If we attempt to rise from words through grammatical symbols to sentence structure, we run into the problem that we can’t see enough context to be able to make decisions. A coordinate conjunction may be used to join adjectives in a noun phrase ("the long and winding road"), it may be used to group objects ("Jack and Jill"), or it may be used to join clauses. Without some reference to the overall structure, we just can’t see which it is. In long sentences, a relevant symbol may be ten or fifty symbols away, and having thousands of long structure rules to handle all the possibilities is not the way to go - we need to radiate from the point of difficulty, not hope to find a rule that connects it to a particular context.

An outline of the sentence is constructed by locating the switching points, points in the sentence where uncertainty occurs about the extent of the following constructs - coordinate and subordinate conjunctions, beginnings of prepositional chains, relative pronouns (which may turn out to be clausal), noun verb phrases, open verb phrases, For a particular sentence, we have

outlining1.wmf (2502 bytes)

When outlined in this way, we can use knowledge about what is present before and after the switching points. For instance, the "or" is not followed by an open verb that would support another clause, so the "or" can only be for grouping. We group it and remove it from the outline. The "that" is preceded by a passive verb which cannot support a following relative pronoun clause , so the "that" cannot follow on from it. We terminate the relative pronoun clause starting with "whose" and fold it into its prior structure. The "that" becomes tentatively anchored on what preceded the relative pronoun phrase.

outlining2.wmf (1574 bytes)

Singular/plural count rules out the match between "that" and its modifier, and the object in the "beyond" chain, terminating the chain (and anchoring the "that" before it). We now have to determine whether "war" provides a better match with "location" or "operation" or "events". If we can deduce the link to "events", the sentence is resolved.

Some Typical Rules

Comma And Phrase

This construction allows what follows it to move a long way, jumping over an intervening clause,

It was left to John, who had committed the earlier breach, and Fred

(the comma may be punctuation on what has gone before, closing it, but punctuation like this is too unreliable to base too many decisions on it) or it might just be rounding off a list

such as repair costs, fees, and the like

or starting a new one

to provide excellent service, and secretarial, catering and other services

Coordinate Phrase

If there is no possibility of a following clause, we can remove ClausalCoordinatePhrase alternative

If the object before is part of prepositional chain and does not group with object after – we can collapse chain one link by sheathing the object that cannot be a target - it can no longer be a target for anything else to the right either.

classified as an operating expense under GAAP and deducted in computing the income

This rule will apply twice, until it compares "classified" with "deducted"

agreement made by ABC in good faith and with the full intention

Object before does not group with object after – indicate end of clause

whether or not the same may be lettable and whether or not letting would cause a reduction

Noun Verb Phrase

Is there a free subject, so it could be a verb.

Is NounVerbPhrase followed by preposition for noun version.

, acts of vandalism,

This seems a simple choice, but it could be

he, unlike the rest of us, acts of his own volition

and we need to do enough to be sure the "acts" is not a verb.

Open Verb Phrase

Is a verb phrase not preceded by a subject noun phrase, indicating a parallel verb phrase, or a noun phrase not recognised as a subject.

Relative Pronoun Phrase

Check whether preceding object is appropriate target – if not, and part of prepositional chain, collapse link by sheathing (making it invisible)

Check whether preceding object is appropriate target, using type of relative pronoun ("whose" for person, but not necessarily – "...tenant which...") similarity, count, relation parameter, other tests – if not, and it is possible end of clause, terminate the clause

any one or more events beyond the control of the party whose performance is affected thereby that adversely affects the completion

Subordinate Prepositional Phrase

If there is no possibility of a following clause, change to prepositional.

If as a prepositional, it would follow on from a prepositional noun phrase

for its intended purpose as a warehouse conforming to the Hazardous Materials Regulations

Are there two with a noun phrase in between – assume first is prepositional unless second is followed by verb phrase

Only for its intended purpose as a warehouse conforming to the Hazardous Materials Regulations

In the outlining process, we find objects which may start and end levels in the sentence. Using a variety of knowledge – grammatical, semantic, knowledge dynamically acquired from previous sentences or this sentence – we resolve the extent of the levels in the outline. Outlining proceeds in parallel with grammatical analysis, relation parameter searching (the Semantic Octopus) and semantic structure building – each supporting the others.

Outlining is not attempted on simple sentences – those that resolve immediately. On the first failure to resolve, any symbols which are invocations of OutlineSymbol are connected to an Outline object for the sentence, and patterns invoked to manage the outline. Here are some examples:

! Outline structures
STRUCTURE0(RemovingProperty,{BeginSentence, ADDPROPERTY(CommaPhrase, ClausalCommaPhrase)})
STRUCTURE0(RemovingProperty,{ADDPROPERTY(CoordinatePhrase, ClausalCoordinatePhrase), EndSentence})
STRUCTURE0(ChangingProperty,{ADDPROPERTY(SubordinatePrepositional, Prepositional), EndSentence})
STRUCTURE0(AddingProperty,{BeginSentence, SubordinatePhrase, SubordinateVerbPhrase, ClausalCommaPhrase, ADDPROPERTY(VerbPhrase, MainVerbPhrase), EndSentence})

As many of the symbols that can be resolved are done so, with reworking of the outline as it progresses – reworking may allow other symbols around the resolved position to be resolved. If a new symbol enters or leaves the outline during parsing, or a symbol in the outline changes its nature, the outline patterns are again used.

The outline pattern structures do not build up a new structure, instead being limited to adding, changing or removing properties. The changed nodes are then handled by the normal structure building methods.

outline.png (43935 bytes)

A typical outline

By outlining, we avoid being stuck in the mud of nearby grammatical symbols and can see the broader terrain. In simple terms, we have to understand what the sentence is about before making decisions within the sentence. Part of knowing what the sentence is about is making links through Said, So, Same and Such before attempting outlining.

We don’t need thousands of grammatical rules to span to distant symbols, because we are cutting the sentence into more manageable chunks, sliding one level over another and ignoring the fine detail.