Date of Award


Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Language Technologies Institute


Noah A. Smith


This thesis focuses on robust analysis of natural language semantics. A primary bottleneck for semantic processing of text lies in the scarcity of high-quality and large amounts of annotated data that provide complete information about the semantic structure of natural language expressions. In this dissertation, we study statistical models tailored to solve problems in computational semantics, with a focus on modeling structure that is not visible in annotated text data. We first investigate supervised methods for modeling two kinds of semantic phenomena in language. First, we focus on the problem of paraphrase identification, which attempts to recognize whether two sentences convey the same meaning. Second, we concentrate on shallow semantic parsing, adopting the theory of frame semantics (Fillmore, 1982). Frame semantics offers deep linguistic analysis that exploits the use of lexical semantic properties and relationships among semantic frames and roles. Unfortunately, the datasets used to train our paraphrase and frame-semantic parsing models are too small to lead to robust performance. Therefore, a common trait in our methods is the hypothesis of hidden structure in the data. To this end, we employ conditional log-linear models over structures, that are firstly capable of incorporating a wide variety of features gathered from the data as well as various lexica, and secondly use latent variables to model missing information in annotated data. Our approaches towards solving these two problems achieve state-of-the-art accuracy on standard corpora. For the frame-semantic parsing problem, we present fast inference techniques for jointly modeling the semantic roles of a given predicate. We experiment with linear program formulations, and use a commercial solver as well as an exact dual decomposition technique that breaks the role labeling problem into several overlapping components. Continuing with the theme of hypothesizing hidden structure in data for modeling natural language semantics, we present methods to leverage large volumes of unlabeled data to improve upon the shallow semantic parsing task. We work within the framework of graph-based semi-supervised learning, a powerful method that associates similar natural language types, and helps propagate supervised annotations to unlabeled data. We use this framework to improve frame-semantic parsing performance on unknown predicates that are absent in annotated data. We also present a family of novel objective functions for graph-based learning that result in sparse probability measures over graph vertices, a desirable property for natural language types. Not only are these objectives easier to numerically optimize, but also they result in smoothed distributions over predicates that are smaller in size. The experiments presented in this dissertation empirically demonstrates that missing information in text corpora contain considerable semantic information that can be incorporated into structured models for semantics, to significant benefit over the current state of the art. The methods in this thesis were originally presented by Das and Smith (2009, 2011, 2012), and Das et al. (2010, 2012). The thesis gives a more thorough exposition, relating and comparing the methods, and also presents several extensions of the aforementioned papers.