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Unsupervised Consonant-Vowel Prediction over Hundreds of Languages

Young-Bum Kim and Benjamin Snyder

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


In this paper, we present a solution to one aspect of the decipherment task: the prediction of consonants and vowels for an unknown language and alphabet. Adopting a classical Bayesian perspective, we performs posterior inference over hundreds of languages, leveraging knowledge of known languages and alphabets to uncover general linguistic patterns of typologically coherent language clusters. We achieve average accuracy in the unsupervised consonant/vowel prediction task of 99\% across 503 languages. We further show that our methodology can be used to predict more fine-grained phonetic distinctions. On a three-way classification task between vowels, nasals, and non-nasal consonants, our model yields unsupervised accuracy of 89\% across the same set of languages.

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