Pluralising isiZulu nouns, automatically

Generating the plural of a noun in the singular looked so trivial… one set of ‘boring’ rules from the prefixes listed in the standard table of the noun class system for isiZulu—neatly paired by singular and plural—and you’re done. That is also why we had in the original verbalisation algorithm in the RuleML14 paper just one method [1]. And then came the testing with a set of nouns, where some nouns did not quite stick to that neat table; e.g., indoda ‘man’ is in noun class 9, so ought to take the prefix for noun class 10 as plural, but it is amadoda ‘men’ (noun class 6), or take noun class pair 7 and 8, with prefixes isi- and izi-, for singular and plural, respectively: that generally holds, just not in those cases where the stem commences with a vowel. We bumped into a few of those, requiring us to take a step back and investigate pluralising isiZulu nouns systematically, how well that ‘standard table’ actually works, what can be said about those nouns that don’t quite adhere to it, and whether their underlying causes occur also in other Bantu languages.

We have the answers to those questions now, which are described in the paper entitled “Pluralising Nouns in isiZulu and Related Languages” that recently got accepted at the 17th International Conference on Intelligent Text Processing and Computational Linguistics (CICLing’16), which will take place next week in Konya, Turkey.

Pluralising nouns is nothing novel per se, and the general approach is to take some grammar book and write a bunch of regular expressions or rules, or use a data-oriented approach and find all the rules that way. That doesn’t quite work for isiZulu due to it being an underresourced language, so we ended up designing a set of basic rules manually, and then find other rules through experimentation, i.e., a combined knowledge and data approach.

The knowledge-based part was concerned, first, with the choice whether regular expressions would suffice (syntax-only based approach), designing a few automata by availing of the prefixes in that standard table. This made evident that that was unlikely to work well: some noun classes, e.g., 1 and 3, take the same prefix (um or umu) yet have a different prefix for their plural counterpart (aba for noun class 2 and imi for noun class 4), plus it does not say when it is um and when umu. The latter prefix is used with monosyllabic stems, but we have no way of identifying a monosyllabic stem. Thus, we’d need the semantics (noun class) to go with the regular expression as input, which is unlike any pluralisation algorithm for other languages (that we know of). For the size of the automaton, it doesn’t matter if one checks first the prefix and then the noun’s noun class or vv.

For the experiment, we compiled two set of nouns: one was constructed in English by taking class names for multiple ontologies (set 1), the other was compiled by picking each first-listed noun on the left-hand page of an isiZulu dictionary (set 2). To test for generalizability, we took Runyankore, a language spoken in Uganda, which is in a different subfamily from isiZulu.

So, just how bad is nouns-only, i.e., just some regular expression based on the standard table? The accuracy was about 50%, which is pretty dismal. Just adding a noun’s noun class made the accuracy jump up to about 80-90%! The accuracy of each iteration is shown in the table below.

Accuracy of pluralisation with the incremental versions of the pluraliser (source: [2])

Accuracy of pluralisation with the incremental versions of the pluraliser (source: [2])

So, what were the other culprits? First, compound nouns, such as indawo yokubhukuda ‘swimming pool’, for it is not only the main noun that has to be pluralised (indawo to izindawo), but the other word still has to be in agreement with the first, so it is not yokubhukuda but zokubhukuda for the plural. We managed to devise 4 additional rules for those cases. Another issue were the mass nouns (amount of matter): they can exist in the singular and stay in the singular (iwayini ‘wine’), or are already in a plural class (amanzi ‘water’). There is no way to recognise those, so this has to be annotated. The plural exceptions (true exceptions) and prefix exceptions (regular ‘exception’) were mentioned earlier in this post, and some new rules were added for that. Adding all that generated 92% accuracy for the second set, and 100% for the first set of nouns. For the remaining errors, we have some ideas for how to resolve it, but linguists first have to check (see paper for details).

The initial results for Runyankore were better than for isiZulu, thanks to fewer recurring prefixes, but, interestingly, Runyankore had similar issues overall, notably with the compound nouns, mass nouns, and true exceptions, and some issues with loan words. Tone, not indicated in the orthography, popped up as well, which also holds for some isiZulu nouns (but they didn’t happen to have been in the test sets).

The data, analysis, and the software (including the source code) are available from the GeNI project page. The isiZulu pluraliser was coded up in Python and the Runyankore one in Java. Note that they are at the proof-of-concept level, not industry-grade tools, but you’re free to take it and make industry-grade level software out of it :-).



[1] Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. Basics for a grammar engine to verbalize logical theories in isiZulu. Proceedings of the 8th International Web Rule Symposium (RuleML’14), A. Bikakis et al. (Eds.). Springer LNCS 8620, 216-225. August 18-20, 2014, Prague, Czech Republic.

[2] Byamugisha, J., Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. Pluralising Nouns in isiZulu and Related Languages. Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Intelligent Text Processing and Computational Linguistics (CICLing’16), Springer LNCS. April 3-9, 2016, Konya, Turkey. (in print)

Ontology authoring with a Test-Driven Development approach

Ontology development has its processes and procedures—conducting a domain analysis, the implementation, maintenance, and so on—which have been developed since the mid 1990s. These high-level information systems-like methodologies don’t tell you what and how to add the knowledge to the ontology, however, i.e., the ontology authoring stage is a ‘just do it’, but not how. There are, perhaps surprisingly, few methods for how to do that; notably, FORZA uses domain and range constraints and the reasoner to propose a suitable part-whole relation [1] and advocatus diaboli zooms in on disjointness constraints among classes [2]. In a way, they all use what can be considered as tests on the ontology before adding an axiom. This smells of notions that are well-known in software engineering: unit tests, test-driven development (TDD), and Agile, with the latter two relying on different methodologies cf. the earlier ones (waterfall, iterative, and similar).

Some of those software engineering approaches have been adjusted and adopted for ontology engineering; e.g., the Agile-inspired OntoMaven that uses the standard reasoning services as tests [3], eXtreme Design with ODPs [4] that have been prepared previously, and Vrandecic and Gangemi’s early exploration of possibilities for unit tests [5]. Except for Warrender & Lord’s TDD tests for subsumption [6], they are all test-last approaches (design, author, test), rather than a test-first approach (test, author, test). The test-first approach is called test-driven development in software engineering [7], which has been ported to conceptual modelling recently as well [8]. TDD is a step up from a “add something and lets see what the reasoner says” stance, because one has to think and check upfront first before doing. (Competency questions can help with that, but they don’t say how to add the knowledge.) The question that arises, then, is how such a TDD approach would look like for ontology development. Some of the more detailed questions to be answered are (from [9]):

  • Given the TDD procedure for programming in software engineering, then what does that mean for ontologies during ontology authoring?
  • TDD uses mock objects for incomplete parts of the code, and mainly for methods; is there a parallel to it in ontology development, or can that aspect of TDD be ignored?
  • In what way, and where, (if at all) can this be integrated as a methodological step in existing ontology engineering methodologies?

We—Agnieszka Lawrynowicz from Poznan University of Technology in Poland and I—answer these questions in our paper that was recently accepted at the 13th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’16), to be held in May 2016 in Crete, Greece: Test-Driven Development of Ontologies [9]. In short: we specified tests for the OWL 2 DL language features and basic types of axioms one can add, implemented it as a Protégé plug-in, and tested it on performance with 67 ontologies (result: great). The tool and test data can be downloaded from Agnieszka’s ARISTOTELES project page.

Now slightly less brief than that one-liner. The tests—like for class subsumption, domain and range, a property chain—can be specified in two principal ways, called TBox tests and ABox tests. The TBox tests rely solely on knowledge represented in the TBox, whereas for the ABox tests, mock individuals are explicitly added for a particular TBox axiom. For instance, the simple existential quantification, as shown below, where the TBox query is denoted in SPARQL-OWL notation.








For the implementation, there is (1) a ‘wrapping’ component that includes creating the mock entities, checking the condition (line 2 in the TBox test example in the figure above, and line 4 in ABox TDD test), returning the TDD test result, and cleaning up afterward; and (2) the interaction with the ontology doing the actual testing, such as querying the ontology and class and instance classification. There are several options to realise component (2) of the TBox TDD tests. The query can be sent to, e.g., OWL-BGP [10] that uses SPARQL-OWL and Hermit to return the answer (line 1), but one also could use just the OWL API and send it to the automated reasoner, among other options.

Because OWL-BGP and the other options didn’t cater for the tests with OWL’s object properties, such as a property chain, so a full implementation would require extending current tools, we decided to first examine performance of the different options for (2) for those tests that could be implemented with current tools so as to get an idea of which approach would be the best to extend, rather than gambling on one, implement all, and go on with user testing. This TDD tool got the unimaginative name TDDonto and can be installed as a Protégé plugin. We tested the performance with 67 TONES ontology repository ontologies. The outcome of that is that the TBox-based SPARQL-OWL approach is faster than the ABox TDD tests (except for class disjointness; see figure below), and the OWL API + reasoner for the TBox TDD tests is again faster in general. These differences are bigger with larger ontologies (see paper for details).

Test computation times per test type (ABox versus TBox-based SPARQL-OWL) and per the kind of the tested axiom (source: [9]).

Test computation times per test type (ABox versus TBox-based SPARQL-OWL) and per the kind of the tested axiom (source: [9]).

Finally, can this TDD be simply ‘plugged in’ into one of the existing methodologies? No. As with TDD for software engineering, it has its own sequence of steps. An initial sketch is shown in the figure below. It outlines only the default scenario, where the knowledge to be added wasn’t there already and adding it doesn’t result in conflicts.

Sketch of a possible ontology lifecycle that focuses on TDD, and the steps of the TDD procedure summarised in key terms (source: [9]).

Sketch of a possible ontology lifecycle that focuses on TDD, and the steps of the TDD procedure summarised in key terms (source: [9]).

The “select scenario” has to do with what gets fed into the TDD tests, and therewith also where and how TDD could be used. We specified three of them: either (a) the knowledge engineer provides an axiom, (b) a domain expert fills in some template (e.g., the ‘all-some’ one) and that software generates the axiom for the domain ontology (e.g., Professor \sqsubseteq \exists teaches.Course ), or (c) someone wrote a competency question that is either manually or automatically converted into an axiom. The “refactoring” could include a step for removing a property from a subclass when it is added to its superclass. The “regression testing” considers previous tests and what to do when any conflicts may have arisen (which may need an interaction with step 5).

There is quite a bit of work yet to be done on TDD for ontologies, but at least there is now a first comprehensive basis to work from. Both Agnieszka and I plan to go to ESWC’16, so I hope to see you there. If you want more details or read the tests with a nicer layout than how it is presented in the ESWC16 paper, then have a look at the extended version [11] or contact us, or leave a comment below.



[1] Keet, C.M., Khan, M.T., Ghidini, C. Ontology Authoring with FORZA. 22nd ACM International Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM’13). ACM proceedings. Oct. 27 – Nov. 1, 2013, San Francisco, USA. pp569-578.

[2] Ferre, S. and Rudolph, S. (2012). Advocatus diaboli exploratory enrichment of ontologies with negative constraints. In ten Teije, A. et al., editors, 18th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’12), volume 7603 of LNAI, pages 42-56. Springer. Oct 8-12, Galway, Ireland

[3] Paschke, A., Schaefermeier, R. Aspect OntoMaven – aspect-oriented ontology development and configuration with OntoMaven. Tech. Rep. 1507.00212v1, Free University of Berlin (July 2015)

[4] Blomqvist, E., Sepour, A.S., Presutti, V. Ontology testing — methodology and tool. In: Proc. of EKAW’12. LNAI, vol. 7603, pp. 216-226. Springer (2012)

[5] Vrandecic, D., Gangemi, A. Unit tests for ontologies. In: OTM workshops 2006. LNCS, vol. 4278, pp. 1012-1020. Springer (2006)

[6] Warrender, J.D., Lord, P. How, What and Why to test an ontology. Technical Report 1505.04112, Newcastle University (2015),

[7] Beck, K.: Test-Driven Development: by example. Addison-Wesley, Boston, MA (2004)

[8] Tort, A., Olive, A., Sancho, M.R. An approach to test-driven development of conceptual schemas. Data & Knowledge Engineering 70, 1088-1111 (2011)

[9] Keet, C.M., Lawrynowicz, A. Test-Driven Development of Ontologies. 13th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’16). Springer LNCS. 29 May – 2 June, 2016, Crete, Greece. (in print)

[10] Kollia, I., Glimm, B., Horrocks, I. SPARQL Query Answering over OWL Ontologies. In: Proc, of ESWC’11. LNCS, vol. 6643, pp. 382-396. Springer (2011)

[11] Keet, C.M., Lawrynowicz, A. Test-Driven Development of Ontologies (extended version). Technical Report, Dec 19, 2015.





Reblogging 2014: Coupon collecting the computing way

From the “10 years of keetblog – reblogging: 2014”: The 2014 post closest to ‘general interest’ is about calculating how much you will be ripped off when collecting team player cards to complete a Panini sticker book collection for some world sports championships, without swapping cards with friends and family. It coincided with the Soccer/football Word Cup in Brazil in 2014. The students of the ICPC Southern Africa Regionals training had some fun with it (and so did I when setting the problem). It may be of interest to students who are now preparing for the IT challenge heats (April 16) or the ICPC world finals (in May; we’ll go again with a UCT team [yay!], to Thailand this time).

Coupon collecting the computing way; Aug 3


Coupon collecting is a very Dutch thing to do, though I never made a serious hobby out of it (nevertheless, I still have a great Brio Koekjesboek thanks to that), but I did collect stamps for a while, which was more interesting than cutting slips off of margarine wrappings. What does any of this have to do with computing, or math, for that matter? A lot. I mean, think of it: how much margarine must we have bought just to have enough slips to order the Brio cookie-baking booklet ‘for free’? Same story for the coffee packet wrappings. Post stamp collecting is harder: you’d want the whole series of a given edition. The Italian company Panini made a business out of it, enticing people to collect all stickers of all team members playing in a world cup. And that’s what got me into this post’s topic.

Coaching for the next ACM ICPC, which includes training sessions, made me surf on the web for some interesting problems to solve, so as not to have only previous ICPC regional’s and finals problems to train the students with. Simon Whitehouse has a great blog post on what it would cost to complete the whole Panini sticker book for the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa, without swapping cards with friends, i.e.: how many packets of five stickers would you need to buy to get the whole series of 638 stickers (pictures of soccer players) to put in the sticker book? Answering this question sounded like fun. I reworked a bit the problem description from his post so as to generalize it to finding a way to be able to calculate what it would cost for any world cup—rugby and cricket are important in South Africa, too—and any cost of a packet of stickers (there’s some 6% inflation/year here); read the full problem description (pdf), on the first page.

In solving this, first, there are three variables: N for the number of unique stickers, P for the price of a packet of 5 stickers, and C for the total cost we want to know. To calculate C, we thus have \frac{total\_no\_of\_stickers}{5}*P , and we’ll round it up to the nearest integer. The crux is how to get to the total number of stickers.

Whitehouse’s post has a very readable explanation. In short, when you get the first sticker, it is guaranteed to be a new one, the second card has a \frac{638}{637} chance of being new, and so on to the last card \frac{638}{1} , wich follows from some basic notions of probabilities, which you can/will/have come across in a statistics intro course. Generalising this to the arbitrary number of N cards, we obtain

\frac{N}{N} + \frac{N}{N-1} + \frac{N}{N-2} + \ldots + \frac{N}{2} + \frac{N}{1}

to calculate the total amount of stickers you need to buy to have the N ones complete. This is as much as you really need from a computational viewpoint. Here’s a simple python code snippet that gets the job done:

def panini(n):
     tns = 0
     for i in range(1,n):
          tns = n/i + tns
     return tns

But why keep it simple when one can complicate matters…

This problem is an instance of the Coupon Collector’s Problem (CCP). The above formula is an harmonic series, and with some math on the CCP page, and the Euler-Mascheroni constant {\sf \gamma} (from number theory, with lots and lots of mathematics), one somehow obtains that the above-mentioned series is n*H_n , with H_n the harmonic number, and the whole thing equalling also

n \mbox{log} n + \gamma n + \frac{1}{2} + o(1) \mbox{ as } n \rightarrow \infty

according to the Wikipedia entry; there is a lot more online about it, e.g., here [course-level] and here [research], anong many resources. If that’s not enough, \gamma \approx 0.5772156649 , with the decimal digits computed now to over 119 billion decimal digits (it is a major question in mathematics whether it is an irrational number). Somewhere in the whole gamut of formula on Wikipedia and Whitehouse’s clean but unexplained jump (main text and a comment further down on that page), it boils down to, roughly,

total\_no\_of\_stickers = N*\mbox{ln}(N) + \gamma

The latter is easy to plug into a spreadsheet to obtain the answer. But lo and behold, what’s computed with the math-approach and natural log depends on what you plug in for \gamma , i.e., how many decimal digits, and only \gamma or the whole of Eq.2. The series with the simple algorithm does not have that problem with the approximations. And you don’t have to do all the math. I didn’t exactly record the time it took to create the spreadsheet versus typing up the simple algorithm, but the latter may even have been faster to do.

Besides the observation that the computing way made it simpler to solve the problem with respect to the design, there’s still a remark to be made on computing the total cost. With R10 per packet and the soccer world cup sticker book, you’ll end up paying R8977 to complete the soccer world cup book if you’d do it all by yourself! For many a South African, that’s more than the monthly salary. Completing a 400-sticker world cup for R35/packet is going to cost you R18389 (about €1268 with the current exchange rate). You’d be a lot better off swapping doubles with family and friends rather than buying new packets. Then again, mot people probably won’t calculate how much money they’d be spending on collecting things, so, here’s a basis for a business model for you.