Team, Visitors, External Collaborators
Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: Research Program

Research strands

As described above, ALMAnaCH's scientific programme is organised around three research axes. The first two aim to tackle the challenge of language variation in two complementary directions. They are supported by a third, transverse research axis on language resources. Our four-year objectives are described in much greater detail in the project-team proposal, whose very recent final validation in June 2019 resulted in the upgrade of ALMAnaCH to the “project-team” status in July 2019. They can be summarised as follows:

Research axis 1


Our first objective is to stay at a state-of-the-art level in key NLP tasks such as shallow processing, part-of-speech tagging and (syntactic) parsing, which are core expertise domains of ALMAnaCH members. This will also require us to improve the generation of semantic representations (semantic parsing), and to begin to explore tasks such as machine translation, which now relies on neural architectures also used for some of the above-mentioned tasks. Given the generalisation of neural models in NLP, we will also be involved in better understanding how such models work and what they learn, something that is directly related to the investigation of language variation (Research axis 2). We will also work on the integration of both linguistic and non-linguistic contextual information to improve automatic linguistic analysis. This is an emerging and promising line of research in NLP. We will have to identify, model and take advantage of each type of contextual information available. Addressing these issues will enable the development of new lines of research related to conversational content. Applications include improved information and knowledge extraction algorithms. We will especially focus on challenging datasets such as domain-specific texts (e.g. financial, legal) as well as historical documents, in the larger context of the development of digital humanities. We currently also explore the even more challenging new direction of a cognitively inspired NLP, in order to tackle the possibility to enrich the architecture of state-of-the-art algorithms, such as RNNGs, based on human neuroimaging-driven data.

Research axis 2


Language variation must be better understood and modelled in all its forms. In this regard, we will put a strong emphasis on four types of language variation and their mutual interaction: sociolinguistic variation in synchrony (including non-canonical spelling and syntax in user-generated content), complexity-based variation in relation to language-related disabilities, and diachronic variation (computational exploration of language change and language history, with a focus on Old to all forms of Modern French, as well as Indo-European languages in general). In addition, the noise introduced by Optical Character Recognition and Handwritten Text Recognition systems, especially in the context of historical documents, bears some similarities to that of non-canonical input in user-generated content (e.g. erroneous characters). This noise constitutes a more transverse kind of variation stemming from the way language is graphically encoded, which we call language-encoding variation. Other types of language variation will also become important research topics for ALMAnaCH in the future. This includes dialectal variation (e.g. work on Arabic varieties, something on which we have already started working, producing the first annotated data set on Maghrebi Arabizi, the Arabic variants used on social media by people from North-African countries, written using a non-fixed Latin-script transcription) as well as the study and exploitation of paraphrases in a broader context than the above-mentioned complexity-based variation.

Both research axes above rely on the availability of language resources (corpora, lexicons), which is the focus of our third, transverse research axis.

Research axis 3


Language resource development (raw and annotated corpora, lexical resources) is not just a necessary preliminary step to create both evaluation datasets for NLP systems and training datasets for NLP systems based on machine learning. When dealing with datasets of interest to researchers from the humanities (e.g. large archives), it is also a goal per se and a preliminary step before making such datasets available and exploitable online. It involves a number of scientific challenges, among which (i) tackling issues related to the digitalisation of non-electronic datasets, (ii) tackling issues related to the fact that many DH-related datasets are domain-specific and/or not written in contemporary languages; (iii) the development of semi-automatic and automatic algorithms to speed up the work (e.g. automatic extraction of lexical information, low-resource learning for the development of pre-annotation algorithms, transfer methods to leverage existing tools and/or resources for other languages, etc.) and (iv) the development of formal models to represent linguistic information in the best possible way, thus requiring expertise at least in NLP and in typological and formal linguistics. Such endeavours are domains of expertise of the ALMAnaCH team, and a large part of our research activities will be dedicated to language resource development. In this regard, we aim to retain our leading role in the representation and management of lexical resource and treebank development and also to develop a complete processing line for the transcription, analysis and processing of complex documents of interest to the humanities, in particular archival documents. This research axis 3 will benefit the whole team and beyond, and will benefit from and feed the work of the other research axes.