Natural language processing in php

Evaluating features with Naive Bayes Jul 21st, 2013

Following Evangelia's paper we will be using a Maxent model for our final prediction model. But training Maxent models is an order of magnitude slower than training a Naive Bayes model. We could simply implement the features defined in the paper and train one final model, but because I want to gain a better understanding of the POS tagger I will be implementing them one at a time and evaluating each time the improvement. To avoid waiting, I will be using a simple Naive Bayes model.

Only the data as features

If we simply train a Naive Bayes model with the only features the presence of the words themselves then we have a model that does not differ much from our baseline. Only one feature fires for each word and for the unknown words the prior gets to decide the class (actually the results would be identical if it were not for smoothing the model).

Consequently the results are a model with a bit worse accuracy than the baseline but with much the same behaviour (it still mistakes half the verbs for nouns).

Options at hand

Up until now the features do not rely at all on our knowledge as a linguist or even on our knowledge of the greek language. As a matter of fact we could create such a baseline parser in any language just by feeding it a big pre-annotated corpus.

To improve further we will have to add features that more or less depend on our knowledge of the task of recognizing parts of speech. For instance the knowldge that the ending of verbs is an important characteristic of the greek language or that if the previous word is "την" (an article) it is very unlikely that an article will follow.

We can separate the features in two categories.

  • Contextual
  • Language based

We will of course add features of both types in the end, but I would like to discuss the differences of those two categories. I believe they deserve to be in different categories because they rely on different knowledge of the language.

The contextual features are features that try to exploit the fact that combinations of words have meaning e.g. "from the house" and "to the house" have exactly the opposite meaning. Contextual features can be generic, they will always carry information about the current word, regardless the language.

Language based methods rely on our knowledge of the specific language (or family of languages) that we are targeting. e.g. The fact that if the suffix of the word is 'ω' the word is probably a verb.

Contemplating on the Brill Tagger, what I have been describing above are rules that could be used in such a tagger. For this machine learning based tagger we will describe (in code) the way of coming up with rules and then the model, through the training process, will evaluate which rules are successful and should be relied upon and which are not.

For instance we will not be using as a feature the following function 'ends_in_omega' but the function 'last_char'.

  1. // not a good feature that only checks one possible
  2. // suffix and relies on our expert knowledge that this
  3. // suffix is important
  4. function ends_in_omega($w) {
  5. return mb_substr($w,-1,1,'utf-8')=='ω';
  6. }
  7. // a good feature. It does not rely at all on our
  8. // knowledge of a specific suffix. It simply asks for
  9. // the model to evaluate if a suffix is important for
  10. // a specific part of speech
  11. function last_char($w) {
  12. return mb_substr($w,-1,1,'utf-8');
  13. }

Actually trying out features


I have already mentioned that having only the data as features results in a slightly worse result than our baseline due to model smoothing.

  1. function ($class, $doc) {
  2. list($w) = $doc->getDocumentData();
  3. return mb_strtolower($w,"utf-8");
  4. }


Using the last three letters of the word should drastically improve the performance of our tagger because it shall now recognize the common suffixes produced by the greek grammatical conjugation, thus it shall improve upon the most important flaw of our tagger, the huge misclassification of verbs.

  1. function ($class, $doc) {
  2. list($w) = $doc->getDocumentData();
  3. if (mb_strlen($w,"utf-8")<=3)
  4. return;
  5. $suffixes = array();
  6. $suffixes[] = 'substr(-1) = '.mb_strtolower(mb_substr($w,-1, 3, "utf-8"), "utf-8");
  7. $suffixes[] = 'substr(-2) = '.mb_strtolower(mb_substr($w,-2, 3, "utf-8"), "utf-8");
  8. $suffixes[] = 'substr(-3) = '.mb_strtolower(mb_substr($w,-3, 3, "utf-8"), "utf-8");
  9. return $suffixes;
  10. }

Indeed those features improve the accuracy from the baseline (Data only) 80.6% to 87% and most importantly they improve verb's recall from 49.47% to 95.59% .


Using the context of the two surrounding words we expect a general improvement on the quality of the tagging not specific to any part of speech.

  1. function ($class, $doc) {
  2. list($w,$prev,$next) = $doc->getDocumentData();
  3. $f = array();
  4. for ($i=0;$i<count($prev);$i++) {
  5. $f[]= "prev($i) = {$prev[$i]}";
  6. }
  7. for ($i=0;$i<count($next);$i++) {
  8. $f[] = "next($i) = {$next[$i]}";
  9. }
  10. return $f;
  11. },

What we are actually getting though is more complex than that. If applying this feature on the baseline we will see a decrease in accuracy from 80.6% to 78.7%. Yet, with a second look we can see that the quality of the tagging has increased. The mistakes are spread out more (instead of being clustered on the nouns (not necessarily a good thing)) and we can now identify approximately 80% of the verbs instead of 50%.

In addition, if combined with the suffixes feature the overall accuracy increases to 88.3% from 87%.

In the next post

In the next and last post of this series I will present all the feature functions, package the tagger code in a github repository and package the trained model for ease of use (maybe even a cli application).

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