ISCL Hauptseminar (Summer semester 2022)

Analyzing Readability


In this seminar, we discuss the conceptual nature, linguistic modeling, and empirical evidence related to readability and explore where the formalization and automatic analysis offered by computational linguistics can support research and applications.

Instructor: Detmar Meurers

Course meets: 4 SWS

Credit Points:

Syllabus (this file):

Moodle page:

Please enroll in this course by logging into this moodle course.

Nature of course and our expectations: This is a research-oriented, hands-on Hauptseminar, in which we jointly explore the topic and gain practical experience in conducting analyses using CTAP. Everyone is expected to

  1. regularly and actively participate in class, read the assigned papers and post a meaningful question on Moodle to the “Discussion Forum” on each reading at the latest on the day before the topic is discussed in class.
  2. explore and present a topic (individually or as part of a group)
  3. successfully complete small projects assigned during the semester and present the results to the seminar,
  4. if you pursue the 9 CP option, work out a project term paper

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. All portable electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops should be switched off for the entire length of the flight, oops, class.

Topics (first sketch: this will develop as the semester proceeds)


   Azpiazu, I. M. & M. S. Pera (2019). Multiattentive recurrent neural network architecture for multilingual readability assessment. Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics 7, 421–436.

   Boston, M. F., J. T. Hale, U. Patil, R. Kliegl & S. Vasishth (2008). Parsing costs as predictors of reading difficulty: An evaluation using the Potsdam Sentence Corpus. Journal of Eye Movement Research 2(1), 1–12. URL

   Boston, M. F., J. T. Hale, S. Vasishth & R. Kliegl (2011). Parallel processing and sentence comprehension difficulty. Language and Cognitive Processes 26(3), 301–349.

   Brown, C., T. Snodgrass, S. J. Kemper, R. Herman & M. A. Covington (2008). Automatic measurement of propositional idea density from part-of-speech tagging. Behavior Research Methods 40(2), 540–545.

   Chan, C. R., C. Pethe & S. Skiena (2021). Natural language processing versus rule-based text analysis: Comparing BERT score and readability indices to predict crowdfunding outcomes. Journal of Business Venturing Insights 16, e00276.

   Chatzipanagiotidis, S., M. Giagkou & D. Meurers (2021). Broad linguistic complexity analysis for Greek readability classification. In Proceedings of the 16th Workshop on Innovative Use of NLP for Building Educational Applications. pp. 48–58.

   Crossley, S., D. F. Dufty, P. M. McCarthy & D. S. Mcnamara (2007). Toward a New Readability: A Mixed Model Approach. In Proceedings of the 29th annual conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society, pp. 197–202.

   Dell’Orletta, F., S. Montemagni & G. Venturi (2011). READ-IT: Assessing Readability of Italian Texts with a View to Text Simplification. In Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Speech and Language Processing for Assistive Technologies. pp. 73–83.

   Demberg, V. & F. Keller (2008). Data from eye-tracking corpora as evidence for theories of syntactic processing complexity. Cognition 109(2), 193 – 210.

   Demberg, V. & A. Sayeed (2011). Linguistic cognitive load: implications for automotive UIs. In Adjunct Proceedings of AutomotiveUI’11.

   Deutsch, T., M. Jasbi & S. M. Shieber (2020). Linguistic Features for Readability Assessment. In Proceedings of the Fifteenth Workshop on Innovative Use of NLP for Building Educational Applications. pp. 1–17. URL

   DuBay, W. H. (2004). The Principles of Readability. Costa Mesa, California: Impact Information. URL

   DuBay, W. H. (2006). The Classic Readability Studies. Costa Mesa, California: Impact Information.

   Feng, L., N. Elhadad & M. Huenerfauth (2009). Cognitively Motivated Features for Readability Assessment. In Proceedings of the 12th Conference of the European Chapter of the ACL (EACL 2009). Athens, Greece: Association for Computational Linguistics, pp. 229–237.

   François, T. & C. Fairon (2012). An “AI readability” formula for French as a foreign language. In Proceedings of the 2012 Joint Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and Computational Natural Language Learning.

   François, T. & E. Miltsakaki (2012). Do NLP and machine learning improve traditional readability formulas? In Proceedings of the First Workshop on Predicting and Improving Text Readability for target reader populations. Association for Computational Linguistics, pp. 49–57.

   Georgatou, S. (2016). Approaching readability features in Greek school books. Master thesis in computational linguistics, Department of Linguistics, University of Tübingen.

   Gibson, E. (2000). The dependency locality theory: A distance-based theory of linguistic complexity. In A. Marantz, Y. Miyashita & W. O’Neil (eds.), Image, language, brain: papers from the First Mind Articulation Project Symposium, MIT, pp. 95–126.

   Hancke, J., S. Vajjala & D. Meurers (2012). Readability Classification for German using lexical, syntactic, and morphological features. In Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on Computational Linguistics (COLING). Mumbai, India, pp. 1063–1080.

   Heilman, M., K. Collins-Thompson, J. Callan & M. Eskenazi (2007). Combining Lexical and Grammatical Features to Improve Readability Measures for First and Second Language Texts. In Human Language Technologies 2007: The Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (HLT-NAACL-07). Rochester, New York, pp. 460–467.

   Heilman, M., K. Collins-Thompson & M. Eskenazi (2008). An Analysis of Statistical Models and Features for Reading Difficulty Prediction. In Proceedings of the 3rd Workshop on Innovative Use of NLP for Building Educational Applications at ACL-08. Columbus, Ohio.

   Huenerfauth, M., L. Feng & N. Elhadad (2009). Comparing evaluation techniques for text readability software for adults with intellectual disabilities. In Proceedings of the 11th international ACM SIGACCESS conference on Computers and accessibility. New York, NY, USA: ACM, Assets ’09, pp. 3–10.

   Imperial, J. M. (2021). BERT Embeddings for Automatic Readability Assessment. arXiv preprint arXiv:2106.07935 .

   Lee, B. W., Y. S. Jang & J. H.-J. Lee (2021). Pushing on Text Readability Assessment: A Transformer Meets Handcrafted Linguistic Features. arXiv preprint arXiv:2109.12258 .

   Lee, J. & S. Vajjala (2022). A Neural Pairwise Ranking Model for Readability Assessment. arXiv preprint arXiv:2203.07450 .

   Levy, R. (2008). Expectation-based syntactic comprehension. Cognition 106 (3), 1126–1177.

   Levy, R. & E. Gibson (2013). Surprisal, the PDC, and the primary locus of processing difficulty in relative clauses. Frontiers in Language Sciences 4:229, 1–3.

   Liu, H., S. Li, J. Zhao, Z. Bao & X. Bai (2017). Chinese teaching material readability assessment with contextual information. In 2017 International Conference on Asian Language Processing (IALP). IEEE, pp. 66–69.

   Madrazo Azpiazu, I. & M. S. Pera (2020a). An Analysis of Transfer Learning Methods for Multilingual Readability Assessment. Adjunct Publication of the 28th ACM Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization pp. 95–100.

   Madrazo Azpiazu, I. & M. S. Pera (2020b). Is cross-lingual readability assessment possible? Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology .

   Martinc, M., S. Pollak & M. Robnik-Šikonja (2021). Supervised and unsupervised neural approaches to text readability. Computational Linguistics 47(1), 141–179.

   McNamara, D. S., M. M. Louwerse, P. M. McCarthy & A. C. Graesser (2010). Coh-Metrix: Capturing Linguistic Features of Cohesion. Discourse Processes 47(4), 292–330. URL

   Nikolova, L. (2015). Readability Classification for Bulgarian. Master thesis in computational linguistics, Department of Linguistics, University of Tübingen.

   Petersen, S. E. & M. Ostendorf (2006a). Assessing the Reading Level of Web Pages. In Ninth International Conference on Spoken Language Processing (Interspeech-ICSLP). Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. URL

   Petersen, S. E. & M. Ostendorf (2006b). Assessing the Reading Level of Web Pages (Poster). In Proceedings of Interspeech 2006.

   Petersen, S. E. & M. Ostendorf (2007). Text Simplification for Language Learners: A Corpus Analysis. In Speech and Language Technology for Education (SLaTE). pp. 69–72. URL

   Petersen, S. E. & M. Ostendorf (2009). A machine learning approach to reading level assessment. Computer Speech and Language 23, 86–106.

   Pilán, I., S. Vajjala & E. Volodina (2015). A Readable Read: Automatic Assessment of Language Learning Materials based on Linguistic Complexity. In Proceedings of CICLING 2015- Research in Computing Science Journal Issue (to appear).

   Pitler, E., A. Louis & A. Nenkova (2010). Automatic evaluation of linguistic quality in multi-document summarization. In Proceedings of the 48th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics. Stroudsburg, PA, USA: Association for Computational Linguistics, ACL ’10, pp. 544–554. URL

   Pitler, E. & A. Nenkova (2008). Revisiting readability: a unified framework for predicting text quality. In Proceedings of the Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing. Stroudsburg, PA, USA: Association for Computational Linguistics, EMNLP ’08, pp. 186–195. URL

   Reynolds, R. (2016). Russian natural language processing for computer-assisted language learning: capturing the benefits of deep morphological analysis in real-life applications. Ph.D. thesis, UiT - The Arctic University of Norway. URL

   Schwarm, S. & M. Ostendorf (2005). Reading Level Assessment Using Support Vector Machines and Statistical Language Models. In Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL-05). Ann Arbor, Michigan, pp. 523–530.

   Shain, C., M. van Schijndel, R. Futrell, E. Gibson & W. Schuler (2016). Memory access during incremental sentence processing causes reading time latency. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Computational Linguistics for Linguistic Complexity (CL4LC). Osaka, pp. 49–58. URL

   Si, L. & J. Callan (2001). A Statistical Model for Scientific Readability. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM). ACM, pp. 574–576.

   Tseng, H. C., H. T. Hung, Y. T. Sung & B. Chen (2016). Classification of text readability based on deep neural network and representation learning techniques. In 28th Conference on Computational Linguistics and Speech Processing, ROCLING 2016. The Association for Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language …, pp. 255–270.

   Vajjala, S. (2021). Trends, limitations and open challenges in automatic readability assessment research. arXiv preprint arXiv:2105.00973 .

   Van Oosten, P., V. Hoste & D. Tanghe (2011). A posteriori agreement as a quality measure for readability prediction systems. In Proceedings of the 12th international conference on Computational linguistics and intelligent text processing - Volume Part II. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, CICLing’11, pp. 424–435. URL

   van Oosten, P., D. Tanghe & V. Hoste (2010). Towards an Improved Methodology for Automated Readability Prediction. In LREC’10. pp. –1–1. URL

   van Schijndel, M. & W. Schuler (2016). Addressing surprisal deficiencies in reading time models. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Computational Linguistics for Linguistic Complexity (CL4LC) at COLING. Osaka.

   Vor der Brück, T., S. Hartrumpf & H. Helbig (2008a). A Readability Checker with Supervised Learning using Deep Syntactic and Semantic Indicators. Informatica 32(4), 429–435.

   Vor der Brück, T., H. Helbig & J. Leveling (2008b). The readability checker DeLite. Tech. Rep. Technical Report 345-5/2008, Fakultät für Mathematik und Informatik, FernUniversität in Hagen.

   Weiss, Z. & D. Meurers (2018). Modeling the Readability of German Targeting Adults and Children: An Empirically Broad Analysis and its Cross-Corpus Validation. In Proceedings of the 27th International Conference on Computational Linguistics (COLING). Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

   Yancey, K., A. Pintard & T. Francois (2021). Investigating readability of French as a foreign language with deep learning and cognitive and pedagogical features. Lingue e linguaggio 20(2), 229–258.