LinGO Grammar Matrix Customization System Documentation


This document presents background information on the Grammar Matrix Customization System (Bender et al., 2002; Bender and Flickinger, 2005; Bender et al., 2010). As more phenomena are added to the system, filling out the questionnaire becomes a less and less trivial task. In addition, the system allows users to create more complex grammars increasing the necessary effort to require a good understanding of the grammar. This documentation is intended to reduce these efforts and thereby facilitate the grammar engineering start-up process. It is a first stab at providing feedback to users of the customization system. Several researchers have contributed to the development of the LinGO Grammar Matrix Customization System: we and us in this document refers to the grammar matrix developers.

Developers and contact

The matrix developers can be addressed by sending an e-mail to There is also a larger mailing list for both matrix-developers and matrix users: We recommend you subscribe to the latter, so that you may follow and contribute to discussions on grammar development with the grammar matrix.

Users should feel free to contact either list depending on their preferences, but we recommend using the matrix-dev mailing list for bug reports and questions or comments on the customization system. The general matrix list is recommended for discussion on the Grammar Matrix itself and questions or comments on implementations for specific phenomena.

How to Cite this Work

Papers reporting on grammars based on the Grammar Matrix customization system should cite Bender et al 2002 (.bib) and Bender et al 2010 (.bib). Papers concerning particular analyses provided by the customization system should cite the publications associated with the relevant libraries; links to these can be found on the appropriate MatrixDoc pages. Only if the relevant information cannot be found in any of those publications, but only in a MatrixDoc page, should the MatrixDoc page be cited. We are adding .bib files for each page to indicate what the citations should look like. Finally, if there is reason to cite the MatrixDoc pages as a whole, then the following citation should be used, including an access date: .bib


How to use this information

This documentation contains both general information and library specific information on the questionnaire and implementations. When you are aiming at making full use of the questionnaire, it may save time to read relevant documentation on how to use it. The LinGO Grammar Customization System is a constant work in progress, and feedback from users plays an important role in improving the system. Criticism, ideas, request and questions are therefore very welcome. Information on implementation is mostly relevant for users new to grammar engineering with LKB, though more advanced readers may also get a better indication as to what to expect. Documentation on specific analyses attempts to describe what the idea behind an analysis is, how it is implemented with short references of what the exact implementation looks like. The main idea behind this set-up is to facilitate the understanding of the grammar for users who have no or little experience in implementing grammars using LKB. It is assumed, however, that users are familiar with HPSG, and comfortable with formal analyses.

The descriptions of options and analysis are divided in subsections that refer to specific phenomena. Implementations that are shared among several questionnaire options are repeated in individual sections, so that you only need to read the sections that are relevant for your grammar. Finally documentation may address upcoming work. This is mainly of interest to people who are missing options in the current version of the questionnaire, but it may also be worthwhile to read out of general curiousity about the ongoing work.

Feedback and tips on future plans are very welcome!

General instructions on how to use the questionnaire

We attempt to formulate questions in such a way that they are understandable for people with a background in linguistics, but it is not a trivial task to provide brief and clear questions. Moreover, consequences of combining seemingly independent properties are not always apparent on the surface. Finally, it may not be clear for a user which options should be selected in case the exact behavior of the language is not provided. This section provides some general remarks on how to use the questionnaire.

Working with the questionnaire

How to get started

One way to get a sense of the range of possibilities afforded by the questionnaire is to click on the sample choices files at the bottom of the main page. This will load the choices file into the questionnaire (so save a local copy of your choices file first, if you've started one) and should give a sense of how different analyses play out.

Customization work flow

The process of filling out the questionnaire is similar to the process of grammar engineering in general. Just as for grammar engineering, it is essential to create, load and test the grammar at regular intervals during the process. A vital part of the testing process, even at the customization stage is the development of test data containing both grammatical and ungrammatical examples which should be maintained and updated throughout the process.

When taking full advantage of the implementations provided by the customization system, the starting grammar will have a reasonable size and several interacting phenomena. Finding and correcting errors through the customization system can therefore become a complex and cumbersome task. Regularly testing whether the current choices can create a grammar that loads, and whether this grammar reveals the expected behavior may prevent such scenarios. You can download a file called choices that contains the definitions you provided through the web-interface. It is recommended to download and save the latest version of your choice file regularly, so that you have a recent working version at hand when something goes wrong later in the process. It may sometimes be easiest to directly edit the choices file, rather than going through the customization web-interface. This should be done with care, however, because there is an additional risk of inserting typos.

Downloading and testing the grammar is also the best way to find out how alternative options provided by the questionnaire behave. If the behavior of the grammar is unexpected or if you suspect the created grammar is due to a bug in the system, please contact the matrix developers by sending an e-mail to with your choices-file attached. Choices files containing errors or incompatible properties should be captured by the customization system’s validation component (providing red asterisks), so any set of choices provided through the web-interface that fails to create a grammar, or any grammar that cannot load in the LKB (Copestake, 2002) points to a bug in the customization system.

If the "Customize Grammar" button is greyed-out

Not all combinations of choices in the questionnaire lead to coherent grammars. The customization system attempts to address this through a process called "validation". If you have not answered required questions or have given answers that are incompatible from the point of view of the system, the "customize grammar" and "test by generation" options will be disabled until the issue is resolved. The questionnaire provides feedback about what needs to be changed through error and warning messages. These are indicated by red asterisks (*) and question marks (?). The content of the message is available as hover-text on these items. Red asterisk on the main page will indicate which subpages have such messages.

When the exact behavior of your language is missing

If the exact behavior found in your language is not provided by the system, it is generally worth-while to check whether there are options that cover a part of the data or slightly overgenerates. Making minor changes to an existing implementation is generally faster than implementing the entire phenomenon from scratch. If, for instance, the language in question has determiners that can appear on either side of the noun, this can be implemented by choosing “before” as word order. This allows you to add determiners and the customization system will provide a head-final specifier-head-rule. The only additions needed are a copy of the existing specifier-head-rule called “head-specifier-rule” that is head-initial instead of head-final in the language’s types file, and a rule inheriting from this additional type in rules.tdl.

It may be the case that the customization system provides the necessary options for a particular phenomenon, but made assumptions or generalizations that do not correspond to the exact behavior of the language. In most cases, such short-comings are due to lack of data when the phenomenon was added to the customization system. It is extremely helpful to report such cases to, so that we can correct or extend the libraries in question.

Working with matrix.tdl

Even though changes and extensions will be made almost exclusively to the language specific files, it is important to have a good understanding of the structure of matrix.tdl for two reasons. First, most language specific types inherit from one or more types defined in matrix.tdl, and it may be necessary to examine their definitions when making changes to language specific subtypes. Second, a significant number of types in matrix.tdl represent phenomena that are currently not covered by the customization system. Examining matrix.tdl for relevant types is therefore a useful first step when implementing new phenomena.

Examining matrix.tdl may lead to important observations on the Grammar Matrix. It may turn out that a given type in matrix.tdl is too restricted for your language. The development towards an ultimate multi-lingual resource is a constant work in progress, and observations based on individual languages are exactly the right source to find places where the multi-lingual resource should be improved. If you find the need to make changes to matrix.tdl, please send an e-mail to the matrix-mailing ( list explaining the motivation and the proposed changes. Such information is essential for us, so we may improve the Grammar Matrix for future users. Observations about cross-linguistically valid types that are not present in the Grammar Matrix are also good discussion topics for the matrix mailing list.


Note that a complete list of publications from the Grammar Matrix project, along with links to bibtex files, is available on the project home page.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0644097. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

MatrixDocTop (last edited 2013-05-30 22:34:42 by EmilyBender)

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