Interpretation of dictionary entries (parts of speech)

Reply Sat 31 Aug, 2013 01:00 am

I have questions regarding the interpretation of dictionary "parts of speech" specifications.

They involve writing computer software to interpret the meanings.

Therefore, POS (parts of speech) encoding exceptions that may have obvious meaning to a human (or, at least to some humans) must be explicitly accounted for by software logic.

Furthermore, there is at least one human (me) who does not know how to unambiguously interpret every POS specification.

The following discussion regards a specific definition to which a POS applies.

If word "foo" has multiple definitions, with differing POS specifications, that complicates software determination of the POS attributes of "foo" (if "foo" is encountered in text).

However, that's another matter.

For the purposes of the following discussion, we can assume that each word has exactly one POS specification.


One question regards the meanings of "and" and "or" within a POS specification.

I'll illustrate the nature of my question with some examples.

Let us suppose that the word "foo" has a single definition, with a POS of "v.t. & i.".

That POS is intended to mean "verb, transitive and intransitive".

For a given instance, "foo" cannot be both transitive and intransitive (correct me if I'm wrong).

Which suggests that the actual meaning of the "&" in "v.t. & i." is "in the set of all uses of word "foo", there exist transitive uses AND intransitive uses".

It seems to me that it would be clearer to always specify at an "instance" level,
and that the intended meaning of "v.t. & i." could be better conveyed with:

"v.t. OR i."

In a single dictionary, I find some entries with "v.t. & i.", and other entries with "v.t. OR i.".

Does this mean simply that the dictionary is inconsistent, and that, all occurrences of
"v.t. & i." really should be interpreted as "v.t. OR i."?

Or do "v.t. & i." and "v.t. OR i." actually have different meanings?

If "v.t. & i." should be interpreted as "v.t. OR i.", it's not difficult to account for this specific case with software (i.e., have the software interpret "v.t. & i." as meaning that a specific instance of the relevant word is either a transitive verb or an intransitive verb).

However, what about the general case?

If a POS specification contains "A & B", can that always be interpreted as meaning that a single instance of the relevant word is either A OR B?

Consider a POS specification of "imp. pl. & p. p." for word "foo".

It may be roughly translated to "imperfect, plural, and participle past".

For a GIVEN INSTANCE of "foo", that could have any of the following interpretations:

A SPECIFIC INSTANCE of "foo" is....

1) imperfect OR plural OR participle-past
"foo" is either A) imperfect or B) plural or C) participle-past

2) (imperfect AND plural) OR participle past
"foo" is either A) imperfect and plural or B) participle-past

3) imperfect AND plural AND participle-past

Which interpretation is correct?


Using parenthesis when need (such as in interpretation 2 above), and using the convention that a logical operator (i.e., "and", "or") within a POS specification indicates the nature of an INSTANCE of the relevant word, could someone please indicate how to unambiguously interpret the following POS specifications?

Indic. present

Sing. pres. ind.

imp. & archaic p. p.

imp. p. p. & a.

imp. p. p. or auxiliary

imp. pl. & p. p.

interj. adv. or a.

n. & v. t. & i.

p. pr. a. & vb. n.

pres. & imp. sing. & pl.

pres. indic. 1st & 3d pers. sing.

pres. indic. sing. 1st & 3d pers.

pron. a. conj. & adv.

prop. n. sing. & pl.

v. t. & v. i.

v. t. or auxiliary

v. t. or v. i.

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