Natural Language Systems

Unit code: COMP34412
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 3
Teaching period(s): Semester 2
Offered by School of Computer Science
Available as a free choice unit?: Y



Additional Requirements

Students who are not from the School of Computer Science must have permission from both Computer Science and their home School to enrol.


The course unit aims to teach the techniques required to extend the theoretical principles of NLP to applications in a number of critical areas.

  • To demonstrate how the essential components of practical NLP systems are built and modified.
  • To introduce the principal applications of NLP, including information retrieval & extraction, spoken language access to software services, and machine translation.
  • To explain the major challenges in processing large-scale, real-world natural language.
  • To give students an understanding of the issues involved in evaluating NLP systems.


Enabling computers to use 'natural language' (the kind of language that people use to communicate with one another) is becoming more and more important. It allows people to communicate with them without having to use strange artificial languages and awkward devices like keyboards and mice. It also allows the computer to access the enormous amount of material that is stored as natural language text on the web or in document repositories.

This course provides an introduction to the area of natural language processing (NLP), mixing theory (if you don't understand the theory of how language works you cannot possibly write programs that understand it) with practice (if you haven't written or played with tools that embody the theory, you can't get a concrete handle on what the theory means).

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures with some practical workshops and guest lecturers

11 x 2 hours

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are detailed on the COMP34412 course unit syllabus page on the School of Computer Science's website for current students.

Employability skills

  • Analytical skills
  • Problem solving

Assessment methods

  • Written exam - 80%
  • Written assignment (inc essay) - 20%


·         Introduction, motivation, review of NLP principles

·         Essential steps for NLP algorithms

o   Part-of-speech tagging: probabilistic tagging, transformation-based learning

o   Parsing: chunking, shallow parsing, statistical parsing

o   Lexical semantics: lexical resources, word sense disambiguation algorithms

·         Evaluation of natural language systems

o   Metrics

o   Crowdsourcing and inter-annotator agreement

·         Information retrieval and extraction

o   Document matching

o   Named-entity recognition

o   Template-filling, free text question answering systems

o   Summarisation algorithms

·         Natural language generation

o   Surface realisation

o   Discourse planning

·         Machine translation

o   Transfer-based approaches: the MT pyramid, transfer rules

o   Statistical MT, memory-based MT

·         Introduction to spoken language systems

o   The nature of speech

o   Speech synthesis

o   Speech recognition

Recommended reading

COMP34412 reading list can be found on the School of Computer Science website for current students.

Feedback methods

There is unassessed formative homework given to the students weekly; each lecture then starts with a 10 min feedback session where the students may review the homework from the previous week.  Assessed coursework is due in weeks 6 and 11, with feedback in weeks 7 and 12 respectively.

Study hours

  • Lectures - 22 hours
  • Independent study hours - 78 hours

Teaching staff

Allan Ramsay - Unit coordinator

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