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Morphological Parsing with a Unification-based Word Grammar

Evan L. Antworth
A paper presented at the North Texas Natural Language Processing Workshop
May 23, 1994
University of Texas at Arlington


This paper describes PC-KIMMO, a morphological parser based on Kimmo Koskenniemi's model of two-level morphology (Koskenniemi 1983). While PC-KIMMO was adequate to decompose a word into morphemes, it was not able directly to compute the part of speech of a derivationally complex word or return a word's inflectional features--precisely the information required for syntactic parsing. These deficiencies have now been remedied by adding a unification-based word grammar component to version 2 of PC-KIMMO which can provide parse trees and feature structures. A substantial analysis of English for use with PC-KIMMO is also described.

Why do morphological parsing?

Parsing is a standard technique used in the field of natural language processing. When you think of parsing, you likely think of syntactic parsing. But before a syntactic parser can parse a sentence, it must be supplied with information about each word in the sentence. For instance, to parse the sentence The cat chased the rat, a parser must know that cat is a singular noun, chased is a past tense verb, and so on. In English, such information may be supplied by a lexicon that simply lists all wordforms with their part of speech and inflectional information such as number and tense. Because English has a relatively simple inflectional system, the number of forms that must be listed in such a lexicon is manageable. Note that countable nouns such as cat have only have two inflected forms, singular and plural, and regular verbs such as chase have only four inflected forms: the base form, the -s form, the -ed form, and the -ing form. But an exhaustive lexical listing is simply not feasible for many other languages, such as Finnish, Turkish, and Quechua, which may have hundreds of inflected forms for each noun or verb. For such languages, one must build a word parser that will use the morphological system of the language to compute the part of speech and inflectional categories of any word.

Even for English a morphological parser may be necessary. Although English has a limited inflectional system, it has very complex and productive derivational morphology. For example, from the root compute come derived forms such as computer, computerize, computerization, recomputerize, noncomputerized, and so on. It is impossible to list exhaustively in a lexicon all the derived forms (including coined terms or inventive uses of language) that might occur in natural text.

The two-level model of morphology

A major breakthrough in the field of morphological parsing came in 1983 when Kimmo Koskenniemi, a Finnish computer scientist, produced his dissertation Two-level morphology: A general computational model for word-form recognition and generation (Koskenniemi 1983). Koskenniemi's model of two-level morphology was based on the traditional distinction that linguists make between morphotactics, which enumerates the inventory of morphemes and specifies in what order they can occur, and morphophonemics, which accounts for alternate forms or "spellings" of morphemes according to the phonological context in which they occur. For example, the word chased is analyzed morphotactically as the stem chase followed by the suffix -ed . However, the addition of the suffix -ed apparently causes the loss of the final e of chase; thus chase and chas are allomorphs or alternate forms of the same morpheme. Koskenniemi's model is "two-level" in the sense that a word is represented as a direct, letter-for-letter correspondence between its lexical or underlying form and its surface form. For example, the word chased is given this two-level representation (where + is a morpheme boundary symbol and 0 is a null character):

	Lexical form:   c   h   a   s   e   +   e   d   
	Surface form:   c   h   a   s   0   0   e   d   

For more on the phonological properties of the two-level model, see Antworth 1991.

The KIMMO parser

Shortly after Koskenniemi's dissertation appeared, Lauri Karttunen and others produced a LISP implementation of Koskenniemi's two-level model and dubbed it KIMMO (Karttunen 1983). The main components of the KIMMO parser are shown in Figure 1. It had two analytical components: the rules component and the lexical component, or lexicon. First, the rules component consisted of two-level rules that accounted for regular phonological or orthographic alternations, such as chase versus chas. Second, the lexicon listed all morphemes (stems and affixes) in their lexical form and specified morphotactic constraints. For example, the lexicon would have included lexical entries for the verb stem chase and the suffix -ed, and would have specified their relative order. Using these data components were two processing functions, the Generator and the Recognizer. The Generator would accept as input a lexical form such as spy+s and return the surface form spies. The Recognizer would accept as input a surface form such as spies and return an underlying form divided into morphemes, namely spy+s, plus a gloss string such as N+PLURAL.

Figure 1 Main components of Karttunen's KIMMO parser

The PC-KIMMO parser

In 1990, the Summer Institute of Linguistics produced PC-KIMMO version 1, an implementation of the two-level model that closely followed Karttunen's KIMMO (see Antworth 1990). Written in C, it ran on personal computers such as IBM PC compatibles and the Macintosh as well as UNIX. PC-KIMMO was quite good at what it was designed to do--tokenize a word into a sequence of tagged morphemes. But it had a serious deficiency: it could not directly determine the part of speech of a word or its inflectional categories. For example, given the word enlargements, PC-KIMMO could tokenize it into the sequence of morphemes en+large+ment+s and gloss each morpheme, but it could not determine that the entire word was a plural noun. This meant that PC-KIMMO was not adequate to act as a morphological front end to a syntactic parser--its most desirable application.

Unification-based word grammar

In 1993, version 2 of PC-KIMMO was developed specifically to correct this deficiency. It does so by adding a third analytical component, a word grammar. The word grammar is a unification-based chart parser (based on the PATR-II formalism described in Shieber 1986) that provides parse trees and feature structures. The chart parser was originally designed for syntactic parsing. Just as a sentence parser produces a parse tree with words as its leaf nodes, a word parser produces a parse tree with morphemes as its leaf nodes. When you parse a sentence, it is normally already tokenized into words (since we put white space between words); but when you parse a word, you must first tokenize it into morphemes. This tokenizing is done by the rules and lexicon. When a surface word is submitted to PC-KIMMO's Recognizer, the rules and lexicon analyze the word into a sequence of morpheme structures (or possibly more than one sequence if more than one analysis is found). A morpheme structure consists of a lexical form, its gloss, its category, and its features. For example, the word enlargements is tokenized into this sequence of morpheme structures:

	Form:   en+           large           +ment          +s
	Gloss:  VR1+          AJ              +NR25          +PL
	Cat:    PREFIX        ROOT            SUFFIX         INFL
	Feat:   [fromcat: AJ  [lexcat: AJ     [fromcat: V    [fromcat: N
	         tocat: V      aform: !POS]    tocat: N       tocat: N
	         finite: !-]                   number: !SG]   number: SG
	                                                       reg: +]

This analysis is then passed to the word grammar, which returns the parse tree and feature structure shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Parse tree and feature structure for enlargements

	           Stem           INFL
	       _____|______       +s
	     Stem        SUFFIX   +PL
	    ___|____     +ment
	PREFIX    Stem   +NR25
	en+        |
	VR1+     ROOT
	 [ lexcat: N
	   number: PL ]

While each node of the tree has a feature structure associated with it, the feature structure for the top node is the most important, since these are the features attributable to the entire word. The feature structure for the word enlargements specifies two features. First, the feature lexcat has the value N, meaning that the lexical category (part-of-speech) of the word is Noun. Second, the feature number has the value PL for plural. If PC-KIMMO were being called from a syntactic parser, then it would return to the syntactic parser the word enlargements with these features. In its overall architecture, version 2 of PC-KIMMO now resembles the morphological parser described in Ritchie and others 1992. That parser also first tokenizes a word into morphemes and then parses the morpheme sequence with a unification-based parser. However, our unification parser differs considerably from theirs in its implementation.

The word grammar component uses a grammar file written by the user. A grammar consists of context-free rules and feature constraints. The format of the grammar closely follows Shieber's PATR-II formalism (Shieber 1986). Figure 3 shows a fragment of a word grammar of English.

Figure 3 Fragment of a word grammar of English

	Let pl be    <number> = PL
	Let irreg be <reg> = -
	Let v/n be   <fromcat> = V
	             <tocat> = N
	             <number> = !SG
	Let v\aj be  <fromcat> = AJ
	             <tocat> = V
	             <finite> = !-

	Let N be  <cat> = ROOT
	          <lexcat> = N
	          <number> = !SG
	          <reg> = !+
	          <proper> = !-
	Let V be  <cat> = ROOT
	          <lexcat> = V
	          <finite> = !-
	          <reg> = !+
	Let AJ be <cat> = ROOT
	          <lexcat> = AJ
	          <aform> = !POS
	          <reg> = !+
	;Rule 1
	Word = Stem INFL
	    <Stem lexcat> = <INFL fromcat>
	    <Word lexcat> = <INFL tocat>
	    <Word number> = <INFL number>
	    <Word tense> = <INFL tense>
	    <Word aform> = <INFL aform>
	;Rule 2
	Stem = PREFIX Stem_1
	    <PREFIX fromcat> = <Stem_1 lexcat>
	    <Stem lexcat> = <PREFIX tocat>
	    <Stem number> = <PREFIX number>
	    <Stem tense> = <PREFIX tense>
	    <Stem aform> = <PREFIX aform>
	    <Stem reg> = <Stem_1 reg>
	;Rule 3
	Stem = Stem_1 SUFFIX
	    <Stem_1 lexcat> = <SUFFIX fromcat>
	    <Stem lexcat> = <SUFFIX tocat>
	    <Stem number> = <SUFFIX number>
	    <Stem tense> = <SUFFIX tense>
	    <Stem aform> = <SUFFIX aform>
	    <Stem reg> = <SUFFIX reg>
	;Rule 4
	Stem = ROOT
	    <Stem lexcat> = <ROOT lexcat>
	    <Stem number> = <ROOT number>
	    <Stem tense> = <ROOT tense>
	    <Stem aform> = <ROOT aform>
	    <Stem reg> = <ROOT reg>

The first section of the grammar file contains feature abbreviations. Feature abbreviations can be used either in lexical entries or in grammar rules and are expanded by "Let" statements. For example, the feature abbreviation pl is expanded into the feature structure [number: PL].

The second section of the grammar file contains category templates. These are feature specifications that are attached to lexical categories such as Noun and Adjective. This greatly reduces the amount of information that must be stored in the lexicon. For example, the statement Let N be <number> = SG means that all nouns are assigned singular number. The grammar in Figure 3 actually contains the statement Let N be <number> = !SG. The exclamation point in !SG means that this is a default value which can be overridden. For example, the lexical entry for fox does not need to specify that it is singular; that information is supplied by the category definition of Noun. However, the lexical entry for mice (an irregular plural) explicitly sets the feature number feature to PL (plural), thus overriding the default value.

The third section of the grammar file contains the word grammar rules. Associated with each rule are feature constraints. A feature constraint consists of two feature structures which must unify with each other. Feature constraints have two functions: they constrain the operation of a rule and they pass features from one node to another up the parse tree. For example, in rule 1 of Figure 3 the feature constraint <Stem lexcat> = <INFL fromcat> requires that the lexcat feature of the Stem node must have the same value as the fromcat feature of the INFL node in order for the rule to succeed, while the feature constraint <Word lexcat> = <INFL tocat> passes the value of the tocat feature from the INFL node to the lexcat feature of the Word node.

The word enlargements is an especially good example of the power of the word grammar because of its complex derivational structure. Its root is the adjective large; the prefix en- forms the verb enlarge; the suffix -ment forms the noun enlargement; and finally the inflectional suffix s marks it plural. To accomplish this, each root or stem has a lexical category such as Noun or Adjective and each affix has a fromcat feature and a tocat feature. The fromcat feature specifies the lexical category of the stems to which it can attach. The tocat feature specifies the lexical category of the resulting stem. For instance, the prefix en- has a fromcat of Adjective and a tocat of Verb, since it attaches to an adjective such as large and produces a verb, enlarge. Rule 2 in Figure 3 says that a Stem is composed of a PREFIX plus a Stem, for instance enlarge = en+large. The first feature constraint, <PREFIX fromcat> = <Stem_1 lexcat>, requires that the fromcat feature of the PREFIX node must have the same value as the lexcat feature of the Stem_1 node. Since the fromcat feature of the prefix en- and the lexcat feature of the stem large are both AJ, the rule succeeds. The second feature constraint, <Stem lexcat> = <PREFIX tocat>, passes the value of the tocat feature from the PREFIX node to the lexcat feature of the Stem node; that is, since the tocat of the prefix en- is V, the lexcat of the resulting stem enlarge is also V.

Rule 1 in Figure 3 accounts for the plural suffix -s. The rule simply says that a word is composed of a stem plus an inflectional element. The first two feature constraints use the lexcat feature to ensure that the plural suffix attaches only to a noun stem and produces a noun word (that is, it does not change the part of speech of the stem as do the derivational affixes). The third feature constraint, <Word number> = <INFL number>, passes the value of the number feature from the inflectional suffix to the Word node.

Englex: a two-level description of English morphology

PC-KIMMO version 2 can be used with Englex, a two-level description of English morphology. Englex consists of a set of orthographic rules, a 20,000-entry lexicon of roots and affixes, and a word grammar. With Englex and PC-KIMMO, you can morphologically parse English words and text. Practical applications include morphologically preprocessing text for a syntactic parser and producing morphologically tagged text (see Antworth 1993). Englex can also be used to explore English morphological structure for purposes of linguistic analysis.

In terms of its coverage of English, Englex has these goals:

Multiple senses and homonyms

Englex's lexicon is a parsing lexicon, not a full dictionary. In general, multiple senses of words are not distinguished. For example, there is only one entry for the adjective fair, ignoring the fact that it has several senses (including "not stormy", "impartial" and "light-colored"). However the noun fair meaning "a festival" is considered a homonym and because it is a different lexical category it is given its own entry in the noun sublexicon. The larger issue is how to incorporate semantic information in a PC-KIMMO lexicon. While PC-KIMMO doesn't support a semantics field in lexical entries, there are other ways you can include semantic information in entries.

Lexical category conversion

Many words in English belong to more than one lexical category; for instance, the word ride can be either verb or noun. Since the verb ride and the noun ride appear to share the same basic sense, they are derivationally related. The relation between them is often described as zero derivation or conversion. In contrast, the verb shed and the noun shed have unrelated senses and thus are not derivationally related, but merely homonyms. Clearly homonyms such as verb shed and noun shed should receive separate lexical entries since they have no lexical relation to each other. But if you posit separate lexical entries for words related by lexical conversion, you would not only lose the linguistic generalization that such words are lexically related but you would also greatly increase the size of the lexicon, since English has a very large number of such words. Englex handles lexical category conversion by positing special sublexicons such as N-V for words that occur as both noun and verb. A word belonging to the N-V sublexicon is expanded into both noun and verb instances by the following "Let" statement in the word grammar:

        Let N-V be {[N] [V]}

The curly braces indicate a disjunction of the elements [N] and [V], which in turn are expanded by category templates for N and V (that is, Noun and Verb).


Koskenniemi's original model of a two-level morphological parser, instantiated as PC-KIMMO version 1, made it possible to decompose complex words into their constituent morphemes, but it lacked the ability directly to compute the part of speech of a complex word or to return inflectional features in a form that could easily be used by a syntactic parser. By feeding the output of the original parser into a unification-based word grammar, version 2 of PC-KIMMO can now provide full parse trees and feature structures for handling part of speech and inflectional categories. A substantial description of English including rules, lexicon, and word grammar is also available for use with PC-KIMMO version 2.


Antworth, Evan L. 1990. PC-KIMMO: a two-level processor for morphological analysis. Occasional Publications in Academic Computing No. 16. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

____. 1991. Introduction to two-level phonology. Notes on Linguistics 53:4-18. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

____. 1993. Glossing text with the PC-KIMMO morphological parser. Computers and the Humanities 26:475-484.

Karttunen, Lauri. 1983. KIMMO: a general morphological processor. Texas Linguistic Forum 22:163-186.

Koskenniemi, Kimmo. 1983. Two-level morphology: a general computational model for word-form recognition and production. Publication No. 11. Helsinki: University of Helsinki Department of General Linguistics.

Ritchie, Graeme D., Graham J. Russell, Alan W. Black, and Stephen G. Pulman. 1992. Computational morphology: practical mechanisms for the English lexicon. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Shieber, Stuart M. 1986. An introduction to unification-based approaches to grammar. CSLI Lecture Notes No. 4. Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.