ISCL Hauptseminar (Winter Semester 2009/10, Prof. Meurers & Wunsch)

Computational Approaches to Functional Elements


Functional elements such as determiners and prepositions have received only little attention in computational linguistics, yet they contribute significantly to the syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic structure of a sentence in context. As such, functional elements offer an exciting perspective into the interplay of different modules of linguistic analysis – and the question how the relevant properties can reliably be identified in the data. At the same time, there are concrete applications for accurate models of functional elements, such as natural language generation or intelligent computer-assisted language learning, where functional elements have been identified as the single most important source of errors.

The course will begin with a discussion of the linguistic aspects and their computational modeling and then turn into a project-driven seminar, in which student groups participate in a challenge to design and implement approaches for predicting preposition and determiner usage.


  1. Wednesday, 4. November: 2. Monday, 9. November:
  2. Wednesday, 11. November:
  3. Monday, 16. November:
  4. Wednesday, 18. November:
  5. Monday, 23. November:
  6. Wednesday, 25. November:
  7. Monday, 30. November:
  8. Wednesday, 2. December:
  9. Monday, 7. December:
  10. Wednesday, 9. December:
  11. Monday, 14. December:
  12. Wednesday, 16. December:
  13. Monday, 11. January:
  14. Wednesday, 13. January:
  15. Monday, 18. January:
  16. Wednesday, 20. January:
  17. Monday, 25. January: Gamon et al. (2008) [Janina]
  18. Wednesday, 27. January: Subtask 5: T3
  19. Monday, 1. February: T3
  20. Wednesday, 3. February: T4
  21. Monday, 8. February: T4 (cont)
  22. Wednesday, 10. February: T4 (cont)
  23. Monday, 15. February: T5
  24. Wednesday, 17. February: T5 (cont)


Course meets: in Seminarraum 1.13, Blochbau (Wilhelmstr. 19); towards the later part mostly in the Computer Lab 2.28

Credits and Campus Prüfungsnummer:

Syllabus (this file):

Moodle page:

Nature of course and my expectations: This is a project-driven research-oriented seminar, where we jointly explore a current research topic and develop our own approaches to it. Each participant is expected to

  1. regularly and actively participate in class, read the papers assigned by any of the presenters and post a question on Moodle to the“Reading Discussion Forum” on each reading at the latest on the day before it is discussed in class. (30% of grade)

    Note: Following the rules of the Neuphilologische Fakultät, missing more than two meetings unexcused, automatically results in failing the class.

  2. explore and present a topic (30% of grade):
  3. successfully complete the practical projects assigned in class and write up the final project in a term paper (40% of grade):

Academic conduct and misconduct: Research is driven by discussion and free exchange of ideas, motivations, and perspectives. So you are encouraged to work in groups, discuss, and exchange ideas. At the same time, the foundation of the free exchange of ideas is that everyone is open about where they obtained which information. Concretely, this means you are expected to always make explicit when you’ve worked on something as a team – and keep in mind that being part of a team always means sharing the work.

For text you write, you always have to provide explicit references for any ideas or passages you reuse from somewhere else. Note that this includes text “found” on the web, where you should cite the url of the web site in case no more official publication is available.

Class etiquette: Please do not read or work on materials for other classes in our seminar. Come to class on time and do not pack up early. When our seminar meets in the computer lab, only use the computers when you are asked to do a specific activity – do not read email or browse the web. All portable electronic devices such as cell phones should be switched off for the entire length of the flight, oops, class. If for some reason, you must leave early or you have an important call coming in, or you have to miss class for an important reason, please let Detmar or Holger know before class.


Progression of Project Tasks


   Chodorow, M., J. Tetreault & N.-R. Han (2007). Detection of Grammatical Errors Involving Prepositions. In Proceedings of the 4th ACL-SIGSEM Workshop on Prepositions. Prague, Czech Republic: Association for Computational Linguistics, pp. 25–30. URL

   De Felice, R. (2008). Automatic Error Detection in Non-native English. Ph.D. thesis, St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford.

   De Felice, R. & S. Pulman (2007). Automatically Acquiring Models of Preposition Use. In Proceedings of the 4th ACL-SIGSEM Workshop on Prepositions. Prague, Czech Republic: Association for Computational Linguistics, pp. 45–50. URL

   Gamon, M., J. Gao, C. Brockett, A. Klementiev, W. Dolan, D. Belenko & L. Vanderwende (2008). Using Contextual Speller Techniques and Language Modeling for ESL Error Correction. In Proceedings of IJCNLP. Hyderabad, India. URL

   Huddleston, R. & G. K. Pullum (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press.

   Lee, J. & O. Knutsson (2008). The Role of PP Attachment in Preposition Generation. In A. Gelbukh (ed.), Proceedings of CICLing 2008. URL

   Lee, J. & S. Seneff (2006). Automatic Grammar Correction for Second-Language Learners. In INTERSPEECH 2006 – ICSLP. URL

   Lee, J. S. Y. (2009). Automatic Correction of Grammatical Errors in Non-native English Text. Ph.D. thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

   Tetreault, J. & M. Chodorow (2008a). Native Judgments of Non-Native Usage: Experiments in Preposition Error Detection. In Proceedings of COLING-08. Manchester. URL

   Tetreault, J. & M. Chodorow (2008b). The Ups and Downs of Preposition Error Detection in ESL Writing. In Proceedings of COLING-08. Manchester. URL

   Turner, J. & E. Charniak (2007). Language Modeling for Determiner Selection. In Human Language Technologies 2007: The Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics; Companion Volume, Short Papers. Rochester, New York: Association for Computational Linguistics, pp. 177–180. URL