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EVALITA. Evaluation of NLP and Speech Tools for Italian

Pierpaolo Basile
Franco Cutugno
Malvina Nissim
et al.

Part II: EVALITA 2016: Task overviews and participants reports

sisinflab: an ensemble of supervised and unsupervised strategies for the NEEL-IT challenge at Evalita 2016

Vittoria Cozza, Wanda La Bruna et Tommaso Di Noia


This work presents the solution adopted by the sisinflab team to solve the task NEEL-IT (Named Entity rEcognition and Linking in Italian Tweets) at the Evalita 2016 challenge. The task consists in the annotation of each named entity mention in a Twitter message written in Italian, among characters, events, people, locations, organizations, products and things and the eventual linking when a corresponding entity is found in a knowledge base (e.g. DBpedia). We faced the challenge through an approach that combines unsupervised methods, such as DBpedia Spotlight and word embeddings, and supervised techniques such as a CRF classifier and a Deep learning classifier.

Texte intégral

1 Introduction

1In the interconnected world we live in, the information encoded in Twitter streams represents a valuable source of knowledge to understand events, trends, sentiments as well as userbehaviors. While processing these small text messages a key role is played by the entities which are named within the Tweet. Indeed, whenever we have a clear understanding of the entities involved in a context, a further step can be done by semantically enriching them via side information available, e.g., in the Web. To this aim, pure NER techniques show their limits as they are able to identify the category an entity belongs to but they cannot be used to find further information that can be used to enrich the description of the identified entity and then of the overall Tweet. This is the point where Entity Linking starts to play its role. Dealing with Tweets, as we have very short messages and texts with little context, the challenge of Named Entity Linking is even more tricky as there is a lot of noise and very often text is semantically ambiguous. A number of popular challenges on the matter currently exists, as those included in the SemEval series on the evaluatons of computational semantic analysis systems1 for English, the CLEF initiative2 that provides a crosslanguage evaluation forum or Evalita3 that aims to promote the development of language and speech technologies for the Italian language.

2Several state of the art solutions have been proposed for entity extraction and linking to a knowledge base (Shen et al., 2015) and many of them make use of the datasets available as Linked (Open) Data such as DBpedia or Wikidata (Gangemi, 2013). Most of these tools expose the best performances when used with long texts. Anyway, those approaches that perform well on newswire domain do not work as well in a microblog scenario. As analyzed in (Derczynski et al., 2015), conventional tools (i.e., those trained on newswire) perform poorly in this genre, and thus microblog domain adaptation is crucial for good NER. However, when compared to results typically achieved on longer news and blog texts, state-of-the-art tools in microblog NER still reach bad performance. Consequently, there is a significant proportion of missed entity mentions and false positives. In (Derczynski et al., 2015), the authors also show which tools are possible to extend and adapt to Twitter domain, for example DBpedia Spotlight.The advantage of Spotlight is that it allows users to customize the annotation task. In (Derczynski et al., 2015) the authors show Spotlight achieves 31.20% of F1 over a Twitter dataset.

3In this paper we present the solution we propose for the NEEL-IT task (Basile et al., 2016b) of Evalita 2016 (Basile et al., 2016a). The task consists of annotating each named entity mention (characters, events, people, locations, organizations, products and things) in an Italian Tweet text, linking it to DBpedia nodes when available or labeling it as NIL entity otherwise. The task consists of three consecutive steps: (1) extraction and typing of entity mentions within a tweet; (2) linking of each textual mention of an entity to an entry in the canonicalized version of DBpedia 2015-10 representing the same “real world” entity, or NIL in case such entry does not exist; (3) clustering of all mentions linked to NIL. In order to evaluate the results the TAC KBP scorer4 has been adopted. Our team solutions faces the above mentioned challenges by using an ensemble of state of the art approaches.

4The remainder of the paper is structured as follows: in Section 2 we introduce our strategy that combines DBpedia Spotlight-based and a machine learning-based solutions, detailed respectively in Section 2.1 and Section 2.2. Section 3 reports and discusses the challenge results.

2 Description of the system

5The system proposed for entity boundary and type extraction and linking is an ensemble of two strategies: a DBpedia Spotligth5-based solution and a machine learning-based solution, that exploits Stanford CRF6 and DeepNL7 classifiers. Before applying both approaches we pre-processed the tweets used in the experiments, by doing: (1) data cleaning consisting of replacing URLs with the keyword URL as well emoticons with EMO; This has been implemented with ad hoc rules; (2) sentence splitter and tokenizer, implemented by the well known linguistic pipeline available for the Italian language: “openNLP”8, with its corresponding binary models9.

2.1 Spotlight-based solution

6DBpedia Spotlight is a well known tool for entity linking. It allows a user to automatically annotate mentions of DBpedia resources in unstructured textual documents.

  • Spotting: recognizes in a sentence the phrases that may indicate a mention of a DBpedia resource.

  • Candidate selection: maps the spotted phrase to resources that are candidate disambiguations for that phrase.

  • Disambiguation: uses the context around the spotted phrase to decide for the best choice amongst the candidates.

7In our approach we applied DBpedia Spotlight (J. et al., 2013) in order to identify mention boundaries and link them to a DBpedia entity. This process makes possible to identify only those entities having an entry in DBpedia but it does not allow a system to directly identify entity types. According to the challenge guideline we required to identify entities that fall into 7 categories: Thing, Product, Person, Organization, Location, Event, Character and their subcategories. In order to perform this extra step, we used the “type detection” module, as shown in Figure 1 which makes use of a SPARQL query to extract ontological information from DBpedia. In detail we match the name of returned classes associated to an entity with a list of keywords related to the available taxonomy: Place, Organization (or Organisation), Character, Event, Sport, Disease, Language, Person, Music Group, Software, Service, Film, Television, Album, Newspaper, Electronic Device. There are three possible outcomes: no match, one match, more than one match. In the case we find no match we discard the entity while in case we have more than one match we choose the most specific one, according the NEEL-IT taxonomy provided for the challenge. Once we have an unique match we return the entity along with the new identified type.

8Since DBpedia returns entities classified with reference to around 300 categories, we process the annotated resources through the Type Detection Module to discard all those entities not falling in any of the categories of the NEEL-IT taxonomy. Over the test set, after we applied the Ontology-based type detection module, we discarded 16.9% of returned entities. In this way, as shown in Figure 1, we were able to provide an annotation (span, uri, type) as required by the challenge rules.

Figure 1: Spotlight based solution

Figure 1: Spotlight based solution

2.2 Machine learning based solution

9As summarized in Figure 2, we propose an ensemble approach that combines unsupervised and supervised techniques by exploiting a large dataset of unannotated tweets, Twita (Basile and Nissim, 2013) and the DBpedia knowledge base. We used a supervised approach for entity name boundary and type identification, that exploits the challenge data. Indeed the challenge organizers provided a training dataset consisted of 1,000 tweets in italian, for a total of 1,450 sentences. The training dataset were annotated with 801 gold annotations. Overall 526 over 801 were entities linked to a unique resource on DBpedia, the other were linked to 255 NIL clusters. We randomly split this training dataset in new train (70%) and validation (30%) set. In Table 1 we show the number of mentioned entities classified with reference to their corresponding categories. We then pre-processed the new train and the validation sets with the approach shortly described in Section 2 thus obtaining a corpus in IOB2-notation. The annotated corpus was then adopted for training and evaluating two classifiers, Stanford CRF(Finkel et al., 2005) and DeepNL(Attardi, 2015) as shown in Figure 2, in order to detect the span and the type of entity mention in the text.

Figure 2: Machine Learning based solution

Figure 2: Machine Learning based solution

Table 1: Dataset statistics









Training set









New train set









Validation set









10The module NERs Enabler & Merger aims to enabling the usage of one or both classifiers. When them both are enabled there can be a mention overlap in the achieved results. In order to avoid overlaps we exploited regular expressions. In particular, we merged two or more mentions when they are consecutive, and we choose the largest span mention when there is a containment. While with Spotlight we are allowed to find linked entities only, with this approach we can detect both entities that matches well known DBpedia resources and those that have not been identified by Spotlight (NIL). In this case given an entity spot, for entity linking we exploited DBpedia Lookup and string matching between mention spot and the labels associated to DBpedia entities. In this way we were able to find both entities along with their URIs, plus several more NIL entities. At this point, for each retrieved entity we have the span, the type (multiple types if CRF and DeepNL disagree) and the URI (see Figure 2) so we use a type detection/validation module for assigning the correct type to an entity. This module uses ad hoc rules for combining types obtained from the classifier with CRF, DeepNL classifier if they disagree and from DBpedia entity type, when the entity is not NIL. For all NIL entities, finally we cluster them, as required by the challenge, by simply clustering entities with the same type and surface form. We consider also surface forms that differ in case (lower and upper).

11CRF NER. The Stanford Named Entity Recognizer is based on the Conditional Random Fields (CRF) statistical model and uses Gibbs sampling for inference on sequence models(Finkel et al., 2005). This tagger normally works well enough using just the form of tokens as feature. This NER is a widely used machine learning-based method to detect named entities, and is distributed with CRF models for English newswire text. We trained the CRF classifier for Italian tweets with the new train data annotated with IOB notation, then we evaluate the results across the validation data, results are reported in Table 2. The results provided follow the CoNLL NER evaluation (Sang and Meulder, 2003) format that evaluates the results in term of Precision (P) and Recall (R). The F-score (F1) corresponds to the strong typed mention match in the TAC scorer. A manual error analysis showed that even identified. This is due of course to language ambiguity in a sentence. As an example, for a NER it is often hard to disambiguate between a person and an organization, or an event and a products are not. For this reason we applied a further type detection and validation module which allowed to combine, by ad hoc rules, the results obtained by the classifiers and the Spotlight-based approach previously described.

Table 2: CRF NER over the validation set when mentions are correctly detected, types are wrongly











































12DeepNL NER. DeepNL is a Python library for Natural Language Processing tasks based on a Deep Learning neural network architecture. The library currently provides tools for performing part-of-speech tagging, Named Entity tagging and Semantic Role Labeling. External knowledge and Named Entity Recognition World knowledge is often incorporated into NER systems using gazetteers: categorized lists of names or common words. The Deep Learning NLP NER exploits suffix and entities dictionaries and it uses word embedding vectors as main feature. The entity dictionary has been created by using the entity mention from the training set, and also the locations mentions provided by SENNA10. The suffix dictionary has been extracted as well from the training set with ad hoc scripts. Word embeddings were created using the Bag-of-Words (CBOW) model by (Mikolov et al., 2013) of dimension 300 with a window size of 5. In details we used the software word2vec available from​archive/​p/​word2vec/​, over a corpus of above 10 million of unlabeled tweets in Italian. In fact, the corpus consists of a collection of the Italian tweets produced in April 2015 extracted from the Twita corpus (Basile and Nissim, 2013) plus the tweets both from dev and test sets provided by the NEEL-IT challenge, all them pre-processed through our data preprocessing module, with a total of 11.403.536 sentences. As shown in Figure 3, we trained a DeepNL classifier for Italian tweets with the new train data annotated with IOB-2 notation then we evaluate the results across the validation data. Over the validation set we obtained an accuracy of 94.50%. Results are reported in Table 3.

Figure 3: DeepNL: Training phase

Figure 3: DeepNL: Training phase

Table 3: DeepNL NER over the validation set




































2.3 Linking

13For the purpose of accomplish the linking sub task, we investigated if a given spot, identified by the machine learning approach as an entity, has a corresponding link in DBpedia. A valid approach to link the names in our datasets to entities in DBpedia is represented by DBpedia Lookup11 (Bizer et al., 2009) which behaves as follows:

candidate entity generation. A dictionary is created via a Lucene index. It is built starting from the values of the property rdfs:label associated to a resource. Very interestingly, the dictionary takes into account also the Wikipedia:Redirect12 links.

candidate entity ranking. Results computed via a lookup in the dictionary are then weighted combining various string similarity metrics and a PageRank-like relevance rankings.

unlinkable mention prediction. The features offered by DBpedia Lookup to filter out resources from the candidate entities are: (i) selection of entities which are instances of a specific class via the QueryClass parameter; (ii) selection of the top N entities via the MaxHits parameter.

14As for the last step we used the Type Detection module introduced above, to select entities belonging only to those classes representative of the interest domain. We implemented other filters to reduce the number of false positives in the final mapping. As an example, we discard the results for the case of Person entity, unless the mention exactly matches the entity name. As a plus, for linking, we also used a dictionary made from the training set, where for a given surface form and a type it returns a correspondent URI, if already available in the labeled data.


15Computing canonicalized version. The link results obtained through Spotlight and Lookup or string match, refer to the Italian version of DBpedia. In order to canonicalized version as required by the task, we automatically found the corresponding canonicalized resource link for each Italian resource by means of the owl:sameAs property.

16As an example the triple dbpedia: Multiple_endocrine_neoplasia> owl:sameAs <​resource/​Neoplasia_endocrina_multipla> maps the Italian version of Neoplasia endocrina multipla to its canonicalized version. In a few cases we were not able to perform the match.

3 Results and Discussion

17In this section we report the results over the gold test set distibuted to the challenge participants, considering first 300 tweets only.

18In order to evaluate the task results, the 2016 NEEL-it challenge uses the TAC KBP scorer13. TAC KBP scorer evaluates the results according to the following metrics: mention ceaf, strong typed mention match and strong linked match.

19The overall score is a weighted average score computed as:

score = 0.4 · mention ceaf + 0.3 · strong link match +
+0.3 · strong typed mention match

20Our solution combines approaches presented in Section 2.1 and Section 2.2. For the 3 runs submitted for the challenge, we used the following configurations: run1 Spotlight with results coming from both CRF and DeepNL classifiers; run2 without CRF; run3 without DeepNL.

21As for CRF and DeepNL classifiers, we used a model trained with the whole training set provided by the challenge organizers. In order to ensemble the systems output we applied again the NERs Enabler & Merger module, presented in Section 2.2 that aims to return the largest number of entity annotations identified by the different systems without overlap. If one mention has been identified with more then one approach, and they disagree about the type, that returned by the Spotlight approach is chosen. Results for the different runs are shown in Table 4 together with the results of the best performing team of the challenge. In order to evaluate the contribution of the Spotlightbased approach to the final result, we evaluated the strong link match considering only the portion of link-annotation due to this approach over the challenge test set, see Table 5. We had a total of 140 links to Italian DBpedia, then following the approach described in Section 2.3 we obtained 120 links, 88 of which were unique. It was not possible to convert into DBpedia canonicalized version 20 links. Final results are summarized in Table 5. Looking at the Spotlight-based solution (row 1),

22compared with the ensemble solution (row 2) results, we saw a performance improvement. This means that machine learning-based approach allowed to identify and link entities that were not detected by Spotlight thus improving precision results. Moreover, combining the two approaches allowed the system, at the step of merging the overlapping span, for a better identification of entities. This behavior lead sometime to delete correct entities, but also to correctly detect errors produced by the Spotlight-based approach and, more generally, it improved recall results.

Table 4: Challenge results


























Best Team





Table 5: strong_link_match over the challenge gold test set (300 tweets)













23In the current entity linking literature, mention detection and entity disambiguation are frequently cast as equally important but distinct problems. However, in this task, we find that mention detection often represents a bottleneck. In mention ceaf detection, our submission results show that CRF NER worked slightly better then Deep NER, as already showed in the experiments over the validation set in Section 2.2. Anyway according to experiments in (Derczynski et al., 2015) with a similar dataset and a smaller set of entities, we expected better results from CRF NER. A possible explanation is that errors are due also to the larger number of types to detect as well as to a wrong recombination of overlapping mentions, that has been addressed using simple heuristics.


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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Spotlight based solution
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Titre Figure 2: Machine Learning based solution
Fichier image/jpeg, 332k
Titre Figure 3: DeepNL: Training phase
Fichier image/jpeg, 160k


Polytechnic University of Bari via Orabona, 4, 70125, Bari, Italy -

Polytechnic University of Bari via Orabona, 4, 70125, Bari, Italy -


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