before morpheme s, eg. fox^s#  foxes
Putting Them Together
Practical Uses
• This kind of parsing is normally called
morphological analysis
• Can be
• An important stand-alone component of an
application (spelling correction, information
retrieval, part-of-speech tagging,…)
• Or simply a link in a chain of processing
(machine translation, parsing,…)
Porter Stemmer (1980)
• Standard, very popular and usable stemmer (IR,
IE) – identify a word’s stem
• Sequence of cascaded rewrite rules, e.g.
– IZE  ε (e.g. unionize  union)
– CY  T (e.g. frequency  frequent)
– ING  ε , if stem contains vowel (motoring 
• Can be implemented as a lexicon-free FST (many
implementations available on the web)
Important Note: Morphology Differs by Language
• Languages differ in how they encode
morphological information
– Isolating languages (e.g. Cantonese) have no
affixes: each word usually has 1 morpheme
– Agglutinative languages (e.g. Finnish, Turkish)
are composed of prefixes and suffixes added to
a stem (like beads on a string) – each feature
realized by a single affix, e.g. Finnish
‘Wonder if he can also ... with his capability of not
causing things to be unsystematic’
– Polysynthetic languages (e.g. Inuit languages)
express much of their syntax in their
morphology, incorporating a verb’s arguments
into the verb, e.g. Western Greenlandic
'However, they will say that he is a great entertainer, but ...'
– So….different languages may require very
different morphological analyzers
Concatenative vs. Non-concatenative Morphology
• Semitic root-and-pattern morphology
– Root (2-4 consonants) conveys basic semantics
(e.g. Arabic /ktb/)
– Vowel pattern conveys voice and aspect
– Derivational template (binyan) identifies word
Vowel Pattern
kutib write
kuttib cause to write
ku:tib correspond
tuku:tib write each other
nku:tib subscribe
ktutib write
stuktib dictate
Morphological Representations: Evidence from
Human Performance
• Hypotheses:
– Full listing hypothesis: words listed
– Minimum redundancy hypothesis:
morphemes listed
• Experimental evidence:
– Priming experiments (Does seeing/hearing one
word facilitate recognition of another?) suggest
something in between
• Regularly inflected forms (e.g. cars) prime stem
(car) but not derived forms (e.g. management,
• But spoken derived words can prime stems if they
are semantically close (e.g. government/govern but
not department/depart)
• Speech errors suggest affixes must be represented
separately in the mental lexicon
– ‘easy enoughly’ for ‘easily enough’
• Importance of morphological family size
– Larger families  faster recognition
Summing Up
• Regular expressions and FSAs can represent subsets of
natural language as well as regular languages
– Both representations may be difficult for humans to
understand for any real subset of a language
– Can be hard to scale up: e.g., when many choices at any
point (e.g. surnames)
– But quick, powerful and easy to use for small problems
– AT&T Finite State Toolkit does scale
• Next class:
– Read Ch 4 on Ngrams
– HW1 will be due at midnight on Oct 1
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