Heidelberg University–Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies
Bilder vom Neuenheimer Feld, Heidelberg und der Universität Heidelberg

Research initiative discourse semantics

Within the doctoral program 'semantic processing', we have received funding for a research initiative under the heading 'Coherence in language processing: semantics beyond the sentence'.

Project description

Humans effortlessly perform the task of combining information from individual sentences in text (discourse) into an understanding of complete situations (that is, to create coherence), even though semantic relations between sentences often remain unexpressed and must be inferred from background and world knowledge. For example, readers of I just arrived. My camel is outside understand that the camel served as a mount for an (unexpressed) preceding trip. Current systems for natural language processing (NLP) deal fairly well with semantic analysis for individual sentences, but are generally unable to combine information from multiple sentences or to retrieve unexpressed information. This limits their utility in tasks where whole texts must be processed, such as machine translation or question answering.

The goal of this graduate program is to extend semantic analysis to the discourse level and to approximate coherence-based interpretation through three mutually supporting research directions: (a) analysing semantic phenomena at the discourse level and representing them as “semantic graphs”; (b) using these graphs to improve semantic analysis; (c) evaluating (a) and (b) in NLP applications. The proposed PhD topics are integrated into and linked by the three directions. Further ties are ensured by the joint use of text collections (corpora).

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