on the meaning of 'word sense'

Date: Wed, 3 May 1995 09:51:55 +0500
From: presnik@caesar.East.Sun.COM (Philip Resnik - Sun Microsystems Labs BOS)
To: haines@ISI.edu
Cc: corpora@lists.uib.no
Subject: on the meaning of 'word sense'

Matthew Haines (haines@ISI.edu) wrote:
>   Even when I sat down with the students and asked them to reconcile their 
>   differences, they eventually just threw up their hands and declared that
>   either (1) the word was ambiguous, or (2) neither sense carried the exact
>   meaning of the word.  The second response I attribute to attempting to 
>   shoe-horn Japanese into English sense divisions.  But the first case often
>   was simply a problem of demanding too much specificity out of a word.

One of the possible advantages of WordNet in this context is that higher-level
categories can be chosen as sense/semantic labels if the lower-level
categories are too specific.  To take Ted Dunning's case of "stock" as an
example, WordNet 1.4 distinguishes sense 5, 

  stock, caudex => stalk, stem => plant organ => plant part => part => natural
  object => object, inanimate object, physical object => entity
from sense 6

  stock => plant part => part => natural object => object, inanimate object,
  physical object => entity.

Distinguishing these might well be a case of demanding too much specificity,
but there is an alternative: the taxonomic structure of WordNet affords the
possibility of tagging an instance of "stock" with the synset {plant_part}.
More generally, it seems to me that sticking rigidly to the traditional notion
of "sense discrimination" --- assigning labels like BANK1 and BANK2, or just
immediate synsets in the WordNet context --- might be leading us down the
garden path.  What seems far more relevant is an expression of semantic
categorization for a word (of which sense disambiguation is a proper subset),
at the appropriate level of abstraction for the task one is interested in.


  Philip Resnik                           E-mail: philip.resnik@east.sun.com
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