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Computational Linguistics

Paola Merlo, Editor
March 2013, Vol. 39, No. 1, Pages 5-13
(doi: 10.1162/COLI_a_00132)
© 2013 Association for Computational Linguistics
Going to the Roots of Dependency Parsing
Article PDF (79.88 KB)

Dependency trees used in syntactic parsing often include a root node representing a dummy word prefixed or suffixed to the sentence, a device that is generally considered a mere technical convenience and is tacitly assumed to have no impact on empirical results. We demonstrate that this assumption is false and that the accuracy of data-driven dependency parsers can in fact be sensitive to the existence and placement of the dummy root node. In particular, we show that a greedy, left-to-right, arc-eager transition-based parser consistently performs worse when the dummy root node is placed at the beginning of the sentence (following the current convention in data-driven dependency parsing) than when it is placed at the end or omitted completely. Control experiments with an arc-standard transition-based parser and an arc-factored graphbased parser reveal no consistent preferences but nevertheless exhibit considerable variation in results depending on root placement. We conclude that the treatment of dummy root nodes in data-driven dependency parsing is an underestimated source of variation in experiments andmay also be a parameter worth tuning for some parsers.