Department of Computer Science and Technology

Technical reports

Syntactic simplification and text cohesion

Advaith Siddharthan

August 2004, 195 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted November 2003 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College.


Syntactic simplification is the process of reducing the grammatical complexity of a text, while retaining its information content and meaning. The aim of syntactic simplification is to make text easier to comprehend for human readers, or process by programs. In this thesis, I describe how syntactic simplification can be achieved using shallow robust analysis, a small set of hand-crafted simplification rules and a detailed analysis of the discourse-level aspects of syntactically rewriting text. I offer a treatment of relative clauses, apposition, coordination and subordination.

I present novel techniques for relative clause and appositive attachment. I argue that these attachment decisions are not purely syntactic. My approaches rely on a shallow discourse model and on animacy information obtained from a lexical knowledge base. I also show how clause and appositive boundaries can be determined reliably using a decision procedure based on local context, represented by part-of-speech tags and noun chunks.

I then formalise the interactions that take place between syntax and discourse during the simplification process. This is important because the usefulness of syntactic simplification in making a text accessible to a wider audience can be undermined if the rewritten text lacks cohesion. I describe how various generation issues like sentence ordering, cue-word selection, referring-expression generation, determiner choice and pronominal use can be resolved so as to preserve conjunctive and anaphoric cohesive-relations during syntactic simplification.

In order to perform syntactic simplification, I have had to address various natural language processing problems, including clause and appositive identification and attachment, pronoun resolution and referring-expression generation. I evaluate my approaches to solving each problem individually, and also present a holistic evaluation of my syntactic simplification system.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Siddharthan, Advaith},
  title = 	 {{Syntactic simplification and text cohesion}},
  year = 	 2004,
  month = 	 aug,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-597}