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Proceedings of the Third Italian Conference on Computational Linguistics CLiC-it 2016

Anna Corazza
Simonetta Montemagni
Giovanni Semeraro

Taming Sense Sparsity: a Common-Sense Approach

Antonio Lieto, Enrico Mensa et Daniele P. Radicioni


We present a novel algorithm and a linguistic resource named CLOSEST after ‘Common SEnse STrainer’. The resource contains a list of the main senses associated to a given term, and it was obtained by applying a simple set of pruning heuristics to the senses provided in the NASARI vectors for the set of 15K most frequent English terms. The preliminary experimentation provided encouraging results.

In questo lavoro presentiamo un algoritmo e una risorsa linguistica, ClOSeSt, che contiene i sensi più rilevanti per i 15K termini più frequenti del dizionario inglese. L’algoritmo implementato utilizza una risorsa esistente che codifica conoscenza di tipo enciclopedico, e poggia sulla nozione di senso comune per filtrare i possibili sensi associati a ciascun termine. La valutazione preliminare ha fornito risultati incoraggianti in merito alla qualità dei sensi estratti.

Texte intégral

1 Introduction

1Many NLP tasks involve word sense disambiguation (WSD) and word sense induction (WSI), and require using lexical resources such as WordNet (Miller, 1995) and BabelNet (Navigli and Ponzetto, 2010) that provide a rich mapping of terms (or word forms) onto the corresponding senses (word meanings). These widely used resources provide in fact subtle distinctions between the possible senses of a term. It is largely acknowledged that while fine-grained sense distinctions are necessary for some precise tasks (such as machine translation), for other sorts of applications (such as text categorization and information extraction) coarse-grained sense inventories are preferable (Palmer et al., 2004). In these cases, fine-grained distinctions may be unnecessary and even detrimental to WSD and WSI, so that in the last few years many efforts concentrated on clustering senses. Most works focused on producing coarser-grained sense inventories, to the ends of grouping together the closest (partially overlapped) senses of a word; to these ends, various techniques have been carried out, that are briefly surveyed in Section 2.

2Differently from existing approaches, we propose a simple yet effective method that relies on recently developed resources that are assumed to also grasp common-sense knowledge (Camacho-Collados et al., 2015; Lieto et al., 2016a), which is assumed to be both widely accessible and elementary knowledge (Minsky, 2000), and to reflect typicality traits encoded as prototypical knowledge (Rosch, 1975). The research question presently addressed is thus: To what extent can we individuate few principal —common-sense— senses for a term, and in how far is it possible to approximate human performance? Although it is known that even human annotators provide quite different response when annotating text with senses (Palmer et al., 2004), we presently explore the hypothesis that wide-coverage resources are sufficient to individuate the main senses associated to English terms.

2 Related Work

3In order to attain coarse-grained senses, different approaches have been proposed, based on some sort of semantic underspecification (Buitelaar, 2000; Ng et al., 2003; Palmer et al., 2007), on existing dictionaries and on exploiting handcrafted sense hierarchies (Navigli, 2006), on syntactic and semantic properties (such as selectional restrictions on verb arguments) (Artale et al., 1998; Palmer et al., 2004), on linguistically motivated heuristics (Mihalcea and Moldovan, 2001), or on distributional similarity among word senses (Agirre and De Lacalle, 2003). Further approaches have been proposed that rely on an adjustable nearest neighbour schema for clustering senses according to the sense granularity actually required by the application at hand (McCarthy, 2006). A popular testbed for experimenting these and other approaches is represented by the sense-annotated corpora Senseval-2 and 3 (Edmonds and Cotton, 2001; Mihalcea and Edmonds, 2004). The problem of annotating a term with the appropriate sense is a challenging one, to such an extent that by no means “two lexicographers working independently are guaranteed to derive the same set of distinctions for a given word” (Palmer et al., 2004). It has been raised that this issue can be overcome to some extent by adopting a more flexible annotation schema, where senses are described in a graded fashion: in this way, the applicability of a sense can be assessed on an ordinal scale, rather than in ‘crisp’ fashion. This sort of annotation would allow to better interpret human annotations, in particular for coarse-grained groups (Erk et al., 2013). A related and complementary issue is that of clusterability, that measures in how far word meanings can be partitioned. In this setting, whereas highly clusterable lemmas can be grouped based on traditional clustering techniques, less clusterable lemmas require more sophisticated soft-clustering algorithms to computational systems, and more time and expertise to human annotators (McCarthy et al., 2016).

  • 1 The integration of different semantic models such as CSs and the distributional semantics underly (...)

4This work is framed in the context of a longterm project aimed at investigating conceptual categorization (Lieto et al., 2015; Lieto et al., 2016b) based on a hybrid strategy (Evans and Frankish, 2009) complementing formal ontologies with the geometrical framework of Conceptual Spaces (CS) (Gärdenfors, 2014). In particular, we are building a knowledge base to collect conceptual information encoded in a CS-based representational format to provide a uniform interface between the linguistic and the conceptual level, where CSs representations are fully endowed with BabelNet identifiers (Lieto et al., 2016a)1. This trait will make it possible to link the present work to existing initiatives like Senso Comune (Oltramari and Vetere, 2008; Chiari et al., 2010), that provides about 2000 fundamental Italian terms (De Mauro, 1999) with an ontological description.

3 The CLOSEST Algorithm

5The rationale underlying the CLOSEST algorithm is that the main (most frequent) senses gained more room than marginal senses in our lexical and conceptual system and in general in our utterances. This phenomenon determines words and phrases availability and saliency (Vossen and Fellbaum, 2009), that are arguably grasped by encyclopedic resources, as well. Herein, more central senses are typically featured by richer (i.e., longer vectors) and less specific information, richer semantic connections with other concepts, and heavier feature weights. Although it may happen that some sense spans over (or even subsumes) another one, we are not primarily trying to cluster senses in agglomerative fashion, e.g., by resorting to some superclass of the considered concept; rather, we select the most relevant ones (a term is seldom associated to more than few, say three or four, senses) and we discard the other ones.

  • 2 The present investigation is restricted to nouns, but no theoretical limitation prevents us from ex (...)

6The CLOSEST algorithm takes in input a term t and provides a set of possibly related senses2. The algorithm first retrieves the set of senses S = {s1, s2,..., sn} that are possibly associated to t:

such set is obtained by directly querying NASARI. The output of the algorithm is a result set Image 10000000000000360000001408C08771.jpg. In order to attain Image 100000000000001B000000141E817FA0.jpg we devised a process of incremental filtering, that is arranged into two main phases:

  1. LS-Pruning. Pruning of less salient senses: senses with associated poor information are eliminated. Senses salience is determined both in absolute terms and in relation to the most salient sense.

  2. OL-Pruning. Pruning of overlapping senses: if senses with significant overlap are found, the less salient sense is pruned.

7Senses are represented as NASARI vectors, that are the vectorial counterpart of BabelNet synsets; concepts (basically, WordNet synsets and Wikipedia pages) are described through vector representations, whose features are synset IDs themselves. Feature weights are computed

8through the metrics of lexical specificity, by exploiting a semantics-based dimensionality reduction (Camacho-Collados et al., 2015). Each sense is associated with exactly one NASARI vector, so that pruning a sense amounts to pruning a vector.

LS-Pruning. To analyze the senses in S, we inspect each vector Image 100000000000001A000000144E2DC6B0.jpg related to sense s for the term t. The first pruning occurs when no enough information is found, that is when Image 100000000000001A000000144E2DC6B0.jpg contains less than a fixed number of elements (Table 1). Then, in order to determine the next vectors to be pruned, we compute the weight of each vector Image 100000000000003900000014F0B31164.jpg, the longest vector and the heaviest one among those associated with Image 100000000000003900000014A2C5A82F.jpg and Image 100000000000002A00000014116C6F19.jpg, respectively). The weight of a NASARI vector Image 100000000000003900000014F0B31164.jpg is computed by averaging the weight of the features (i.e., the synsets) contained herein. The definitions for these measures are illustrated in Equations 1–3.

Image 10000000000001270000007A485E864D.jpg

The decision on whether to prune or not a vector is based on a simple criterion: Image 1000000000000046000000148306A9A0.jpg is pruned if both its length is below a given fraction of the length of the longest one Image 100000000000002600000014D808CA0A.jpg, and its weight is lower than a given fraction of the heaviest one, Image 1000000000000028000000142E4D936E.jpg. The parameter settings adopted in the present work are illustrated in Table 1.

OL-Pruning. The second phase of the algorithm aims at detecting overlapped senses. The overlap between vectors that survived the LS-Pruning is computed thanks to the information provided in NASARI. The heuristics used in this phase is as follows: the overlap between two vectors Image 100000000000004F00000014C1A76CE4.jpg is computed as a fraction of the length of the shortest vector between the two considered, as indicated in Equation 4).

Image 100000000000013B0000002C671F5C4D.jpg

The overlapping is checked for every pair Image 10000000000000300000001414CCDB81.jpg (with i j) and when an overlap is detected higher than a fixed threshold (see Table 1), the shortest vector between the two is pruned.

At the end of this phase, we have the set Image 100000000000001B000000141E817FA0.jpg where only the most salient vectors survived and where, among overlapped vectors, the most salient one has been retained.

3.1 Building the CLOSEST resource

9Overall the system handled about 2.69M NASARI vectors. Some 207K vectors associated to Named Entities were discarded, as not directly related to common-sense concepts; the remaining vectors contained overall 6.9M unique words.

10The top (most frequent) 15K nouns were extracted from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) which has been built from composite and balanced sources, including spoken, fiction, magazine, newspaper, academic text3. Over 6K terms were discarded, since they are associated in NASARI either to 1 sense (about 1K terms) or to no sense at all (over 5K terms), which actually reduced the input size to about 8.7K terms; overall 32.6K senses were retrieved (on average, 3.7 senses per term), corresponding to such input terms.

The figures featuring the processing phases are reported in Table 1: over 4K senses were filtered in the first step of the LS-Pruning phase, based on the length of the vector Image 100000000000001A000000144E2DC6B0.jpg, and 7.4K senses were further discarded in the second step. Finally, in the OL-Pruning phase, 5.6K vectors were canceled based on overlapping accounts, thus overall yielding 17.5K deleted and 15.1K survived vectors4. The polysemy rate was reduced from the

113.74 senses per term initially featuring NASARI down to 1.73 senses per term, which is in line with the degree of polysemy detected in the Collins English Dictionary for English nouns by WordNet authors (Fellbaum, 1990).

4 Evaluation

12A preliminary experimentation has been devised to assess the correctness and completeness of the extracted senses: that is, the question addressed was whether i) all senses extracted for the input term are salient (and actually judged as the main senses), and ii) all the relevant senses were preserved in CLOSEST. To these ends, 15 volunteers were recruited and interviewed through an on-line questionnaire to evaluate, on a human commonsense judgement basis, the set of senses extracted by the system for 20 terms.

Table 1: Pruning of senses in the three steps, along with the number of senses pruned at each step.

Image 1000000000000B5D00000313C9C53C64.jpg

  • 5 The full list of the considered terms includes: time, side, education, type, officer, ability, netw (...)

13Stimuli. The list of 20 terms was algorithmically selected from the aforementioned COCA corpus (see footnote 3) by selecting terms herein with index 1, 51, 101, and so forth. In this way we selected highly frequent terms that are expected to be part of common-sense for those who participated in our experimentation5.

14Experimental design and procedure. The participants were asked a) to assess each and every sense extracted by the system and associated to each input term by indicating whether it was acceptable as one of the principal senses for the term at hand. Additionally, they were requested b) to indicate any further sense they reputed essential in order to complete the common-sense pool of senses for the given term.

15Results. Overall 42 senses (corresponding to the 20 mentioned terms) were assessed through the experimentation: each sense was rated 15 times, thus resulting in 630 judgements: 24% of senses were not found appropriate, according to a common-sense judgement, thereby determining a 76% accuracy as regards as question a). However, if we consider senses refused by at least 10 participants, only 5 senses were refused (12%), that actually correspond to very specific senses (e.g., the sense ‘Net (textile)’ for the term ‘network’; ‘Session (Presbyterianism)’, ‘session house’ for the term ‘session’).

16As regards as question b), results are more difficult to interpret, due to the sparsity of the answers: out of the 59 added senses, only in 8 cases the added sense has been indicated by two or three participants (and never more): in such cases it emerged, for example, that the sense ‘manners’ was relevant (and missing, in the CLOSEST resource) for the input term ‘education’; the sense ‘social network’ is relevant for the term ‘network’; and ‘meeting’ for ‘session’.

17However, although encouraging results emerged from the experimentation, further experiments are needed to assess the CLOSEST resource in a more extensive and principled way, also in consideration of the many factors that were presently neglected, such as, e.g., age, education, occupation of the participants, their native language, etc..

5 Conclusions

  • 6 An interesting question may be raised on this point, about the conceptual alignment in a inter-ling (...)

18In this paper we have illustrated the CLOSEST algorithm to extract the most salient (under the common-sense perspective) senses associated to a given term; also, we have introduced the CLOSEST resource, which has been built by starting from the 15K top frequency English terms. The resource currently provides senses in a flat manner, but, if required, senses can be organized in a sorted fashion by extending the metrics used for filtering. Our work relies on a recently developed resource such as NASARI that is multilingual in nature6. nConsequently, different from most previous approaches, CLOSEST can be linked to various existing resources aimed at grasping common-sense to complete the ideal chain connecting lexicon, semantics and formal (ontological) description. The experimentation revealed a reasonable agreement with human responses, and pointed out some difficulties in fully assessing this sort of resource. These issues, along with improvements to the heuristics implemented by the algorithm and a different evaluation based on a shared NLP task, will be addressed in future work.


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1 The integration of different semantic models such as CSs and the distributional semantics underlying NASARI is still an open issue; we provided an initial solution to this problem in (Lieto et al., 2016a).

2 The present investigation is restricted to nouns, but no theoretical limitation prevents us from extending the approach to verbs and adjectives.


4 CLOSEST is available at

5 The full list of the considered terms includes: time, side, education, type, officer, ability, network, shoulder, threat, investigation, gold, claim, learning, session, aid, emergency, bowl, pepper, milk, resistance. The printed version of the online questionnaire is available at the URL

6 An interesting question may be raised on this point, about the conceptual alignment in a inter-linguistic perspective, which is a well-known issue, e.g., for applications in the legal field (Ajani et al., 2010).


Dipartimento di Informatica Università degli Studi di Torino, Corso Svizzera 185, 10149 – Torino ITALY -

Dipartimento di Informatica Università degli Studi di Torino, Corso Svizzera 185, 10149 – Torino ITALY -

Dipartimento di Informatica Università degli Studi di Torino, Corso Svizzera 185, 10149 – Torino ITALY -


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