ALLC Session - Text Analysis Tools: Architectures and protocols

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Harold Short

    King's College London, Centre for Computing in the Humanities - King's College London

  2. 2. John Bradley

    Centre for Computing in the Humanities - King's College London

  3. 3. Tom Horton

    Florida Atlantic University

  4. 4. Manfred Thaller

    University of Bergen

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Text Analysis Tools: Architectures and protocols Type
of Proposal


King's College London


King's College London


Florida Atlantic University


University of Bergen, Norway


University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA





ALLC Panel

Harold Short, Chair
There has been considerable concern in recent years at the absence of text
analysis tools that can take advantage of the intellectual effort that goes
into encoding. Thus, while there are now large collections of encoded texts,
with the number continuing to grow rapidly, there has been little
corresponding development of the 'next generation' of tools such as OCP,
TACT and others that would enable humanities scholars to exploit fully the
intellectual investment represented by these collections. Browsing and
searching is the limit of what can readily be done in most cases.
This concern has resulted in a number of meetings, discussions and
initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic over a number of years. There have
been papers, panels or BOF sessions at many ACH-ALLC conferences, going back
at least to Georgetown in 1995. There were two meetings held at Princeton,
organised by Susan Hockey when she was at CETH. Following the ALLC-ACH 98
conference in Debrecen, the 'ELTA' software initiative was launched to
promote discussion and the exchange of ideas. Related to this, during the
past year a series of meetings and workshops has been organised aimed at
establishing a framework and a set of open specifications that would enable
collaborative tool development to proceed.
There appears to be general perception that in this area it is unlikely that
commercial software developers will create systems to meet scholarly needs
that are (a) affordable and (b) capable of the kind of modification and
tuning that will enable scholars to push these approaches to the limits that
are necessary. It seems likely therefore that the most effective model will
be one that enables scholars and information professionals in higher
education to develop software independently but collaboratively.
The papers in this panel session arise in part from some collaborative work
carried out in Europe, focused on a workshop in Bergen in October 1998,
hosted by Manfred Thaller, which brought together humanities computing (and
historical computing) specialists and computational linguists. In part they
arise from a workshop held at King's College London in January 1999, which
brought together European and North American specialists. In both workshops
the emphasis was on exploring underlying models and structures rather than
on applications or user needs. This session is also informed by recent
transatlantic collaborative activity aimed at initiating practical
development work.
After the presentation of the two formal papers, there will be a brief report
on the ELTA initiative. It is intended that there should be a good amount of
time for open discussion before the close of the session. The URL for ELTA

A New Computing Architecture to Support Text Analysis
John Bradley
Tom Horton

Over the past year a small group of researchers and developers have
been designing a general architecture into which a wide range of
text analysis tools could fit. This proposed architecture is
designed to respond both to recent developments in technology and to
developments in textual encoding of the kind represented by the TEI.
Furthermore, an important element of the architecture lies in its
ability to allow independent developers to add or modify existing
elements to suit their own needs, including developing modules to
support kinds of processing as yet unknown.
Such a text analysis support system needs to exhibit certain
characteristics if it is to be suitable for use in such a
potentially wide range of different applications.
First, it needs to be modular and open. Textual research in the
Humanities spans a very wide set of interests and techniques and one
of the challenges for the designers of a new TA system is to avoid
restricting its design to favour one type of application over
another. By "modular" we mean that elements of the system (at a
number of different levels) need to be cleanly defined so that each
component, as far as is possible, stands alone and can be replaced
by other equivalent modules if desired. For example, modularity
would permit components that are oriented towards alphabet-oriented
languages such as French or Hebrew to be replaced by modules that
understand the needs of pictograph languages such as Chinese. It
would permit users who do not need what others consider key
components (such as word indexing) to still use effectively the
parts of the system they do need. New modules could be added that
would fit with existing elements. Interfaces between modules need to
be clearly defined so that output from one module can be passed to a
variety of alternative modules for continuing processing. By "open"
we mean that a complete specification of the system needs to be
accessible to all possible developers so that anyone with the
appropriate technical skills may add new components to the system.
Second, it needs to be word-oriented. Not all applications of this
system will focus on the words of the text (and indeed, as we have
already said, the system should be useful to those who do not turn
out to need its "word-oriented" features), but for much textual
research, the words are a key component. Users like systems that can
show them word lists, can provide word occurrence counts, and that
understand the rich set of word-related structures implied by such
notions as "part of speech", or "lemmatisation". Thus, although the
system should not be dependant on word-oriented tools, it is natural
that many of the tools and structures should be designed to support
a word-oriented view of the text, and that the design of the system
should be able to accommodate the need to represent these objects.
Third, it needs to be element-oriented -- to support highly
structured texts of the kind now available to us as a result of the
TEI. We have heard many papers at ALLC/ACH conferences past and
present from people preparing electronic editions who have taken
advantage of different parts of the TEI to identify a varying array
of complex textual objects within a text. There are far too few
tools that can do anything interesting with these objects once they
have been identified. Furthermore, we are beginning to see some
potential interest in new research which can be made possible by the
simultaneous handling of both much more complex word and element
structures in a single environment. An architecture is needed that
can bring together both element-oriented and word-oriented tools in
a single system.
Fourth, we believe that the full power of any new architecture must
rest in its ability to assist in not only "word searching" or "text
indexing", but in the support of the many other types of data
transformations that are key to supporting analysis of data --
whether or not the base data is word-oriented. Tools such as TuStep
have shown the potential power of a set of basic abstract tools;
none of which are specifically "word oriented", but which can be
combined together in many different ways to perform a wide range of
different functions.
Over the past year we have designed an architecture which is based on
the above assumptions and contains four parts:
(1) It contains a collection of textual objects that
represents, for a particular user, the text or set of texts
under study. These texts might well contain a rich markup of
the kind possible with the TEI markup scheme. Current
activities in the XML community have resulted in a serious
of standards which are close to meeting this requirement --
in particular the development of the Document Object Model
(DOM) which provides an object-oriented representation of an
XML document. The DOM provides a logical model of the
document that contains all relationships between its markup
and text data. Thus software components that use a DOM
representation of a text should be able to manipulate
elements within a text, determine reference identification
information based on mark-up, distinguish distinct tokens
according to mark-up that have identical token-strings in
the file, etc.
(2) It must also contain a collection of personal textual
enhancement objects which can store someone's personal
materials about the text. The architecture is designed so
that this set of objects could be "overlaid" on top of the
base text, allowing the user to modify or extend the objects
found in the DOM for the base text, as well as adding
entirely new elements to it. This separation of personal
textual enhancements from the base texts, plus the ability
to present a "combined view" when useful, offers additional
advantages -- in particular, it allows the base textual
objects and the personal materials to exist on different
machines. Furthermore, this model represents a kind of
"dynamic representation" that grows and changes each time
the results of the application of the analysis tools are
stored either as new data attached to existing nodes, or as
entirely new nodes and node structures.
(3) A further part of the environment will be the
collection of tools that work on this combined DOM
representation. As mentioned earlier, it was important to
think not only of text searching elements as the "tools".
Analysis also includes the manipulation and presentation of
data in a number of different ways so that patterns or
structures become more visible. Thus, a TA architecture
should support transformation tools that can accomplish this
task. Many existing programs offer one or two
transformation/presentation tools (a KWIC display is an
example), but few offer a rich enough set of tools to allow
users to design their own display. We believe that it is
important to modularise the process -- to break apart the
selection, transformation, and presentation elements so that
the user can "mix and match" components from perhaps
different software suppliers to meet their particular needs.
In order to understand better the potential of
modularisation we are examining a number of the
transformational tools in inherantly modular systems such as
TuStep and LT XML, but expect to derive tools also from work
currently being done in XML style sheets, extended pointers,
query languages and transformation objects.
(4) Finally, the environment must contain a framework in
which the user could combine the tools. This framework would
provide an operating environment in which the user could see
the texts, his/her local and remote toolset, and the results
of the application of the tools on the texts.

To us it seems obvious that a model of the DOM that is both
persistent and dynamic represents a key element of this proposal. We
will examine how recent developments and tools in the XML community
can be incorporated to support this model of an architecture. In
particular, several software implementations of the XML Domain
Object Model (DOM) will be discussed. We will describe a prototype
Java application that uses one of these to provide users with the
ability to browse the structure of an XML document and the words it
contains in a tightly-integrated manner.

A proposal for a Humanities Text Processing Protocol
Manfred Thaller

After almost a decade during which there seemed to be rather little
interest in the creation of Humanities software there are groups of
persons which are now actively interested in it. When we discuss a
"Humanities Software" project today the stress should be on the
possibilities of co-operation. Co-operation is most easily achieved
if people can work in their own environments and ignore their
partners - while still being sure that the result of their labours
will be ultimately able to fit together with the work of others.
To achieve the design of the "Humanities Software for the Future" we
need to make three sets of decisions:
Decisions about the functionality to be implemented.
Decisions about the software tools to be used.
Decisions about an infrastructure to enable different
solutions to communicate with each other.

The first of these decisions - functionality - will obviously be much
influenced by the Humanities background of different partners: what
is interesting for a literary scholar may be remote to the interests
of a historian and vice versa. Indeed, the choice of tools to be
used may even almost bring us to religious conflicts. There are many
valid reasons to use Delphi for the creation of applications, for
example, although some people will refuse even to look at it. There
are many reasons why C or C++ are highly attractive; and many people
will consider it offensive to be asked to go down to that level of
technical detail.
The infrastructure decision is so important exactly because different
people will tend to make different decisions in the first two: if we
reach agreement there, all the other questions can have multiple
answers and still result in software that can flourish side by side.
This third area, unfortunately, asks for questions which are rather
"hard core" in a technical sense. Only when we can agree completely
and in great detail what our programmes can expect from each other
can we can expect them to communicate.
To design software in such a way (that components produced by
independent parties can easily fit together) seems at first glance
to be to be a very difficult task -- particularly if there is to be
total freedom for individual parties to choose in which programming
languages the individual components can be programmed.
Once we acknowledge, however, that it is necessary to cope with the
task on a rather concrete technical level, then there are fairly
straightforward ways to achieve such interoperability. We propose
here the definition of such a system - usually called a protocol -
within which software components shall be able to communicate with
each other. A written draft for such a protocol will be available at
the presentation of this paper, the paper presented will focus on
the major design decisions involved.
The basic characteristics proposed are:
1. For communication between modules implementing
different functionality, text shall be represented as an
ordered series of tokens, where each token can carry an
arbitrarily complex set of attributes. Such an ordered set
of tokens is called a tokenset.
2. To support text transformations, where one token can be
converted into a set of logically equivalent ones (e.g.
cases where lemmatizers produce more than one possible
solution), we assume that a token is a non-ordered set of
strings (though most frequently a set with exactly one
3. Tokensets are recursive, i.e. the token of a tokenset
can be a tokenset in turn.
4. Strings are implemented in such a way that all
primitive functions for their handling (comparison,
concatenation etc.) are transparent for the constituent part
of a string. Such constituent parts can have different
character sizes (1 byte (=ASCII), 2 byte (= Unicode), 4 byte
(= chinese encoding schemes); they may also contain more
complex models representing textual properties, handled in a
lower level of processing capabilities.
5. The protocol provides tools for tokenisation.
Tokenisation is defined as the process of converting a
marked up text into the internal representation discussed
above. Tokenisation functions accept sets of tokenisation
rules together with input strings, which are than converted
into tokensets. (Note: Tokenisation obviously describes the
process of parsing, e.g. putting an SGML text into a form
where a browser can decide how to display the tokens found.
The proposed protocol does not define parsers or browsers as
such. It provides all the tools necessary to build one,
6. The protocol provides tools for navigation. A
navigation function selects, out of a set of tokensets,
those tokesets that either contain specified strings or
specified combinations of descriptive arguments.
7. The protocol provides tools for transformation. A
transformation function usually converts one token set into
another one. This means: word based transformations have
usually the context of the word available, when applying a
specific transformation.
8. The protocol provides tools for indexing. Indexing
includes support for all character modes described above. It
provides mechanisms for "fuzzified" indexing, i.e. for
working with keys which match only approximately, where the
rules for the required degree to which two keys have to
match in order to be considered identical are administered
at run time; or to put it another way: a created index can
be accessed with different degrees of precision being
applied, without having to rebuild the index.
9. The protocol provides tools for pattern matching,
including regular expressions, as well as a pattern
librarian for the administration of more complex patterns,
which can operate on the string level as well as on the
level of tokensets.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

June 9, 1999 - June 13, 1999

102 works by 157 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (19), ALLC/EADH (26), ACH/ALLC (11)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None