Parsing

At some point in your language studies, you may have come across some daunting-looking "language trees." In linguistics, these trees are called parse trees (or sometimes syntax trees), and they are an essential component of parsing, a form of syntax analysis. 

Parsing Parsing

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Table of contents

    In this article, you'll find information on parsing, its roots in linguistics, and how to parse a sentence.

    Parsing Meaning

    Parsing, sometimes referred to as syntax analysis, is the process of dividing language (such as a sentence) into its grammatical components. In the field of linguistics and syntax, the grammatical components of a sentence are named constituents.

    Constituents are the 'building blocks' of sentences and can range from individual words to clauses.

    The term parsing is a verb (infinitive = to parse), which comes from the Latin word pars (meaning part of, as in part of speech).

    The action of parsing itself can be done with the help of visual diagrams, known as parse or syntax trees, or with computer software. Creating parse trees helps us see the syntactical relationships between constituents.

    Parsing, child with building blocks, StudySmarterFig 1. Constituents are the building blocks of language

    Parsing Definition

    In summary, parsing can be defined as:

    Parsing (to parse) - Dissecting a sentence into its grammatical components and describing their syntactical roles.

    Parsing in Linguistics

    Parsing is a multidisciplinary technique used in linguistics, AI (artificial intelligence), data analysis, Natural Language Processing, and software development. Although parsing is commonly associated with Informational Technology (IT) today, it is rooted in and originates from linguistics.

    Parsing in linguistics involves highlighting all the constituents in a sentence and taking note of things like tense and verb conjugations. Analyzing language in this way helps us understand the intended meaning and purpose of a sentence and the relationship between words.

    For example, the most common constituent relationship within a sentence is the subject + its predicate. The subject is who/what the sentence is about, and its predicate is the part of a sentence that adds detail or information to the subject (predicates usually contain a verb).

    "The woman with the sparkly black backpack is my sister."

    In this example, we can see two main constituents: the subject (The woman with the sparkly black backpack) and its predicate (is my sister).

    Parsing helps us to recognize which group of words is the subject and which ones are the predicate.

    You've probably gathered by now that constituents play a vital role in the parsing. So, let's take a closer look at them now.

    Constituents

    Constituents are the units of language that work together to build a sentence. They can be morphemes, phrases, and clauses. The smaller constituents (e.g., morphemes) combine to form larger constituents (e.g., phrases), which can again combine to form larger constituents (e.g., clauses or predicates).

    For example, in the above example (The woman with the sparkly black backpack is my sister), we highlighted two main constituents, but those larger constituents can be further divided into their own constituents.

    The constituent "The woman with the sparkly black backpack" is a noun phrase that also contains the prepositional phrase constituent "with the sparkly bag," which contains the adjective phrase constituent "the sparkly black."

    Noun phrase constituent = The woman with the sparkly black backpack

    Prepositional phrase constituent = with the sparkly bag

    Adjective phrase constituent = the sparkly black

    Parsing Techniques

    In linguistics, the most common way to conduct parsing is by creating a parse tree (aka a syntax tree). Parse trees comprise branches and root nodes, branch nodes, and leaf nodes.

    Typically, the main sentence is the root node as it doesn't have any branches above it, the phrases are the branch nodes, and individual words are the leaf nodes. The branches are the lines that show the relationship between the nodes.

    • Root nodes - Root nodes should appear at the top of the tree and have no nodes or branches above them. There can only be one root node in a sentence. A root node is the parent to branch nodes.

    • Branch nodes - These are typically phrases or individual words that appear below the root nodes. Branch nodes act as parents to leaf nodes.

    • Leaf nodes - Leaf nodes are the last element in a parse tree and cannot be the parent to any other nodes. They are individual words.

    The relationship between nodes can be described in terms of parent and child or mother and daughter.

    Parsing Examples

    Now that you know all about parse trees let's look closely at an example. You should be aware that parse trees usually follow the same key:

    S = Sentence

    NP = Noun Phrase

    VP = Verb Phrase

    AdjP = Adjective Phrase

    AdvP = Adverb Phrase

    PP = Prepositional Phrase

    D = Determiner

    N = Noun

    V = Verb

    Adj = Adjective

    Adv = Adverb

    P = Preposition

    Parsing, A parse tree, StudySmarterFig 2. An example parse tree

    • Root node - The woman with the sparkly black backpack is my sister (sentence)

    • Branch nodes -

      • The woman with the sparkly black backpack (noun phrase)

      • with the sparkly black backpack (prepositional phrase)

      • the sparkly black (adjective phrase)

      • is my sister (verb phrase)

      • my sister (noun phrase)

    • Leaf nodes -

      • the (determiner)

      • woman (noun)

      • with (preposition)

      • the (determiner)

      • sparkly (adjective)

      • black (adjective)

      • backpack (noun)

      • is (verb)

      • my (determiner)

      • sister (noun)

    Parsing Sentences

    Here are some further examples of conducting constituent parsing analyses of sentences using parse trees.

    Example 1.

    Parsing, A parse tree, StudySmarterFig 3. A parse tree

    Example 2.

    Parsing, A parse tree, StudySmarterFig 3. A simple parse tree

    Remember: a phrase can contain a singular word only. E.g., a noun phrase can consist of a singular noun.

    Activity

    Why not grab a pen and paper and have a go at creating your own parse tree?

    Start with a simple sentence, like:

    "The young man started a new job."

    • Begin by identifying the subject (usually a noun/noun phrase) and its predicate (usually a verb phrase).
    • Identify all the different branch nodes that exist within (below) the two main branch nodes.
    • Identify the leaf nodes that appear within the branch nodes.

    Parsing Emails

    Language parsing plays a significant role in many aspects of our daily lives, perhaps without us even realizing it. One aspect is in the filtering of emails.

    Email parsing is the process of using computer software to identify particular words or phrases within an email. This process can automatically filter emails into folders, such as 'spam' or 'social,' and help us find and sort emails quickly.

    Parsing - Key takeaways

    • Parsing, sometimes referred to as syntax analysis, is the process of dividing language (such as a sentence) into its grammatical components.
    • When examining the syntax of a sentence, we look at its constituents and their relationship to each other.
    • Parsing is a multidisciplinary technique used in linguistics, AI (artificial intelligence), data analysis, Natural Language Processing, and software development.
    • The most common way to conduct parsing is by creating a parse tree (aka a syntax tree). Parse trees are comprised of roots and root nodes, branch nodes, and leaf nodes.
    • The relationship between nodes can be described as parent and child or mother and daughter.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Parsing

    What does parsing mean in English language?

    Parsing, sometimes referred to as syntax analysis, is the process of breaking language down into its constituents (grammatical components). 

    Why is parsing used?

    Parsing is used to help identify the syntax, meaning, and intended purpose of language. Today, parsing techniques are used in AI and machine learning.

    How do you use parse in a sentence?

    The word parse is a verb. Here is an example sentence, "I am conducting language analysis and will parse this sentence."

    How can you identify parsing in a sentence?

    The most common way to parse a sentence is to use a parse (aka syntax) tree. This involves identifying all the constituents in a sentence, such as the root, branch, and leaf nodes.

    How can you parse a sentence?

    Begin by identifying the subject (noun phrase) and predicate (verb phrase). Then, identify any phrases that exist within those phrases, such as adjective phrases, preposition phrases, etc.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which type of node appears at the top of the parse tree?

    Which type of node appears at the bottom of the parse tree?

    Which type of node does not have any parents?

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    Team Parsing Teachers

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    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
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