Automatic acquisition of lexical knowledge is critical to a wide range of natural language processing tasks. Especially important is knowledge about verbs, which are the primary source of relational information in a sentence-the predicate-argument structure that relates an action or state to its participants (i.e., who did what to whom). In this work, we report on supervised learning experiments to automatically classify three major types of English verbs, based on their argument structure-specifically, the thematic roles they assign to participants. We use linguistically-motivated statistical indicators extracted from large annotated corpora to train the classifier, achieving 69.8% accuracy for a task whose baseline is 34%, and whose expert-based upper bound we calculate at 86.5%. A detailed analysis of the performance of the algorithm and of its errors confirms that the proposed features capture properties related to the argument structure of the verbs. Our results validate our hypotheses that knowledge about thematic relations is crucial for verb classification, and that it can be gleaned from a corpus by automatic means. We thus demonstrate an effective combination of deeper linguistic knowledge with the robustness and scalability of statistical techniques.

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