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Unsupervised Transcription of Historical Documents

Taylor Berg-Kirkpatrick, Greg Durrett and Dan Klein

The 51st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL 2013)
Sofia, Bulgaria, August 4-9, 2013


We present a generative probabilistic model, inspired by historical printing processes, for transcribing images of documents from the printing press era. By jointly modeling the text of the document and the noisy (but regular) process of rendering glyphs, our unsupervised system is able to decipher font structure and more accurately transcribe images into text. Overall, our system substantially outperforms state-of-the-art solutions for this task, achieving a 31% relative reduction in word error rate over the leading commercial system for historical transcription, and a 47% relative reduction over Tesseract, Google’s open source OCR system.

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