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Natural Language Semantics and Compiler Technology

John Nerbonne; Joachim Laubsch; Abdel Kader Diagne; Stephan Oepen
DFKI, DFKI Research Reports (RR), Vol. 92-55, 1992.


This paper recommends an approach to the implementation of semantic representation languages (SRLs) which exploits a parallelism between SRLs and programming languages (PLs). The design requirements of SRLs for natural language are similar to those of PLs in their goals. First, in both cases we seek modules in which both the surface representation (print form) and the underlying data structures are important. This requirement highlights the need for general tools allowing the printing and reading of expressions (data structures). Second, these modules need to cooperate with foreign modules, so that the importance of interface technology (compilation) is paramount; and third, both compilers and semantic modules need "inferential" facilities for transforming (simplifying) complex expressions in order to ease subsequent processing. But the most important parallel is the need in both fields for tools which are useful in combination with a variety of concrete languages--general purpose parsers, printers, simplifiers (transformation facilities) and compilers. This arises in PL technology from (among other things) the need for experimentation in language design, which is again parallel to the case of SRLs. Using a compiler-based approach, we have implemented NLL, a public domain software package for computational natural language semantics. Several interfaces exist both for grammar modules and for applications, using a variety of interface technologies, including especially compilation. We review here a variety of NLL, applications, focusing on COSMA, an NL interface to a distributed appointment manager.