5.0100 ICAME Conference Report (1/178)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 27 May 91 16:11:45 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0100. Monday, 27 May 1991.

Date: Fri, 24 May 91 10:16 BST
From: Lou Burnard <LOU@VAX.OXFORD.AC.UK>
Subject: ICAME Conference Report

ICAME Conference Report: Craiglands Hotel, Ilkley, Yorks 6-12 May

ICAME is the annual get together of corpus linguists. This
year's, (the twelfth) was hosted by Leeds University at a rather
nice decayed Victorian hotel on the edge of Ilkley Moor and
enjoyed excellent weather, the usual relaxed atmosphere and the
usual extraordinary array of research reports, which can only be
very briefly noticed in this report. As usual, there were about
50 invited delegates, most of whom knew each other well, and a
few rather bemused looking non-Europeans, notably Mitch Marcus
(Penn State) and Louise Guthrie (New Mexico SU). The social programme
included an outing to historic Haworth by steam train which,
alas, your correspondent had to forgo in order to attend to other
TEI business, and large amounts of good Yorkshire cooking, which
he did not.

For the first time, the organising committee had included a so-
called open day, to which a number of interested parties,
supposedly keen to find out what this corpus-linguistics racket
was all about, had been invited. As curtain raiser to this event,
I was invited to present a TEI status report, which I did at
break neck speed, and Jeremy Clear (OUP) to describe the British
National Corpus project, which he did at a more relaxed pace. The
open day itself included brief presentations from Stig Johansson
(Oslo), on the history of ICAME since its foundation in 1973,
from Antoinette Renouf (Birmingham) on the basic design problems
of corpus building, from Sid Greenbaum (London) on the design and
implementation of the new co-operative International Corpus of
English project, from Eric Atwell (Leeds) on the kinds of parsing
systems which corpus linguistics made possible, from Jan van
Aarts (Nijmegen) on the Nijmegen approach to computational
linguistics, from John Sinclair (Birmingham) on the revolutionary
effect of corpus linguistics on lexicography and on language
teaching, from Gerry Knowles (Lancaster) on the particular
problems of representing spoken language in a corpus and from
Knut Hofland (Bergen) on the technical services provided for
ICAME at Bergen. While none of these speakers said anything
particularly new, several of them (notably van Aarts, Renouf and
Sinclair) managed to convey very well what is distinctive and
important about the field. As far as I could tell, most of the
ICAME community was a bit dubious about the usefulness of the
Open Day. For outsiders wishing to get up to speed on why corpus
linguistics is interesting and why it matters however, I would
judge it a notable success.

Corpus linguistics is, of course, all about analysing large
corpora of real world texts. To do this properly, you probably
need a good lexicon, and you will certainly finish up with one,
if you do the job properly. Not surprisingly therefore, the
conference proper began with a series of papers about electronic
lexica of various flavours, ranging from the CELEX database
(Richard Piepenbrock, Nijmegen) in which a vast array of information
about three languages (Dutch, English and German) is stored in a
relational database, to the experimental word-sense lattices
traced by Willem Meijs' Amsterdam research teams from the LDOCE
definitions. Work based on this, surely by now the most analysed
of all mrds, was also described by Jacques Noel (Liege) and by
Louise Guthrie (NMSU). The former had been comparing word-senses
in Cobuild and LDOCE, while the latter had been trying to
distinguish word senses by collocative evidence from the LDOCE
definition texts: although well presented and argued, her
conclusions were rather unsurprising (highly domain specific
texts are easier to disambiguate than the other sort), and to
base any conclusions about language in general on the very
artificial language of the LDOCE definition texts seems rather

The traditional ICAME researcher first quantifies some
unsuspected pattern of variation in linguistic usage and then
speculates as to its causes. Karin Aijmer (Lund), for example,
reported on various kinds of `opener's in the 100 or so telephone
conversations in the London-Lund Corpus, in an attempt to
identify what she called routinisation patterns. In a rather more
sophisticated analysis, Bent Altenberg (Lund) reported on a
frequency analysis of recurrent word class combinations in the
same corpus, and Pieter de Haan (Nijmegen) on patterns of sentence
length occurrences within various kinds of written texts.

Although attendance at ICAME is by invitation only, an honourable
tradition is to extend that invitation to anyone who is doing
something at all related to corpus work, even a mere computer
scientist like Jim Cowie (Stirling) who began his very
interesting paper on automatic indexing with the heretical
assertion that restructing the type of text analysed was
essential if you wanted to do anything at all in NLP. The object
of his research was to identify birds, plants etc. by means of
descriptive fragments of text and his method, which relied on
identifying roles for parts of the text as objects, parts,
properties and values, both highly suggestive for other lines of
research and eminently pragmatic. A similarly esoteric, but only
potentially fruitful, line of enquiry was suggested by Eric
Atwell's report on some attempts to apply neural networks to the
task of linguistic parsing.

Another nice ICAME tradition is the encouragement of young turks and
research assistants, who, when not acutely terrified, are often very
good at presenting new approaches and techniques. This year's initiates
included Simon Botley (Lancaster), who presented a rather dodgy
formalism for the representation of anaphoric chains, Paul Gorman
(Aberystwyth) who had translated CLAWS2 into ADA and almost persuaded me
that this was a good idea, Christine Johansson (Uppsala) who had been
comparing `of which' with `whose' - almost certainly not a good idea
and Paul Rayson & Andrew Wilson (also Lancaster) who had souped up
General Enquirer to do some rather more sophisticated content analysis
of market research survey results by using Claws2 to parse it.

Two immaculately designed and presented papers concerned work at
the boundary between spoken speech as recorded by an acoustic
trace and by transcription: Anne Wichmann (IBM) presented an
analysis of `falls' in the London-Lund corpus, a notorious area
of disagreement between transcribers. Her elicitation experiment
tended to show that there was a perceived continuity between high
and low falls which transcribers could not therefore categorise.
Gerry Knowles (Lancaster) proposed a model for speech
transcription, in which perceived phonemic categories formed an
intermediate mapping between text and acoustic data. Speech
transcriptions require a compromise between patterns that can be
computed from text and interpretations derived from acoustic

High spots of the conference for me were the presentations from
O'Donoghue (Leeds) and Marcus. If there is anyone around who still
doesn't believe in systemic functional grammar, Tim O'Donoghue's
presentation should have converted him or her. He reported the
results of comparing statistical properties of a set of parse-
trees randomly generated from the systemic grammar developed by
Fawcett and Tucker for the Polytechnic of Wales Corpus with the
parse trees found in the same (hand-)parsed corpus itself. The
high degree of semantic knowledge in the grammar was cited to
explain some very close correlations while some equally large
disparities were attributed to the specialised nature of the
texts in the corpus.

Mitch Marcus (Penn State) gave a whirlwind tour of the new
burgeoning of corpus linguistics (they call it `stochastic
methods') in the US, and made no bones about its opportunistic
nature or or funding priorities. Incidentally providing the
conference with one of its best jokes, when remarking of the
ACL/DCI, the Linguistics Data Consortium etc. "People want to do
this work extremely badly, and they need syntactic corpora to do
it", he described the methods and design goals of the Penn
Treebank project, stressing its engineering aspects and providing
some very impressive statistics about its performance.

Several presentations and one evening discussion session concerned the
new `International Corpus of English' or ICE project. Laurie Bauer
(Victoria University) described its New Zealand component in one
presentation, while Chuck Meyer (UMass) described some software
developed to tag it (using Interleaf) in another. The most interesting
of these however was from And Rosta (London) who is largely responsible
for ICE's original and, for my taste, rather baroque encoding scheme:
itvtook the form of a detailed point by point comparison between this
and the TEI scheme with a view to assessing the possibility of
converting between them. The verdict was largely positive, though he
identified several points where TEI was lacking, some of which (notably
the inability to tag uncertainty of tag assignment and a whole raft of
problems in tagging spoken material) should certainly be addressed and
all of which provided vey useful and constructive criticisms.

There was a general feeling that standardisation of linguistic
annotation (which corpus linguists confusingly insist on calling
`tagging') was long overdue. Marcus pointed out that the LOB
corpus had used 87 different tags for part of speech, LOB had
upped this to 135, the new UCREL set had 166 and the London Lund
Corpus 197. In Nijmegen, the TOSCA group has an entirely
different tagset of around 200 items which has been adopted and,
inevitably, increased by the ICE project. It seems to me that
someone should at least try to see whether these various tagsets
can in fact be harmonised using the TEI recommendations, or at
least compared with the draft TEI starter set described in TEI
AI1 W2. I also think that someone should at least try to see how
successful the feature-structure mechanisms are at dealing with
systemic networks of the POW kind.

LB, 14 May 91