Selective Annotation of Modal Readings: Delving into the Difficult Data

Lori Moon, Patricija Kirvaitis, Noreen Madden


 This work presents an alternative approach to the question of how to define taxonomic categories in the word sense disambiguation problem of determining the reading of a modal auxiliary verb. We focus, in this paper, on uses of could, which we found to be the most difficult of all of the modal auxiliary data. Rather than classifying uses of could according to taxonomic labels such as ability  or deontic, we classify uses with respect to where the reading situates the eventuality being described relative to the speech time. For example, the sentence ‘You could swim.’  is about a swimming eventuality in the past leading up to the time of speech, if it is read as being an ability. The sentence is about a swimming eventuality in the future of the time of speech, if it is read as being a polite suggestion. We classify the uses according to specific temporal properties of the eventuality that the modal auxiliary describes. We achieve between 0.614 kappa  and 0.769 kappa inter-annotator agreement. The temporally-inspired categories we propose have immediate relevance for models of modal auxiliary meaning and provide the groundwork for improved classification into finer-grained, inference-rich semantic categories.

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