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-11-
definitionofanounconsistsofitsimmediatesuperordinate(plant,inthisexample),
followedbyarelativeclausethatdescribeshowthisinstancediffersfromallother
instances.
Whatismissingfromthisdefinition? Anyoneeducatedtoexpectthiskindofthing
inadictionarywillnotfeelthatanythingismissing. Butthedefinitioniswoefully
incomplete. Itdoesnotsay,forexample,thattreeshaveroots,orthattheyconsistof
cellshavingcellulosewalls,oreventhattheyarelivingorganisms. Ofcourse,ifyou
lookupthesuperordinateterm,plant,youmayfindthatkindofinformation—unless,of
course,youmakeamistakeandchoosethedefinitionofplantthatsaysitisaplace
wheresomeproductismanufactured.Thereis,afterall,nothinginthedefinitionoftree
thatspecifieswhichsenseofplantistheappropriatesuperordinate. Thatspecificationis
omittedontheassumptionthatthereaderisnotanidiot,aMartian,oracomputer. Butit
isinstructivetonotethat,eventhoughintelligentreaderscansupplyitforthemselves,
importantinformationaboutthesuperordinatetermismissingfromthedefinition.
Second,thisdefinitionoftreecontainsnoinformationaboutcoordinateterms. The
existenceofotherkindsofplantsisaplausibleconjecture,butnohelpisgiveninfinding
them. Areadercuriousaboutcoordinatetermshaslittlealternativebuttoscanthe
dictionaryfromAtoZ,notingalongthewayeachoccurrenceofadefinitionwiththe
superordinatetermplant. Eventhisheroicstrategymightnotsucceedifthe
lexicographers,notexpectingsuchuseoftheirwork,didnotmaintainstrictuniformityin
theirchoiceofsuperordinateterms. Treeisprobablyanunfairexampleinthisrespect,
sincethedistinctionbetweentreesandbushesissounclear—thesameplantthatgrows
intoatalltreeinonelocationmaybelittlemorethanabushinalessfavorableclimate.
Botanistshavelittleuseforthelaytermtree—manytreesaregymnosperms,manyothers
angiosperms. Evenforwell-behaveddefinitions,however,aconventionaldictionary
leavesthediscoveryofcoordinatetermsasachallengingexerciseforthereader.
Third,asimilarchallengefacesareaderwhoisinterestedinknowingthedifferent
kindsoftrees. Inadditiontolookingthroughthedictionaryforsuchfamiliartreesas
pineormapleoroak,areadermightwishtoknowwhichtreesaredeciduous,whichare
hardwoods,orhowmanydifferentkindsofconifersthereare. Dictionariescontainmuch
ofthisinformation,butonlythemostdeterminedreaderwouldtrytodigitout. The
prototypicaldefinitionpointsupward,toasuperordinateterm,notsidewaystocoordinate
termsordownwardtohyponyms.
Fourth,everyoneknowsagreatdealabouttreesthatlexicographerswouldnot
includeinadefinitionoftree. Forexample,treeshavebarkandtwigs,theygrowfrom
seeds,adulttreesaremuchtallerthanhumanbeings,theymanufacturetheirownfoodby
photosynthesis,theyprovideshadeandprotectionfromthewind,theygrowwildin
forests,theirwoodisusedinconstructionandforfuel,andsoon. Someonewhowas
totallyinnocentabouttreeswouldnotbeabletoconstructanaccurateconceptofthemif
nothingmorewereavailablethantheinformationrequiredtodefinetree. Adictionary
definitiondrawssomeimportantdistinctionsandservestoremindthereaderof
somethingthatispresumedtobefamiliaralready;itisnotintendedasacatalogueof
generalknowledge. Thereisaplaceforencyclopediasaswellasdictionaries.
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Notethatmuchofthemissinginformationisstructural,ratherthanfactual. Thatis
tosay,lexicographersmakeanefforttocoverallofthefactualinformationaboutthe
meaningsofeachword,buttheorganizationoftheconventionaldictionaryintodiscrete,
alphabetizedentriesandtheeconomicpressuretominimizeredundancymakethe
reassemblyofthisscatteredinformationaformidablechore.
LexicalInheritanceSystems
Ithasoftenbeenobservedthatlexicographersarecaughtinawebofwords.
Sometimesitisposedasaconundrum:sincewordsareusedtodefinewords,howcan
lexicographyescapecircularity? Everydictionaryprobablycontainsafewvacuous
circles,instanceswherewordW
a
isusedtodefinewordW
b
andW
b
isalsousedtodefine
W
a
;insuchcases,presumably,thelexicographerinadvertentlyoverlookedtheneedto
defineoneortheotherofthesesynonymsintermsofsomethingelse. Circularityisthe
exception,nottherule.
Thefundamentaldesignthatlexicographerstrytoimposeonthesemanticmemory
fornounsisnotacircle,butatree(inthesenseoftreeasagraphicalrepresentation). It
isadefiningpropertyoftreegraphsthattheybranchfromasinglestemwithoutforming
circularloops. Thelexicaltreecanbereconstructedbyfollowingtrailsofsuperordinate
terms:oak@fitree@fiplant@fiorganism,forexample,where‘@fi’isthe
transitive,asymmetric,semanticrelationthatcanberead‘isa’or‘isakindof.’ (By
convention,‘@
’issaidtopointupward.) Thisdesigncreatesasequenceoflevels,a
hierarchy,goingfrommanyspecifictermsatthelowerlevelstoafewgenerictermsat
thetop. Hierarchiesprovideconceptualskeletonsfornouns;informationabout
individualnounsishungonthisstructurelikeornamentsonaChristmastree.
Thesemanticrelationthatisrepresentedaboveby‘@fi’hasbeencalledthe
ISA
relation,orthehypernymicorsuperordinaterelation(sinceitpointstoahypernymor
superordinateterm);itgoesfromspecifictogenericandsoisageneralization.
WheneveritisthecasethatanounW
h
@fianounW
s
,thereisalwaysaninverse
relation,W
s
~
W
h
. Thatistosay,ifW
s
isthesuperordinateofW
h
,thenW
h
isthe
subordinateorhyponymofW
s
. Theinversesemanticrelation‘~fi’goesfromgenericto
specific(fromsuperordinatetohyponym)andsoisaspecialization.
Sinceanounusuallyhasasinglesuperordinate,dictionariesincludethe
superordinateinthedefinition;sinceanouncanhavemanyhyponyms,English
dictionariesdonotlistthem(theFrenchdictionaryLeGrandRobertisanexception).
Eventhoughthespecializationrelationisnotmadeexplicitinstandarddictionariesof
English,itisalogicalderivativeofthegeneralizationrelation. InWordNet,
lexicographerscodethegeneralizationrelation‘@
’explicitlywithalabeledpointer
betweenlexicalconceptsorsenses. Whenthelexicographers’filesareconverted
automaticallyintothelexicaldatabase,onestepinthisprocessistoinsertinverse
pointersforthespecializationrelation‘~
’. Thus,thelexicaldatabaseisahierarchy
thatcanbesearchedupwardordownwardwithequalspeed.
Hierarchiesofthissortarewidelyusedbycomputerprogrammerstoorganizelarge
databases(Touretzky,1986). Theyhavetheadvantagethatinformationcommonto
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manyitemsinthedatabaseneednotbestoredwitheveryitem. Inotherwords,database
expertsandlexicographersbothresorttohierarchicalstructuresforthesamereason:to
savespace. Computerscientistscallsuchhierarchies‘‘inheritancesystems,’’because
theythinkofspecificitemsinheritinginformationfromtheirgenericsuperordinates.
Thatistosay,allofthepropertiesofthesuperordinateareassumedtobepropertiesof
thesubordinateaswell;insteadoflistingthosepropertiesredundantlywithbothitems,
theyarelistedonlywiththesuperordinateandapointerfromthesubordinatetothe
superordinateisunderstoodtomean‘‘foradditionalproperties,lookhere.’’
Inheritanceismosteasilyunderstoodfornames. Ifyouhearthatyourfriendhas
acquiredacollienamedRex,youdonotneedtoaskwhetherRexisananimal,whether
Rexhashair,fourlegs,andatail,orwhetherRexsharesanyotherpropertiesknownto
characterizecollies. Suchquestionswouldbedistinctlyodd. Sinceyouhavebeentold
thatRexisacollie,youareexpectedtounderstandthatRexinheritsalltheproperties
thatdefinecollie. And,implicitly,thatcollieinheritsthepropertiesofdog,which
inheritsthepropertiesofofcanine,andsoon.
Clearly,aninheritancesystemisimplicitintheprototypicallexicographicdefinition
ofanoun. Alexicographerdoesnotstoretheinformationthatiscommontotreeand
plantwithbothentries;thelexicographerstorestheredundantinformationonlywith
plant,thenwritesthedefinitionoftreeinsuchawaythatareaderwillknowwhereto
findit. Withaprinteddictionary,however,ausermustlookuprepeatedentriesinorder
tofindinformationthatcanbeinstantlyretrievedanddisplayedbyacomputer.
WordNetisalexicalinheritancesystem;asystematicefforthasbeenmadeto
connecthyponymswiththeirsuperordinates(andviceversa). IntheWordNetdatabase,
anentryfortreecontainsareference,orpointer‘@fi,’toanentryforplant;thepointer
islabeled‘‘superordinate’’bythearbitrarysymbol‘@.’ Thus,thesynsetfortreewould
looksomethinglike:
{tree,plant,@conifer,~alder,~...}
wherethe‘...’isfilledwithmanymorepointerstohyponyms. Inthedatabase,the
pointer‘@’tothesuperordinateplantwillbereflectedbyaninversepointer‘~’totreein
thesynsetforplant;thatpointerislabeled‘‘hyponym’’bythearbitrarysymbol‘~’:
{plant,flora,organism,@tree,~...}
{tree}isnottheonlyhyponymof{plant,flora},ofcourse;othershavebeenomitted
hereinordernottoobscurethereciprocityof‘@’and‘~’. Thecomputerisprogrammed
tousetheselabeledpointerstoconstructwhateverinformationauserrequests;the
arbitrarysymbols‘@’and‘~’aresuppressedwhentherequestedinformationis
displayed. (Thereisnoneedforspecialtagsontreeorplant,todistinguishwhichsenses
areintendedbecausenounsdenotinglivingplantsareallinonefile,whereasnouns
denotinggraphicaltreesormanufacturingplantsareelsewhere,aswillbeexplained
below.)
Itshouldbenoted,atleastparenthetically,thatWordNetassumesthatadistinction
canalwaysbedrawnbetweensynonymyandhyponymy. Inpractice,ofcourse,this
distinctionisnotalwaysclear,butinaconventionaldictionarythatcausesnoproblems.
Forexample,aconventionaldictionarycanincludeinitsentryforboardtheinformation
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thatthistermcanbeusedtorefertosurfboardsortoskateboards. Thatistosay,in
additiontothegenericmeaningofboard,therearespecificmeaningsofboardthatare
hyponymsofthegenericmeaning. IftheinformationwereenteredthiswayinWordNet,
however,thenarequestforinformationaboutthesuperordinatesofboardwouldelicit
thesamepathtwice,theonlydifferencebeingthatonepathwouldbeprefacedby{surf
board,board}@fiboard. InWordNet,therefore,anefforthasbeenmadetoavoid
entriesinwhichatermisitsownhyponym. Thus,forexample,catisenteredin
WordNetasthesuperordinateofbigcatandhousecat,eventhoughtomostpeoplethe
primarysenseofcat—themeaningthatcomesfirsttomind—is{housecat,tabby,pussy,
pussycat,domesticatedcat}. WordNetdoesnotmakeexplicitthefactthatcatis
frequentlyusedtorefertopetcats,butreliesongenerallinguisticknowledgethata
superordinatetermcanreplaceamorespecifictermwheneverthecontextinsuresthatno
confusionwillresult.
Whatbenefitsfollowfromtreatinglexicalknowledgeasaninheritancesystem? In
theintroductiontothispaper,fourexamplesofinformationmissingfromconventional
definitionsweredescribed. Ofthosefour,thefirstthreecanberepairedbythejudicious
useoflabeledpointers;withacomputeritisaseasytomovefromsuperordinateto
hyponymsasitistomovefromhyponymtosuperordinate. Thefourthomission—ofall
theassociatedgeneralknowledgeaboutareferentthatisnotgiveninaterm’s
definition—standsuncorrectedinWordNet;somewherealinemustbedrawnbetween
lexicalconceptsandgeneralknowledge,andWordNetisdesignedontheassumptionthat
thestandardlexicographiclineisprobablyasdistinctasanycouldbe.
PsycholinguisticAssumptions
SinceWordNetissupposedtobeorganizedaccordingtoprinciplesgoverning
humanlexicalmemory,thedecisiontoorganizethenounsasaninheritancesystem
reflectsapsycholinguisticjudgmentaboutthementallexicon. Whatkindsofevidence
provideabasisforsuchdecisions?
Theisolationofnounsintoaseparatelexicalsubsystemreceivessomesupportfrom
clinicalobservationsofpatientswithanomicaphasia. Afteraleft-hemispherestrokethat
affectstheabilitytocommunicatelinguistically,mostpatientsareleftwithadeficitin
namingability(CaramazzaandBerndt,1978). Inanomicaphasia,thereisaspecific
inabilitytonameobjects. Whenconfrontedwithanapple,say,patientsmaybeunableto
utter‘‘apple,’’eventhoughtheywillrejectsuchsuggestionsasshoeorbanana,andwill
recognizethatappleiscorrectwhenitisprovided. Theyhavesimilardifficultiesin
namingpicturedobjects,orinprovidinganamewhengivenitsdefinition,orinusing
nounsinspontaneousspeech. Nounsthatoccurfrequentlyineverydayusagetendtobe
moreaccessiblethanarerarelyusednouns,butapatientwithsevereanomialooksforall
theworldlikesomeonewhosesemanticmemoryfornounshasbecomedisconnected
fromtherestofthelexicon. However,clinicalsymptomsarecharacterizedbygreat
variabilityfromonepatienttothenext,sonogreatweightshouldbeassignedtosuch
observations.
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Psycholinguisticevidencethatknowledgeofnounsisorganizedhierarchically
comesfromtheeasewithwhichpeoplehandleanaphoricnounsandcomparative
constructions. (1)Superordinatenounscanserveasanaphorsreferringbacktotheir
hyponyms. Forexample,insuchconstructionsasHeownedarifle,butthegunhadnot
beenfired,itisimmediatelyunderstoodthatthegunisananaphoricnounwitharifleas
itsantecedent.Moreover,(2)superordinatesandtheirhyponymscannotbecompared
(BeverandRosenbaum,1970). Forexample,bothArifleissaferthanagunandAgunis
saferthanarifleareimmediatelyrecognizedassemanticallyanomalous. Such
judgmentsdemandanexplanationintermsofhierarchicalsemanticrelations.
Moretothepoint,however,isthequestion:istherepsycholinguisticevidencethat
people’slexicalmemoryfornounsformsaninheritancesystem? Thefirstpersonto
makethisclaimexplicitseemstohavebeenQuillian(1967,1968). Experimentaltestsof
Quillian’sproposalwerereportedinaseminalpaperbyCollinsandQuillian(1969),who
assumedthatreactiontimescanbeusedtoindicatethenumberofhierarchicallevels
separatingtwomeanings. Theyobserved,forexample,thatittakeslesstimetorespond
Trueto‘‘Acanarycansing’’thanto‘‘Acanarycanfly,’’andstillmoretimeisrequired
torespondTrueto‘‘Acanaryhasskin.’’ Inthisexample,itisassumedthatcansingis
storedasafeatureofcanary,canflyasafeatureofbird,andhasskinasafeatureof
animal. Ifallthreefeatureshadbeenstoreddirectlyasfeaturesofcanary,theycouldall
havebeenretrievedwithequalspeed. Thereactiontimesarenotequalbecause
additionaltimeisrequiredtoretrievecanflyandhasskinfromthesuperordinate
concepts. CollinsandQuillianconcludedfromsuchobservationsthatgeneric
informationisnotstoredredundantly,butisretrievedwhenneeded. (InWordNet,the
hierarchyis:canary@fifinch@fipasserine@fibird@fivertebrate@fianimal,
buttheseinterveninglevelsdonotaffectthegeneralargumentthatCollinsandQuillian
weremaking.)
MostpsycholinguistsagreethatEnglishcommonnounsareorganizedhierarchically
insemanticmemory,butwhethergenericinformationisinheritedorisstored
redundantlyisstillmoot(Smith,1978). ThepublicationofCollinsandQuillian’s(1969)
experimentsstimulatedconsiderableresearch,inthecourseofwhichanumberof
problemswereraised. Forexample,accordingtoQuillian’stheory,robinandostrich
sharethesamekindofsemanticlinktothesuperordinatebird,yet‘‘Arobinisabird’’is
confirmedmorerapidlythanis‘‘Anostrichisabird’’(Wilkins,1971). Or,again,can
moveandhasearsarebothpropertiesthatpeopleassociatewithanimal,yet‘‘Ananimal
canmove’’isconfirmedmorerapidlythanis‘‘Ananimalhasears’’(Conrad,1972).
Fromtheseandsimilarresults,manypsycholinguistsconcludedthatQuillianwaswrong,
thatsemanticmemoryfornounsisnotorganizedasaninheritancesystem.
Analternativeconclusion—theconclusiononwhichWordNetisbased—isthatthe
inheritanceassumptioniscorrect,butthatreactiontimesdonotmeasurewhatCollins
andQuillian,andotherexperimentalistsassumedtheydid. Perhapsreactiontimes
indicateapragmaticratherthanasemanticdistance—adifferenceinworduse,rather
thanadifferenceinwordmeaning(MillerandCharles,1991).
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SemanticComponents
Onewaytoconstruethehierarchicalprincipleistoassumethatallnounsare
containedinasinglehierarchy. Ifso,thetopmost,ormostgenericlevelwouldbe
semanticallyempty. Inprinciple,itispossibletoputsomevagueabstractiondesignated,
say,{entity},atthetop;tomake{object,thing}and{idea}itsimmediatehyponyms,and
sotocontinuedowntomorespecificmeanings,thuspullingallnounstogetherintoa
singlehierarchicalmemorystructure. Inpractice,however,theseabstractgeneric
conceptscarrylittlesemanticinformation;itisdoubtfulthatpeoplecouldevenagreeon
appropriatewordstoexpressthem.
Thealternativeistopartitionthenounswithasetofsemanticprimes—toselecta
(relativelysmall)numberofgenericconceptsandtotreateachoneastheunique
beginnerofaseparatehierarchy. Thesemultiplehierarchiescorrespondtorelatively
distinctsemanticfields,eachwithitsownvocabulary. Thatistosay,sincethefeatures
thatcharacterizeauniquebeginnerareinheritedbyallofitshyponyms,aunique
beginnercanberegardedasaprimitivesemanticcomponentofallwordsinits
hierarchicallystructuredsemanticfield. Partitioningthenounsalsohaspractical
advantages:itreducesthesizeofthefilesthatthelexicographersmustworkwith,and
makesitpossibletoassignthewritingandeditingofdifferentfilestodifferent
lexicographers.
Table1
Listof25uniquebeginnersforWordNetnouns
{act,action,activity}
{naturalobject}
{animal,fauna}
{naturalphenomenon}
{artifact}
{person,humanbeing}
{attribute,property}
{plant,flora}
{body,corpus}
{possession}
{cognition,knowledge}
{process}
{communication}
{quantity,amount}
{event,happening}
{relation}
{feeling,emotion}
{shape}
{food}
{state,condition}
{group,collection}
{substance}
{location,place}
{time}
{motive}
Theproblem,ofcourse,istodecidewhattheseprimitivesemanticcomponents
shouldbe. Differentworkersmakedifferentchoices;oneimportantcriterionisthat,
collectively,theyshouldprovideaplaceforeveryEnglishnoun. WordNethasadopted
thesetoftwenty-fiveuniquebeginnersthatarelistedinTable1. Thesehierarchiesvary
widelyinsizeandarenotmutuallyexclusive—somecross-referencingisrequired—but
onthewholetheycoverdistinctconceptualandlexicaldomains. Theywereselected
-17-
afterconsideringthepossibleadjective-nouncombinationsthatcouldbeexpectedto
occur(thatanalysiswascarriedoutbyPhilipN.Johnson-Laird). Therationalewillbe
discussedbelow.
Oncetheprimitivesemanticcomponentshadbeenchosen,however,somenatural
groupingsamongthemwereobserved. Sevenofthecomponents,forexample,were
concernedwithlivingornon-livingthings;theycouldbearrangedhierarchicallyas
diagrammedinFigure1. Accordingly,asmall‘Tops’filewascreatedinordertoinclude
thesesemanticrelationsinthesystem. However,thegreatbulkofWordNet’snounsare
containedinthetwenty-fivecomponentfiles.
Figure1. Diagrammaticrepresentationofhyponymicrelations
amongsevenuniquebeginners
denotingdifferentkindsoftangiblethings.
{plant,flora}
{livingthing,organism}
{animal,fauna}
{person,humanbeing}
{thing,entity}
{naturalobject}
{artifact}
{non-livingthing,object}
{substance}
{food}
Itisofsomeinterestthatthesefilesarerelativelyshallow. Inprinciple,ofcourse,
thereisnolimittothenumberoflevelsaninheritancesystemcanhave. Lexical
inheritancesystems,however,seldomgomorethantenlevelsdeep,andthedeepest
examplesusuallycontaintechnicallevelsthatarenotpartoftheeverydayvocabulary.
Forexample,aShetlandponyisapony,ahorse,anequid,anodd-toedungulate,a
herbivore,amammal,avertebrate,andananimal;pursuingitintotheTopsfileadds
organismandentity:elevenlevels,mostofthemtechnical. Somehierarchiesaredeeper
thanothers:man-madeartifactssometimesgosixorsevenlevelsdeep(roadster@
car
@motorvehicle@wheeledvehicle@vehicle@conveyance@artifact),
whereasthehierarchyofpersonsrunsaboutthreeorfour(oneofthedeepestis
televangelist@
evangelist@
preacher@
clergyman@
spiritualleader@
person). Advocatesofredundantstorageoftheinformationassociatedwiththese
conceptspointoutthatthemoregenericinformationwouldberepeatedoverandoverin
aredundantsystem,soeachadditionallevelwouldputanincreasinglysevereburdenon
lexicalmemory—apossiblereasonthatthenumberoflevelsislimited.
DistinguishingFeatures
Thesehierarchiesofnominalconceptsaresaidtohavealevel,somewhereinthe
middle,wheremostofthedistinguishingfeaturesareattached. Itisreferredtoasthe
basiclevel,andthenominalconceptsatthislevelarecalledbasic-levelcategoriesor
genericconcepts(Berlin,Breedlove,andRaven,1966,1973). Rosch(1975;Rosch,
-18-
Mervis,Gray,Johnson,andBoyes-Braem,1976)extendedthisgeneralization:for
conceptsatthebasiclevel,peoplecanlistmanydistinguishingfeatures. Abovethebasic
level,descriptionsarebriefandgeneral. Belowthebaselevel,littleisaddedtothe
featuresthatdistinguishbasicconcepts. Theseobservationshavebeenmadelargelyfor
thenamesofconcrete,tangibleobjects,butsomepsycholinguistshavearguedthatabase
orprimarylevelshouldbeafeatureofeverylexicalhierarchy(HoffmanandZiessler,
1983).
Althoughtheoverallstructureofnounhierarchiesisgeneratedbythehyponymy
relation,detailsaregivenbythefeaturesthatdistinguishoneconceptfromanother. For
example,acanaryisabirdthatissmall,colorful,sings,andflies,sonotonlymust
canarybeenteredasahyponymofbird,buttheattributesofsmallsizeandbrightcolor
mustalsobeincluded,aswellastheactivitiesofsingingandflying. Moreover,canary
mustinheritfrombirdthefactthatithasabeakandwingswithfeathers. Inorderto
makeallofthisinformationavailablewhencanaryisactivated,itmustbepossibleto
associatecanaryappropriatelywithatleastthreedifferentkindsofdistinguishing
features(Miller,inpress):
(1) Attributes: small,yellow
(2) Parts: beak,wings
(3) Functions: sing,fly
Eachtypeofdistinguishingfeaturemustbetreateddifferently.
Notethatattributesaregivenbyadjectives,partsbynouns,andfunctionsbyverbs.
IftheassociationofcanarywitheachofthesefeaturesistoberepresentedinWordNet
bylabeledpointers,thenpointerswillberequiredfromnounstoadjectivesandfrom
nounstoverbs. Asthisiswritten,allowancehasbeenmadeforincludingsuchpointers
inWordNet,butthepossibilityhasnotyetbeencodedbythelexicographers;onlythe
pointerstoparts,whichgofromnounstonouns,havebeenimplemented.
WhenWordNetwasfirstconceived,itwasnotintendedtoincludeinformation
aboutdistinguishingfeatures. ItwasassumedthatWordNetwouldbeusedinclose
conjunctionwithsomeon-linedictionary,andthatthedistinguishingfeaturesofalexical
conceptwouldbeavailablefromthatsource. AsthecoverageofWordNetincreased,it
becameincreasinglyobviousthatalternativesensesofawordcouldnotalwaysbe
identifiedbytheuseofsynonyms. Ratherlateinthegame,therefore,itwasdecidedto
includedistinguishingfeaturesinthesamewaythatconventionaldictionariesdo,by
includingshortexplanatoryglossesasapartofsynsetscontainingpolysemouswords.
Thesearemarkedofffromtherestofthesynsetbyparentheses. Forexample,the
{artifact}hierarchyinWordNetcontainseightdifferentsensesofthehighlypolysemous
nouncase:
{carton,case0,box,@(aboxmadeofcardboard;opensbyflapsonthetop)}
{case1,bag,@(aportablebagforcarryingsmallobjects)}
{case2,pillowcase,pillowslip,slip2,bedlinen,@(aremovableandwashablecover
forapillow)}
-19-
{bag1,case3,grip,suitcase,travelingbag,@(aportablerectangulartravelingbag
forcarryingclothes)}
{cabinet,case4,console,cupboard,@(acupboardwithdoorsandshelves)}
{case5,container,@(asmallportablemetalcontainer)}
{shell,shellplating,case6,casing1,outsidesurface,@(theoutercoveringor
housingofsomething)}
{casing,case7,framework,@(theenclosingframearoundadoororwindow
opening)}
Theparentheticalglossesservetokeeptheseveralsensesdistinct,butacertain
redundancyisapparentbetweenthesuperordinateconcepts,indicatedby‘@,’andthe
headwordsofthedefininggloss. Asmoredistinguishingfeaturescometobeindicated
bypointers,theseglossesshouldbecomeevenmoreredundant.Animaginabletestofthe
systemwouldthenbetowriteacomputerprogramthatwouldsynthesizeglossesfrom
theinformationprovidedbythepointers.
Atthepresenttime,however,attributiveandfunctionalfeaturesarenotavailable
formanywords,andwheretheyareavailable,itisintheformofdefiningglosses,not
labeledpointerstotheappropriateadjectivesorverbs. Butpart-wholerelationsare
availableinWordNet;experiencewiththesedistinguishingfeaturesshouldprovidea
basisforthefutureimplementationofcross-part-of-speechpointers.
AttributesandModification
Valuesofattributesareexpressedbyadjectives. Forexample,sizeandcolorare
attributesofcanaries:thesizeofcanariescanbeexpressedbytheadjectivesmall,and
theusualcolorofcanariescanbeexpressedbytheadjectiveyellow. Thereisno
semanticrelationcomparabletosynonymyorhyponymythatcanservethisfunction,
however. Instead,adjectivesaresaidtomodifynouns,ornounsaresaidtoserveas
argumentsforattributes:Size(canary)=small.
AlthoughthepossibilityhasnotyetbeenimplementedinWordNet,thefactthata
canaryissmallcouldberepresentedbyalabeledpointerinmuchthesamewayasthe
factthatacanaryisabirdisrepresented. Formally,thedifferenceisthattherewouldbe
noreturnpointerfromsmallbacktocanary. Thatistosay,althoughpeoplewilllist
smallwhenaskedforthefeaturesofcanaries,whenaskedtolistsmallthingstheyare
unlikelytogrouptogethercanaries,pygmies,ponies,andclosets. Thepointerfrom
canarytosmallisinterpretedwithrespecttotheimmediatesuperordinateofcanary,i.e.,
smallforabird,butthatanchortoaheadnounislostwhensmallisaccessedalone.
ThesemanticstructureofadjectivalconceptsisdiscussedbyGrossandMiller(this
volume). Hereitissufficienttopointoutthattheattributesassociatedwithanounare
reflectedintheadjectivesthatcannormallymodifyit. Forexample,acanarycanbe
hungryorsatiatedbecausehungerisafeatureofanimalsandcanariesareanimals,buta
stingycanaryoragenerouscanarycouldonlybeinterpretedmetaphorically,since
generosityisnotafeatureofanimalsingeneral,orofcanariesinparticular. Keil(1979,
1983)hasarguedthatchildrenlearnthehierarchicalstructureofnominalconceptsby
-20-
observingwhatcanandcannotbepredicatedateachlevel. Forexample,theimportant
semanticdistinctionbetweenanimateandinanimatenounsderivesfromthefactthatthe
adjectivesdeadandalivecanbepredicatedofoneclassofnounsbutnotoftheother.
Althoughsuchselectionalrestrictionsonadjectivesarenotrepresentedexplicitlyin
WordNet,theydidmotivatethepartitioningofthenounsintothetwenty-fivesemantic
componentslistedabove.
PartsandMeronymy
Thepart-wholerelationbetweennounsisgenerallyconsideredtobeasemantic
relation,calledmeronymy(fromtheGreekmeros,part;Cruse,1986),comparableto
synonymy,antonymy,andhyponymy.Therelationhasaninverse:ifW
m
isameronym
ofW
h
,thenW
h
issaidtobeaholonymofW
m
.
Meronymsaredistinguishingfeaturesthathyponymscaninherit. Consequently,
meronymyandhyponymybecomeintertwinedincomplexways. Forexample,ifbeak
andwingaremeronymsofbird,andifcanaryisahyponymofbird,then,byinheritance,
beakandwingmustalsobemeronymsofcanary. Althoughtheconnectionsmayappear
complexwhendissectedinthismanner,theyarerapidlydeployedinlanguage
comprehension. Forexample,mostpeopledonotevennoticetheinferencesrequiredto
establishaconnectionbetweenthefollowingsentences:Itwasacanary. Thebeakwas
injured. Ofcourse,aftercanaryhasinheritedbeakoftenenough,thefactthatcanaries
havebeaksmaycometobestoredredundantlywiththeotherfeaturesofcanary,butthat
possibilitydoesnotmeanthatthegeneralstructureofpeople’slexicalknowledgeisnot
organizedhierarchically.
Theconnectionsbetweenmeronymyandhyponymyarefurthercomplicatedbythe
factthatpartsarehyponymsaswellasmeronyms. Forexample,{beak,bill,neb}isa
hyponymof{mouth,muzzle},whichinturnisameronymof{face,countenance}anda
hyponymof{orifice,opening}. Afrequentprobleminestablishingtheproperrelation
betweenhyponymyandmeronymyarisesfromageneraltendencytoattachfeaturestoo
highinthehierarchy. Forexample,ifwheelissaidtobeameronymofvehicle,then
sledswillinheritwheelstheyshouldnothave. Indeed,inWordNetaspecialsynsetwas
createdfortheconcept,{wheeledvehicle}.
Ithasbeensaidthatdistinguishingfeaturesareintroducedintonounhierarchies
primarilyatthelevelofbasicconcepts;someclaimshavebeenmadethatmeronymyis
particularlyimportantfordefiningbasicterms(TverskyandHemenway,1984). Testsof
theseclaims,however,havebeenconcernedprimarilywithwordsdenotingphysical
objects,whichiswheremeronymstendtooccurmostfrequently. InWordNet,
meronymyisfoundprimarilyinthe{body,corpus},{artifact},and{quantity,amount}
hierarchies. Forconcreteobjectslikebodiesandartifacts,meronymsdoindeedhelpto
defineabasiclevel. Nosuchlevelisapparentfortermsdenotingquantities,however,
wheresmallunitsofmeasurementarepartsoflargerunitsateverylevelofthehierarchy.
Sinceattributesandfunctionshavenotyetbeencoded,noattempthasbeenmadetosee
whetherabasiclevelcanbedefinedforthemoreabstracthierarchies.
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