Computer Laboratory

Technical reports

Natural language interfaces to databases

Ann Copestake, Karen Spärck Jones

September 1989, 36 pages


This paper reviews the state of the art in natural language access to databases. This has been a long-standing area of work in natural language processing. But though some commercial systems are now available, providing front ends has proved much harder than was expected, and the necessary limitations on front ends have to be recognised. The paper discusses the issues, both general to language and task-specific, involved in front end design, and the way these have been addressed, concentrating on the work of the last decade. The focus is on the central process of translating a natural language question into a database query, but other supporting functions are also covered. The points are illustrated by the use of a single example application. The paper concludes with an evaluation of the current state, indicating that future progress will depend on the one hand on general advances in natural language processing, and on the other on expanding the capabilities of traditional databases.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Copestake, Ann and Sp{\"a}rck Jones, Karen},
  title = 	 {{Natural language interfaces to databases}},
  year = 	 1989,
  month = 	 sep,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-187}