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UBC CS TR-89-23 Summary

A Data Management Strategy for Transportable Natural Language Interfaces, January 1989 J. Johnson

This thesis focuses on the problem of designing a highly portable domain independent natural language interface for standard relational database systems. It is argued that a careful strategy for providing the natural language interface (NLI) with morphological, syntactic, and semantic knowledge about the subject of discourse and the database is needed to make the NLI portable from one subject area and database to another. There has been a great deal of interest recently in utilizing the database system to provide that knowledge. Previous approaches attempted to solve this challenging problem by capturing knowledge from the relational database (RDB) schema, but were unsatisfactory for the following reasons: 1.) RDB schemas contain referential ambiguities which seriously limit their usefulness as a knowledge representation strategy for NL understanding. 2.) Knowledge captured from the RDB schema is sensitive to arbitrary decisions made by the designer of the schema. In our work we provide a new solution by applying a conceptual model for database schema design to the design of a portable natural language interface. It has been our observation that the process used for adapting the natural language interface to a new subject area and database overlaps considerably with the process of designing the database schema. Based on this important observation, we design an enhanced natural language interface with the following significant features: complete independence of the linguistic component from the database component, economies in attaching the natural language and DB components, and sharing of knowledge about the relationships in the subject of discourse for database schema design and NL understanding.

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