Spreadsheets and Matlab are popular because they let domain experts write down a problem in familiar terms and quickly play with potential solutions. Natural-language semanticists have a better tool. It displays truth conditions, infers types, simplifies terms, and computes yields. Its modularity facilities make it easy to try fragments out, scale them up, and abstract encoding details out of semantic theories.
This tool is not just a niche experiment among semanticists, but a proven combination of techniques using a mature, general-purpose programming language. This tool was recently created by functional programmers, but they are unaware of its application to semantics just as most semanticists are. Our hands-on course teaches this application simultaneously to linguists and programmers, so as to bridge the two communities. We work our way from propositional logic and context-free grammars to dynamic and continuation treatments of quantification and anaphora.
This course on computational Montagovian semantics has been presented together with Chung-chieh Shan at the following schools. Although each presentation was slightly different, the core content was the same.
- Five-day course, August 5 through 9, at the 25th European Summer School in Logic, Language and Information, ESSLLI 2013. Duesseldorf, Germany.
< http://esslli2013.de/ >
- Five-day course at the North American Summer School on Logic, Language and Information, NASSLLI 2012, at University of Texas, Austin, TX, USA, June 18-22, 2012.
< http://nasslli2012.com/courses/lambda-the-ultimate >
- Two-day short course at NASSLLI 2010 in Bloomington, IN in June 2010.
We hope that by working together on embedding English fragments in Haskell and implementing their semantics, each group will come to appreciate the other's point of view while learning something useful in their professional work:
Most of all, we hope that linguists and programmers will see the point of the other side and be inclined to collaborate.
We have a grander goal in mind. We hope that linguists will draw more advantage of the ideas of side effects, continuations, regions, staging (a.k.a. quotation) and dependent types. These ideas happen to have been developed more in programming language theory and are only recently being consciously applied to natural language semantics. Linguistic applications of these ideas are certain to prompt further development, benefiting the programming language theory as well. We look forward to computer scientists learning from linguists how to build theories of programming language competence. Emotional arguments about ``the best'' programming language should to be replaced by a scientific, predictive theory of how programmers perceive and apply a programming language or its feature.
We develop many fragments of natural and formal languages in a series of examples. The progression of the examples reflects how we propose linguistic theories be expressed. We first use Haskell as a calculator to express linguistic derivations for a trivial fragment of English as programs. The very form of the programs is intuitive in that it resembles familiar notation and thus makes our intentions clear. Next, we teach our calculator to check our syntactic categories for us. This move begins our journey to expressing theories at a higher level of abstraction, to expressing our intuitions in terms of programs and types. We demonstrate how our calculator builds form and meaning in tandem.
We apply the same approach -- representing valid derivations as well-typed programs and abstracting over interpretations -- to formal languages: propositional logic and higher-order predicate logic (Ty2).
We then grow our languages. To the context-free English fragment, we add quantifiers and obtain their proper treatment. A slight enhancement to our logic, language of meanings, lets us transcribe the common analyses of expressives and intensionality. We extend our fragment with pronouns. To explain their meaning, we grow our logic to add information states, which we then abstract over to create a lambda-calculus with a constant `it'. We add the interpretation of a sentence as an imperative program performing an information ``update''. We explain de Groote's dynamic logic analysis of donkey sentences. The step-by-step extensions are so modular that even our lexical entry for `every' -- written without anaphora in mind -- can then be reused to calculate simplified truth conditions for donkey sentences. Barker and Shan's account of donkey anaphora and Moortgat's symmetric categorial grammar can also be expressed.
We use the programming language Haskell not to implement a parser or framework for syntax and semantics, but as a metalanguage in which to directly express analyses or theories of syntax and semantics. Written in Haskell, the analyses look quite like TeX, but are automatically type-checked and can be simplified.
A short paper presenting the course
Slides for the lectures, including the exercises
The map of languages and interpretations
The map of languages and interpretations
Definitions (or, `bookmarks') and CFG-like derivations
Semantic interpretation of a CFG derivation
Same as before, but now with type annotations. The file
CFG2Sem.hs tries to repair way too permissive grammar embedding with semantics: ``Using semantics to fix up syntax''
Preventing bad derivations `at run time'
Introducing type constants; accomplishing the goal that our terms represent all and only valid CFG derivations
Type functions: from syntactic categories to semantic types
Unifying syntax with semantics
We have demonstrated how to interpret syntactic (CFG) derivations in several ways. We apply the same approach to semantic forms, interpreting a semantic formula so to evaluate it in a particular world, to print it out, or to simplify it.
Warm-up: Embedding Propositional Logic, the language of very simple denotations
Another warm-up: embedding pure lambda-calculus, illustrating higher-order abstract syntax (HOAS)
The grammar of the language of denotations, and its many interpretations
Extending the fragment with adjectives and copula for a Rick Perry example from the bootcamp
Interpreting a CFG derivation as a string in Japanese
Adding QNP in the tradition of Montague
Likewise, extending the Japanese interpretation
A different way to add quantification, relying on higher-order abstract syntax (HOAS). We thus attempt a `rational reconstruction' of Montague's general approach of `administrative pronouns', which gave rise to Quantifier Raising (QR).
Christopher Potts reviews the features of expressives such as `bloody', epithets such as `the stupid thing', and honorifics. He then proposes a compositional analysis. His analysis tracks the at-issue content and the expressive content as two separate, non-interacting dimensions of meaning. We use our semantics calculator to illustrate Potts' analysis.
Previously, we calculated truth conditions by interpreting a grammar
derivation of category
NP as a formula
lrepr Entity in the
language of higher-order logic; the derivation of category
lrepr Bool and the derivation of category
lrepr (Entity->Bool). Now we interpret the
NP derivation as
(lrepr Entity) and similarly for the others. Here
i is an applicative functor (or, Applicative, for short). Like Monads,
Applicatives represent computational effects such as mutation,
dynamic binding, non-determinism or input-output. With monads, we can
choose what computation to perform next based on the result of the
previous computation. Applicatives do not give us such a choice: the
structure of the computation is fixed before the applicative program
is run. For the analysis of expressives, we choose the Writer
applicative, whose side-effect is accumulating attitudes.
Our calculation illustrates several principles of Potts' analysis of
expressives. First, lexical items like
john are mapped to
forall i. i (lrepr Entity). The polymorphism over
that such lexical items contribute only to the at-issue meaning.
Second, Applicatives guarantee by design that the value
produced by an applicative cannot contribute to Applicative's side-effect.
In other words, the content at issue cannot affect the expressive
dimension. The contribution to the expressive dimension can only come
from special lexical items such as `bloody' or from special combination modes
(not present in our analysis).
Christopher Potts: The Logic of Conventional Implicatures
PhD thesis, UC Santa Cruz, 2003.
< http://www.stanford.edu/~cgpotts/dissertation/potts-dissertation-1up.pdf >
Christopher Potts: The expressive dimension
Theoretical Linguistics 33, (2):165-197, 2007.
< http://www.stanford.edu/~cgpotts/papers/potts-expressives06.pdf >
Conor McBride and Ross Paterson: Applicative Programming with Effects
Journal of Functional Programming 18:1 (2008), pages 1-13.
< http://www.soi.city.ac.uk/~ross/papers/Applicative.html >
Implementing de Groote's approach: extending our fragment with pronouns, and the language of denotations with state
A sketch of Combinatorial Categorial Grammar (CCG)
Chung-chieh Shan's implementation of the continuation semantics of
Chung-chieh Shan and Chris Barker. 2006. Explaining crossover and superiority as left-to-right evaluation.
Linguistics and Philosophy 29(1):91-134.
and the tower notation of
Chris Barker and Chung-chieh Shan. 2008. Donkey anaphora is in-scope binding. Semantics and Pragmatics 1(1):1-46.
Closely related to the present course in subject matter (semantics):
The technique of extensible language embeddings is described in the following publications:
Your comments, problem reports, questions are very welcome!
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