Spelling Normalisation and Linguistic Analysis of Historical Text for Information Extraction

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Historical text constitutes a rich source of information for historians and other researchers in humanities. Many texts are however not available in an electronic format, and even if they are, there is a lack of NLP tools designed to handle historical text. In my thesis, I aim to provide a generic workflow for automatic linguistic analysis and information extraction from historical text, with spelling normalisation as a core component in the pipeline. In the spelling normalisation step, the historical input text is automatically normalised to a more modern spelling, enabling the use of existing taggers and parsers trained on modern language data in the succeeding linguistic analysis step. In the final information extraction step, certain linguistic structures are identified based on the annotation labels given by the NLP tools, and ranked in accordance with the specific information need expressed by the user.An important consideration in my implementation is that the pipeline should be applicable to different languages, time periods, genres, and information needs by simply substituting the language resources used in each module. Furthermore, the reuse of existing NLP tools developed for the modern language is crucial, considering the lack of linguistically annotated historical data combined with the high variability in historical text, making it hard to train NLP tools specifically aimed at analysing historical text.In my evaluation, I show that spelling normalisation can be a very useful technique for easy access to historical information content, even in cases where there is little (or no) annotated historical training data available. For the specific information extraction task of automatically identifying verb phrases describing work in Early Modern Swedish text, 91 out of the 100 top-ranked instances are true positives in the best setting.