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What is word sense disambiguation good for?

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Word sense disambiguation has developed as a sub-area of natural language processing, as if, like parsing, it was a well-defined task which was a pre-requisite to a wide range of language-understanding applications. First, I review earlier work which shows that a set of senses for a word is only ever defined relative to a particular human purpose, and that a view of word senses as part of the linguistic furniture lacks theoretical underpinnings. Then, I investigate whether and how word sense ambiguity is in fact a problem for different varieties of NLP application.


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