Integrating Automated Segmentation and Glossing into Documentary and Descriptive Linguistics


  • Sarah Moeller University of Colorado
  • Mans Hulden University of Colorado



Any attempt to integrate NLP systems to the study of endangered languages must take into consideration traditional approaches by both NLP and linguistics. This paper tests different strategies and workflows for morpheme segmentation and glossing that may affect the potential to integrate machine learning. Two experiments train Transformer models on documentary corpora from five under-documented languages. In one experiment, a model learns segmentation and glossing as a joint step and another model learns the tasks into two sequential steps. We find the sequential approach yields somewhat better results. In a second experiment, one model is trained on surface segmented data, where strings of texts have been simply divided at morpheme boundaries. Another model is trained on canonically segmented data, the approach preferred by linguists, where abstract, underlying forms are represented. We find no clear advantage to either segmentation strategy and note that the difference between them disappears as training data increases. On average the models achieve more than a 0.5 F1-score, with the best models scoring 0.6 or above. An analysis of errors leads us to conclude consistency during manual segmentation and glossing may facilitate higher scores from automatic evaluation but in reality the scores may be lowered when evaluated against original data because instances of annotator error in the original data are “corrected” by the model.