University of Maryland, College Park
There are a large number of collected and written texts in
various Athabascan languages that form a substantial
literature that could be used for both scholarship and education.
This is especially true of the Navajo language for which there
are a large number of written texts, many that are public domain
or out of copyright protection. This paper describes and
evaluates a project to acquire these texts in electronic format,
in the standard orthography, and develop a dictionary lookup
tool for use with these texts. Collected texts can take many
forms and use many different orthographies. For this pilot study,
the Navajo texts are typewriter written with a non-standard
orthography. The Navajo language has a polysynthetic structure
that poses special problems for dictionary lookup.
The following steps were used for this project and are
1. Scanner acquisition of images of the original texts.
2. Optical character recognition of the text images and
3. XML encoding of the texts using the Text Encoding
4. Use of an XSLT stylesheet for web display of the texts.
5. Development of an automated look-up tool for the lexicon.
Texts collected in 1929 from the book Navaho Texts by Sapir
and Hoijer (1942) are used for this pilot project. Figure 1 shows
a page fragment from this work that uses a non-standard
orthography. Figure 3 shows that same fragment with the
standard orthography after acquisition.
Figure 1. A page image fragment from Navaho Texts
After the image of a page has been scanned, it must be
recognized using optical character recognition (OCR). For this
project, the open-source Gamera system was used which is
written in the Python language. Gamera allows arbitrary
characters to be trained using an implementation of the k-nearest
neighbor algorithm whose weights are optimized using a genetic
algorithm. Figure 2 shows the Gamera interface that allows
iterative classification of characters from actual text images
and supports training until the error rate is acceptable.
Figure 2. A Gamera Screen shot
The output configuration for a particular project requires Python
programming to define the character mappings. The output is
a mapping from the recognized characters of the text image to
text in the Times New Roman Navajo font. The Text Encoding
Initiative (TEI) is used for encoding that output. A sample of
Navaho Texts that has been encoded using TEI is shown in
Figure 3. It is transformed to HTML using the XSLT stylesheet
that is available at the TEI website, augmented with a CSS file
that includes the Navajo font.
The final step in the workflow is to develop and use a lookup
tool for the lexicon that allows a user to click on a word and
see the correct dictionary page or easily navigate to it. A major
work for the Navajo lexicon is the Analytical Lexicon by Young and Morgan (1992). There is also a project to put the Analytical
Lexicon (AL) on-line that is partially completed and available
ajo/> . The dictionary lookup tool developed here tries to
map a verb stem parsed from a word to a page (URL) in this
on-line AL. The problem is that a morpheme (the stem) must
be extracted from the complex morphology of the verb for
lookup which is typically a difficult task for users.
Figure 3. The TEI Encoding
A very simple example of a morphological parser for dictionary
lookup is presented here. Pseudo-code for the algorithm is
shown below. The algorithm is implemented in the Perl
1. Get the word
2. Look in a list for direct word lookup (no parsing)
3. If found, display the lexical entry
(a) Parse the word (assume it is a verb)
(b) Match the longest common substring to a list of all stem
(c) Score each match
(d) Rank the matches by score
(e) Link each stem match to the URL for the corresponding
root in the AL
For step 4a, each substring of the verb is compared to a list of
all stem shapes. A simple score is attached to each match in
step 4c where:
score = (index position of the
substring) * (length of the substring)
This privileges matches that are towards the end of the word
and longer substring matches. The ranked matches are displayed
with the recommended one being the one with the highest score.
Example output from the batch version of the Perl program that
shows a correct parse is shown below.
• Word=na'nishkaadgo :
• nish - (12) - <http://www.speech.cs.cm
• kaad - (28) - <http://www.speech.cs.cm
• na' - (0) - <http://www.speech.cs.cmu.
• ni - (6) - <http://www.speech.cs.cmu.e
• The recommended stem is kaad
The highest scored match (28) is the correctly recommended
stem. Note that the URL to the on-line AL contains still another
encoding for Navajo characters (a custom Latin1 mapping that
is also URL encoded) and the Perl program must also translate
between the standard orthography and this custom mapping.
The scanning procedure is very simple and does not require
specialized equipment. The process of scanning does not
require any special linguistic expertise and can be carried out
as a batch job that produces the image files. The OCR training
and classification process using the Gamera system is fairly
straightforward and with the output programming pieces
pre-done for a project, it can be performed by domain experts.
The author found that using a training level with an
approximately 15% error rate, he could do all acquisition steps
of the workflow in under 20 minutes for a physical page and
batch pre-scanning would have significantly reduced this time.
The TEI encoding is simple and ensures that the textbase will
A formal evaluation of the dictionary lookup tool was
performed. A sample of the first 300 words of the text shown
in Figure 1 was selected and the Perl program parser was run
against this sample in batch mode. This resulted in a list of 300
outputs such as that above. The author then checked each of
the 300 parses for accuracy. Three categories were used to
evaluate this output: correct, incorrect, and non-verb. The non-verb category was used for adverbials, nouns, etc. that do
not transparently map to verb stems. The result of this
evaluation was that the parser was 92% accurate for Navajo
verbs with a breakdown of: correct=124, incorrect=10, and
non-verb=166. 45% of the sample is non-verb. The remaining
problem is how to generally discriminate between verbs and
non-verbs for lookup.
The workflow introduced here appears to be useful for
domain experts that are trying to create on-line textbases
for Athabascan literature. Ultimately these textbases could be
used in the schools for language and cultural studies since they
are easily implemented as web pages. The dictionary lookup
tool goes at least some distance in solving the long-standing
problem of helping users to navigate the complex Navajo
lexicon. The link to the on-line AL is a simple example of
cross-project interaction in the computational humanities. An
updated programmatic interface to the AL would be a significant
Sapir, Edward, and Harry Hoijer, eds. Navaho Texts. Iowa
City: Linguistic Society of America, 1942.
Young, Robert, William Morgan Sr., and Sally Midgette.
Analytical Lexicon of Navajo. Albuquerque: University of New
Mexico Press, 1992.
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