Combining Taggers

One way to address the trade-off between accuracy and coverage is to use the more accurate algorithms when we can, but to fall back on algorithms with wider coverage when necessary. For example, we could combine the results of a bigram tagger, a unigram tagger, and a default tagger, as follows:

1. Try tagging the token with the bigram tagger.

2. If the bigram tagger is unable to find a tag for the token, try the unigram tagger.

3. If the unigram tagger is also unable to find a tag, use a default tagger.

Most NLTK taggers permit a backoff tagger to be specified. The backoff tagger may itself have a backoff tagger:

>>> t1 = nltk.UnigramTagger(train_sents, backoff=t0)

>>> t2 = nltk.BigramTagger(train_sents, backoff=t1)


Your Turn: Extend the preceding example by defining a TrigramTag ger called t3, which backs off to t2.

Note that we specify the backoff tagger when the tagger is initialized so that training can take advantage of the backoff tagger. Thus, if the bigram tagger would assign the same tag as its unigram backoff tagger in a certain context, the bigram tagger discards the training instance. This keeps the bigram tagger model as small as possible. We can further specify that a tagger needs to see more than one instance of a context in order to retain it. For example, nltk.BigramTagger(sents, cutoff=2, backoff=t1) will discard contexts that have only been seen once or twice.

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