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The VISL Constraint Grammer Parser "vislcg"


This document describes the similarities and differences between CG-2
and the vislcg Constraint Grammar parser. It is not, in its current form, 
intended as an introduction, tutorial, or reference to the CG formalism.
Please refer to [Tappanainen] Speed

vislcg is not designed for speed but performs reasonably well. 
On a Pentium II class PC, it disambiguates 
at about 1600 words per second using a morphological disambiguation grammar 
for Danish with about 1000 rules. This is about 16% the speed of CG-2 on the 
same platform, with the same rules and the same input. 

1.1.2. Input and output

Input and output conventions are compatible with CG-2, except where
SGML tags are concerned (see 1.3).

The parser works on cohorts, readings, and tags.

 - Cohorts represent word-forms or punctuation symbols and their possible 
readings. A Cohort is represented by a line containing the word-form, followed
by any number of lines, each representing a possible reading of the cohort. 
It is possible for a cohort to have no readings (such as punctuation symbols).
 - Readings are the alternative analyses of the word-form of a cohort. Each 
reading describes the base-form of the word and any number of morphological, 
syntactical, semantical, or other tags. Conventionally, the first tag in a
reading is the base-form of the word-form. The first tag of a reading must be
preceeded by one or more tab or space characters to distinguish it from the
first line of a cohort.
 - In the input, any string of non-space characters is considered a tag. 
Using any of the characters #;=()| in a tag makes it invalid.

Example input:

        "der" <rel> INDP nG nN NOM
        "der" <aloc> ADV
        "være" <x+PCP2> <vK> <v-med> <til^vp> V IMPF AKT
        "var" ADJ nG S IDF NOM
        "var" <deadj> ADV
        "vare" <event> <vt+TID> <va> <vi-ved> V IMP
        "engang" <atemp> ADV
        "engang" KS
        "en" ART UTR S IDF
        "en" NUM UTR S
        "én" PERS 3S ACC
        "bog-1" <semio> <+om> N UTR S IDF NOM
        "bog-2" N UTR S IDF NOM
        "bog-2" N UTR P IDF NOM
        "boge" V IMP

1.3. SGML tags and comments

vislcg does not currently support SGML tags in the input stream.

1.4.1. Modules

There are no separate parsers for different approaches or behaviors.
The behavior of the vislcg parser is controlled by command line 
parameters (flags).

1.4.2. Flags

The command vislcg --help will list all supported parameters and flags, 
and a brief description of each:

        Test the syntax of the rules file and exit before performing any
        mappings or disambiguations.

        Run compiler in debug mode.

--grammar=rulesfile or --grammar rulesfile
        Specifies which rules file to use.
        This option must be specified if any parsing is to be done.

        Print this text.

        Equivalent to --verbosity=minimal

        Do not apply any correction rules.

        Do not apply any mapping rules. This corresponds to CG-2's dis module

--prefix=marker or --prefix marker
        This changes the special marker for ambiguity and mappings.
        The marker may be more than one character.
        The default marker is the '@' character.

        Do not output any messages. This option overrides any debug and
        trace options.

        Attempt to reorder rules in a way similar to CG-2, using
        PREFERRED-TARGETS and rules of thumb.
        [ The default is to apply rules in the strict order they appear
        in the rules file and ignore PREFERRED-TARGETS ]

--sections=n or --sections n
        This sets the number (n) of CONSTRAINT sections that are applied.
        The default is to apply all sections.

        Equivalent to --trace-mappings --trace-constraints.

        Trace which constraints were applied and the order of application.

        Trace which mappings were applied and the order of application.

        Allow the compiler to remove the last reading of a cohort.

        Equivalent to --verbosity=verbose

--verbosity=level or --verbosity level
        This option causes extra or less information to be printed in trace
        mode. Valid levels are:
        'minimal' - Line numbers of applied rules are attached to the output
                    cohorts. The output in minimal mode is similar to that
                    of CG-2's mdis.trace module.
        'normal'  - Instead of attaching line numbers to readings, each rule
                    (the full specification - not just the line number) is
                    printed each time it is applied.
                    [ 'normal' is the DEFAULT trace mode verbosity.]
        'verbose' - As normal mode, but the cohort to which each rule was
                    applied is printed as well. This will also cause vislcg
                    to print all sets, mappings and constraints before
                    processing any input.

2.1. Sections of the rule file

CONSTRAINTS may be repeated any number of times.

The CORRECTIONS section is a vislcg-specific extension of the CG
formalism. See section 2.1.5a. ans 2.5a. for details.

The minimal set of sections in a rule file is:






2.1.5a. Section: CORRECTIONS

The correction rules handle lexical or other errors by substituting
some tags with others in readings or appending new readings to
cohorts. All corrections are applied after mappings, but before


A SUBSTITUTE operation replaces tags with other tags in a reading.

General form:

"<wordform>" SUBSTITUTE (tag1 tag2 ...) (tag3 tag4 ...) TARGET (tag5
tag6 ...) IF (context1) (context2) ... ;

The first list of tags (tag1 tag2 ...) is the list of tags to remove from the
targetted reading. The second tag list (tag3 tag4 ...) is the list of
tags to insert into the reading.

If the contextual tests hold, any tag in the removal list
that appears in the reading are deleted from the reading. Note that the
tags in the removal list must be in the same order as those in the reading.

The list of insertions is then inserted into the reading in place of
the lastly removed tag. Note that the insertion will take place if
just one of the tags in the removal list appeared in the reading. 

Often, the tags in the removal list should also appear in the target
of the rule.


An APPEND operation adds an entire reading (a new line) - not just a
sequence of tags as  ADD and MAP operations do. No TARGET is used as
APPEND does not address individual readings but an entire cohort (of

General form:

"<wordform>" APPEND  ("baseform" tag1 tag2)  IF (context1) (context2)
... ;


     # Remove the tags A and B from the target reading and insert the tag C.
     "<something>" SUBSTITUTE (A B) (C) TARGET (D) ;

     # Append the reading "another" A B C to cohorts with the wordform
     # "<another>" in the given context
     "<another>" APPEND ("another" A B C) IF (1 (D)) ;


 - The keyword CORRECTIONS begins the section.
 - A correction rule is a list of items separated by blanks. The items
    1. an optional wordform,
    2. the SUBSTITUTE keyword,
    3. a removal tag list,
    4. an insertion tag list,
    5. an optional keyword TARGET,
    6. a target tag (or set),
    7. an optional keyword IF,
    8. possibly several contextual tests.
    1. an optional wordform,
    2. the APPEND keyword,
    3. an insertion tag list,
    4. an optional keyword IF,
    5. possibly several contextual tests.
 - The list may extend over several lines.
 - The correction rule is terminated by the semicolon ";".
 - There may be several correction rules.
 - Comments may be added anywhere. The number-sign "#" begins a comment which 
   then continue to the end of the line.

2.2. Symbols

2.2.3 Positions

vislcg supports all the position and search features of CG-2:

 - Relative position: 
      0 = same cohort.
      1 = the next cohort to the right.
     -2 = the second cohort to the left.
 - Absolute position:
     @1 = the first cohort in the context.
    @-2 = the second to last cohort in the context.
 - Search:
     *1 = search right.
    *-1 = search left.
    *-2 = search left, starting from the second cohort to the left.
 - Continous search: (NOTE: see
    **1 = search right, handling links specially.
   **-1 = search left, handling links specially.
   **-2 = search left, starting from the second cohort to the left,
          handling links specially.
 - Careful mode:
   Any position followed by the letter C will cause "careful" checking, 
   i.e. every reading of the cohort has to belong to the given set.
   E.g.: (-1C (P)) will test whether all readings of the preceding
   cohort is P.

2.3.5. Set operations Intersection of sets (+) 

     SET I = S1 + S2 ;

The + operation is subtly different from the way CG-2 behaves. 
In vislcg, the + operator does not make the Cartesian product of the
two operand sets, but instead asserts that to be a member
of the set I, a reading must be a member of both S1 and S2. This means that
the + operation in vislcg is properly the intersection operation, not the 
Cartesian product or concatenation. 

Sets constructed using the + operator in rules written for CG-2 
should behave identically when used in vislcg and CG-2. 

However, there may be subtle differences.

In vislcg, the following two sets are equivalent:

     SET I1 = (A B) + (C D) ;
     SET I2 = (C D) + (A B) ;

Because the + operation is the intersection operation in vislcg, the following
readings will all be members of both I1 and I2:

        A B C D
	C D A B
	A C D B

[ Note the reading A C D B. It is a member because it matches both (A B) and
  (C D). A D C B wouldn't be a member; it matches (A B) but not (C D). ]

In CG-2, because the + operation is the concatenation operation,
the two sets are not equivalent. Only the reading A B C D is a member of I1 
and only C D A B is a member of I2. Precedence

Operator precedence for set operations are as described for CG-2:

 1. + and - from left to right;
 2. OR.

2.3.6. Ambiguity Class (AND)

The ambiguity class operation (AND) is not supported by vislcg. 
To achieve the same effect that A AND N has in CG-2, use A LINK 0 N.

2.4.2. Operations

The IFF operation is not supported.

2.4.4. Contextual tests

The handling of contextual tests is intended to be 
consistent with CG-2's behavior, but currently handles 
linked, careful, continous searches subtly different.

Testing wordforms:
Contextual test are tested against the wordforms of cohorts, too. 
Here, the wordform is interpreted as a reading with one tag: the wordform.
E.g.: The test (1 ("<$.>")) will match a cohort which is a full stop. Same position

It _is_ possible in vislcg to have more than one contextual test
for each position, e.g. the tests (1 A) (1 B) are legal in the same rule. 
This is contrary to CG-2, and no warning will be given. Complement

In negated contextual tests, such as 

     (NOT context0 LINK context1 LINK context2)

the negation is applied last and the rule is interpreted as

     ! (context0 && (context1 && context2)) /* C or Perl-like syntax */

[Tapanainen; 2.4.5. page 33]: "Here, the negation is applied last".

In negated LINKed contexts, such as 

     (context0 LINK NOT context1 LINK context2)

the negation is applied only to context1, not to "context1 LINK context2"
I.e.: the LINK to context2 will only be tested if context0 matches /and/ 
the linked context1 does not. The above context test is therefore 
interpreted as 

     context0 && ( (!context1) && context2)

Combining the two above cases, the contextual test

     (NOT context0 LINK NOT context1 LINK context2)

is interpreted as 

     ! (context0 && ( (!context1) && context2))

2.4.5. Linking

Careful LINKs are supported, as well as the negated links mentioned above.

     (*1 VFIN LINK 0C P)
     The next cohort to the right which has a reading belonging to the set
     VFIN is unambigously P.

The above test is NOT equivalent to either

     (*1C VFIN + P)
     To the right, there is a cohort which is unambigously both VFIN and P.


     (*1C VFIN LINK 0 P)
     The next cohort to the right which is unambigously VFIN
     also has a reading which is P.

or even (also with a careful link)

     (*1C VFIN LINK 0C P)
     The next occurrence of unambigous VFIN to the right is also
     unambigously P.

LINKs may be both careful and negated.

     (*1 A LINK NOT 1C B)
     The next occurrence of A to the right is immidiately followed by a
     cohort which is not unambigously B. Continuous search

Continuous search is subtly different from CG-2.


     (**1C A LINK 1 B)
     There is a cohort to the right which is unambigously A and
     followed by a cohort with a reading that is B.

This seems to be inconsistent with CG-2 [Tapanainen, 2.4.5. p.33]: 
"In careful mode, scanning stops at the first occurrence of A where the linked 
tests hold, i.e. the rule means that the next occurrence of A followed by B is 
unambigously A." 

In vislcg, scanning will not stop at the first occurrence of A followed by B. 
In continous search, the LINK will never be tested unless the preceeding 
test (1C A) holds, even in careful mode.

In visl-cg, but not in CG-2, the following input should satisfy the above 
contextual test (the target of the rule being the reading of "<0>"):


2.5a. Corrections

A correction rule modifies the information in the readings. Most often, this
will be used to recover lexical errors.

2.5a.1. Correction Operations

There are two operations for correction rules.

 - The SUBSTITUTE operation removes specific tags from a reading and inserts 
new ones. A schematic SUBSTITUTE rule is

     IF (TEST1) (TEST2) ... ;

The removal and insertion parts of a substitute rule are lists of tags. If the
target reading has one or more of the removal tags, these will be removed from 
the reading and replaced by the insertion tags.

 - The APPEND operation appends a new reading to a cohort. A schematic APPEND
rule is


The APPEND operation does not take a target because it operates on cohorts, not

2.6. Rule order

The rule, target, and application ordering is not the same as for CG-2. 

The --no-reordering flag may be set, forcing the parser to always apply rules 
in the order of appearance in the rule file.

Currently, reordering is done using the following priority list:

1. SELECT before REMOVE.
2. SELECT rules targetting more preferred tags before 
   rules targetting less preferred targets.
3. REMOVE rules targetting less preferred tags before
   rules targetting more preferred targets.
4. By order of appearance in rule file.

This ordering may change arbitrarily in future versions.

[ A possible future rule ordering is:

  1. Wordform rules before tag/set targets.
  2. SELECT before REMOVE.
  3. Negated contexts (NOT) first
  4. "Simple" rules before "complex" rules.
  5. Local positions before searches.
  6. Careful rules first. ]

2.6.1. Section order
2.6.2. Target order
2.6.3. Order in the rule file
2.6.4. Application order of cohorts

3. Debugging

3.2. Debug Mode

The debug mode of the vislcg parser is similar to that of CG-2: In
debug mode, the VISLCG compiler will issue a warning for every
reading featuring a <Correct!> that the rule file would have removed
if not run in debug mode.

To run the rule file debugging option, the --debug option is invoked together
with  the vislcg command and the --grammar option. The benchmark corpus has
initially been tagged by a parser and subsequently evaluated by human
annotators, who have added the critical tag <Correct!>  to each reading that
was judged to be accurately tagged. The tagged benchmark corpus is fed into the
parser using the new rule file as a test grammar.  The syntax of this
command line hence stipulates the indication of the rule file and the benchmark
corpus input file used as input to the rule file as indicated by the
greater-than sign: 

vislcg --grammar rulefilename --debug < benchmarkcorpusname  

This corresponds to piping the corpus into vislcg by using the "cat" command: 

cat benchmarkcorpusname | vislcg --grammar rulefilename --debug

You can debug a rule file (e.g. sandbox.txt) with IT Centre's benchmark corpus
by typing: 

vislcg --grammar /home/cg-group/ sandbox.txt --debug < 


cat /home/cg-group/bs-benchmark | vislcg --grammar /home/cg-group/ sandbox.txt --debug


[Tapanainen]: Pasi Tapanainen. The Constraint Grammar parser CG-2. 
Publications of the Department of General Linguistics, University of Helsinki, 
no. 27. 1996. ISBN 951-45-7331-5

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