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HLTC Special Seminar Series

Department of Computer Science
Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Human Language Technology Center

Word Meaning and Word Context: Implications for NLP

Patrick HANKS
Brandeis University

Date :     12 April 2006 (Wednesday)
Time :     16:00-18:00
Venue :   Rm 2578 (HLTC Conference Room, Lifts 29-30)


How do people know what a word means in any given text? How can this knowledge be made machine-tractable? The problem of "word sense disambiguation" has proved intractable despite decades of effort. Now, two of the leaders in the field (Wilks and Ide 2005) offer a counsel of despair: NLP should restrict itself to coarse-grained disambiguations, distinguishing only mutually exclusive senses ('homographs') and abandoning any attempt at 'sense determination'. Since the sense of most words consists of fuzzy sets of overlapping semantic features, this implies giving up altogether on any serious attempt to process the meaning of texts computationally.


Patrick Hanks is a lexicographer and corpus linguist. He was chief editor of current English dictionaries at Oxford University Press from 1990 to 2000. In the 1980s he was managing editor of the Cobuild project and chief editor of Collins English dictionaries. He is author and co-author of many papers on lexicography, lexical analysis, and similes and metaphor. He is currently compiling a 6-volume collection of papers on lexicology in the Routledge Creative Concepts series.

His main research interests are: (a) precision and vagueness in language; (b) mapping meaning onto use-corpus-based syntagmatic analysis of lexical regularities; (c) similes and metaphors: creative and innovative use of language; (d) personal names: origin and history, convention and creativity in naming.

Since 2002 he has divided his time between Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in Berlin, Germany. In May 2006 he will take up a post as Associate Professor of Computational Lexicography at the Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.

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Human Language Technology Center
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Last updated: 2006.04.06 Dekai Wu