Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft

What is Computational Linguistics?

Computational Linguistics one of the main sources for new applications at the intersection of computers and human languages.

Computational Linguistics is a rather young academic discipline that is closely connected to the latest developments in information technology. Flexible search engines, smart dialogue systems, advanced office automation or e-learning tools are only some of the applications of computational linguists. The improvement of all these applications depends on the integration of linguistic data structures, and that is what Computational Linguistics is mostly concerned with. Computational linguists work at modelling and simulating human language to make it understandable for computers.

There are few things that have a stronger impact on our daily life than language and communication.

Language is one of the most essential and fascinating products of our cultural evolution. It is humanities' prime means for communication and interaction. It allows us to talk about everyday bussiness and express the most extravagant and abstract ideas. The human need for communication is mirrored by the fact that thousands of languages and dialects have emerged over the centuries and keep developing today to accomodate new facts and ideas. Although language is a complex phenomenon which never ceases to puzzle those who try to find out how it works, little children have no difficulty learning it within a very short time. Thich shows how closely language is connected to our innate capabilities of thought and understanding.

Computers as a means for effective communication.

Looking back on the 20th century, it is easy to see that computers have been one of the most important inventions with respect to cultural evolution. Today, computers are everywhere. It is hard to imagine our professional or personal lives without them. And yet computers started out as simple calculators, and it took a while before people started using them to process different kinds of data. Today language in its spoken and written form is very much in the focus of interest as an effective and ubiquitious means for communication. The focus is not only on developing applications which support humans in their interaction, but also on facilitating communication between humans and machines.

What makes Computational Linguistics so challenging?

Human beings generally use something called 'natural' language, a rather complex system of sounds and signs, which is subject to constant change, allows for variation and ambiguity, and is robust enough for meaningful messages to be exchanged under almost any circumstances. Computers on the other hand have problems deciding what is important and what is just background noise. They are restricted to 'formal' languages, which are vulnerable to ambiguity, variation, unfinished sentences or spontaneous changes. One of the most important tasks in Computational Linguistics is therefore the adequate representation of the properties of natural language into a formal system that allows for the above mentioned characteristics of human language.

Computational Linguistics is more than just a connection of two disciplines.

At a glance, Computational Linguistics seems to be a merger of Linguistics and Computer Science, but it actually bridges even more scientific disciplines: it is closely connected to Cognitive Psychology, Mathematics, the different philologies (i.e. the large panorama of the languages of the world) and finally Philosophy. We might say, that your studies in Computational Linguistics will bring you into contact with the oldest reflections about language and the latest developments in information technology.

CL defined by the association of Computational Linguistics:

"Simply put, Computational Linguistics is the scientific study of language from a computational perspective. Computational linguists are therefore interested in providing computational models of various kinds of linguistic phenomena. These models may be "knowledge-based" ("hand-crafted") or "data-driven" ("statistical" or "empirical"). Work in computational linguistics is in some cases motivated from a scientific perspective in that one is trying to provide a computational explanation for a particular linguistic or psycholinguistic phenomenon; and in other cases the motivation may be more purely technological in that one wants to provide a working component of a speech or natural language system. Indeed, the work of computational linguists is incorporated into many working systems today, including speech recognition systems, text-to-speech synthesizers, automated voice response systems, web search engines, text editors, language instruction materials, to name just a few." from the "What is CL?"-Website at the "Association for Computational Linguistics" - ACL)