Grammar Engineering Frequently Asked Questions

What's a difference list, and why do we use them?

The tdl formalism does not allow the statement of relational constraints. That is, particular values can be equal to other values, but not equal to some function of other values. One kind of relational constraint that we find very useful nonetheless is append.

Two lists can be appended using just unification if the the length of the first is known:

[ FEAT1 < #val1, #val2 >,
  FEAT2 #list,
  RESULT < #val1, #val2 . #list > ].

This won't work, however, if the length of the first list is unknown. Instead, we use difference lists, which are a means of embedded a list in a structure with a pointer to the end. The matrix type diff-list is defined as follows:

diff-list := avm &
  [ LIST list,
    LAST list ].

The Matrix defines the following type to illustrate how diff-list append works, though of course any particular case where you want a diff-list append you won't be able to inherit from this type (the feature names, geometry etc will be wrong):

dl-append := avm & [APPARG1 [LIST #first,       
                             LAST #between],
                    APPARG2 [LIST #between,
                             LAST #last],
                    RESULT  [LIST #first,
                             LAST #last]].

Diff-lists are currently used in the Matrix for the values of the semantic features RELS and HCONS and for the long-distance dependency features SLASH, QUE, and REL. For the most part, the diff-list appends involved in handling these features appropriately should all be taken care of in matrix.tdl. An exception would be if you are defining a new phrase type, in which case you would need to make sure you either inherit from an appropriate matrix type which does the appends or code them in.

Because of the (admittedly somewhat subtle) logic of diff-list appends, constraints involving diff-list valued features can cause problems that are difficult to debug. In some cases, everything will unify just fine, but not give you the result that you were expecting. For more information, see the related topics links below.

Related topics

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-- EmilyBender - 18 May 2005

Topic revision: r1 - 2005-05-18 - 23:06:16 - EmilyBender

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