WoNeF, an improved, expanded and evaluated
automatic French translation of WordNet

Quentin Pradet, Gaël de Chalendar    Jeanne Baguenier Desormeaux
CEA, LIST, Laboratoire Vision et Ingénierie des Contenus
Gif-sur-Yvette, F-91191, France

Automatic translations of WordNet have been tried to many different target languages. JAWS is such a translation for French nouns using bilingual dictionaries and a syntactic language model. We improve its precision and coverage, complete it with translations of other parts of speech and enhance its evaluation method. The result is named WoNeF. We produce three final translations balanced between precision (up to 93%) and coverage (up to 109 447 (literal, synset) pairs).

1 Introduction

Reproducing the lexicographic work of WordNet [11] for other languages is costly and difficult to maintain. Even with some theoretical problems, [10, 6] show that translating Princeton WordNet literals while keeping its structure and its synsets leads to useful linguistic resources.

WordNet automatic translations use the expand approach: its structure is preserved and only literals are translated. Three main techniques represent this approach in the literature. The simplest one seeds WordNet using bilingual dictionaries [21], which can be filtered manually by lexicographers [25, 24]. A second translation method uses parallel corpora, which avoids the use of dictionaries that may cause lexical bias. Back-translations between Norwegian and English were first explored [8], while [22] combine a multilingual lexicon and the different BalkaNet wordnets to help disambiguation. Finally, the bilingual dictionaries extracted from the Wiktionary and the Wikipedia interlanguage links allow to create new wordnets [7, 19] or improve existing ones [15].

Three French WordNets exist. The French EuroWordNet [25] has limited coverage and requires significant improvements to be used [16]. It is also neither free nor freely available. WOLF is a second French translation originally built using parallel corpora [22] and since then expanded using various techniques [1]. WOLF is distributed under a free LGPL-compatible license. Finally, JAWS [18] is a translation of WordNet nouns developed using bilingual dictionaries and a syntactic language model.

Our work expands and improves the techniques used in JAWS and evaluates it based on the adjudication of two annotators work. The result is called WoNeF.11This work was partially funded by the ANR ASFALDA ANR-12-CORD-0023 project. and is distributed under the CC BY-SA 3.0 FR license. To our knowledge, all current WordNet machine translations only exist in one version where the authors decide what metric to optimize. We provide such a version, but add two resources that can serve different needs and have been obtained using different means. The main WoNeF has an F-score of 70.9%. Another version has a precision of 93.3%, and the last one contains 109 447 (literal, synset) pairs. The main contributions of this paper are the improvement and completion of JAWS with all parts of speech (section 3) and its evaluation (sections 4 and 5). The evaluation is done through an adjudication itself validated by measuring the inter-annotator agreement, which validates the expand approach to translate WordNet.


2.1 Translation process

JAWS was built with a weakly supervised algorithm that does not require any manually annotated data, only the links between the French and English Wiktionaries and a target syntactic language model. The language model was trained on a large corpus extracted from the Web [13]. The corpus was analyzed by LIMA [4], a rule-based parser producing fine-grained syntactic dependencies. For a given relation r and a word x, the language model indicates what are the first 100 words co-occurring most frequently with x through the relation r. Thanks to the dictionary, JAWS does not need to select each synset literals from the entire vocabulary but only among a small number of candidates (9 on average). The translation process is done in three steps. First, an empty wordnet is created, preserving WordNet structure, but with no literal associated to synsets. Then, the easiest translations among dictionaries candidates are selected to start filling JAWS. Finally, JAWS is extended incrementally using the language model, relations between synsets and the existing JAWS.

Initial selectors

Four algorithms called initial selectors choose correct translations among those proposed by the dictionary. First, words appearing in only one synset are not ambiguous: all their translations are added to the French wordnet. This is the monosemy selector. For example, all translations of grumpy are selected in the only synset where it appears. Second, the uniqueness selector identifies words with only one translation and selects this translation in all synsets where the words appear. The five synsets containing pill in English are thus completed with pilule. These two first selectors were previously used in [2] and [3]. A third selector translates words that are not in the dictionary using the English word itself: the direct translation selector. A fourth selector uses the Levenshtein edit distance: despite some false friends, if the distance between an English word and its translation is short, it can be considered that they have the same sense. Two examples are portion and university).

JAWS expansion

JAWS being partially filled, a new expansion phase leverages the relationships between WordNet synsets to propose new translations. For example, if a synset S1 is a meronym of a synset S2 in WordNet and there is a context where a selected literal in S1 is a meronym of a candidate literal C in S2, then the literal C is considered correct. The translation task is thus reduced to the task of comparing on the one hand the lexical relations between WordNet synsets and on the other hand the lexical relations between French lexemes.

Figure 1: Translation through the part-of meronym relation.

Let’s take as an example the literal quill which can be translated to piquant or plume (Figure 1). In WordNet, quill is a meronym of porcupine which has already been translated by porcupine by an initial selector. In the language model, piquant is a noun modifier of porcupine but this is not the case of plume. Here, the noun-complement relation implies meronymy. It is thus piquant that must be chosen as the correct translation of quill. The language model allowed to choose between the two possible translations.

A potential problem with this approach could be that the noun modifier relationship is not limited to meronymy. For example, mémoire in the language model comes from a book entitled Mémoires d’un porc-épic (‘‘Memoirs of a porcupine’’). Fortunately, mémoire is not in the quill translation candidates and thus cannot be chosen. Paradoxically, the language model cannot choose between two very different words, but is able to choose the correct translation of a polysemous word. While automatically translating WordNet only with a dictionary or a syntactic language model is impossible, combining the two resources can solve the problem.

Each such syntactic selector follows the same principle as the meronymy selector and translates new synsets by identifying relationships between lexemes through the syntactic language model. The match between the noun modifier relation and the meronymy relation is direct, but this is not the case for all relations: there is for example no syntactic relationship that directly expresses the synonymy between two literals. For these relations, JAWS uses second order syntactic relations [17]. See [18] for more details and other selectors.

2.2 JAWS limits

JAWS suffers from two main limitations. Above all, it only contains nouns, which prevents its use in many applications. Also, its evaluation procedure makes it difficult to judge its quality. Indeed, JAWS was evaluated by comparing it to the French EuroWordNet and WOLF 0.1.4 (released in 2008). These two French wordnets are not gold standards: they suffer from either limited coverage or limited accuracy. The authors decided to supplement this limited evaluation by a manual evaluation of literals that do not exist in WOLF, but it has been done on 120 (literal, synset) pairs only by a single annotator. The accuracy of JAWS is evaluated to 67.1%, which is lower than WOLF 0.1.4 and significantly lower than the accuracy of WOLF 1.0b. Furthermore this score should be taken with caution because of the size of the test sample: the confidence interval is approximately 25%.

3 WoNeF: JAWS improved and extended to other parts of speech

This section presents three key enhancements that have been made to JAWS and its extension to cover verbs, adjectives and adverbs. A change that is not detailed here is the one that led to a dramatically higher execution speed: JAWS built in several hours versus less than a minute for WoNeF, which helped to run many more experiments.

3.1 Initial selectors

JAWS initial selectors are not optimal. While we keep the monosemy and uniqueness selectors, we changed the other ones. The direct translation selector is deleted as its precision was very low, even for nouns. A new selector considers candidate translations coming from several different English words in a given synset: the multiple sources selector, a variant the variant criterion of [2]. For example, in the synset line, railway line, rail line, the French literals ligne de chemin de fer and voie are translations of both line and railway line and are therefore chosen as translations.

-que -k banque \to bank
-aire -ary tertiaire \to tertiary
-eur -or vapeur \to vapor
-ie -y cajolerie \to cajolery
-té -ty extremité \to extremity
-re -er tigre \to tiger
-ais -ese libanais \to libanese
-ant -ing changeant \to changing
Table 1: Changes to French word tails before applying the Levenshtein distance.

Finally, the Levenshtein distance selector has been improved. 28% of English vocabulary is of French origin [12] and anglicization produced predictable changes. It is possible to apply the same changes to the French candidate literal before computing the Levenshtein distance, bringing related words closer. We remove diacritics before applying several operations to word tails (Table 1). For example, reversing the "r" and "e" letter takes into account (ordre/order) and (tigre/tiger). 22The Damerau-Levenshtein distance which takes into account inversions anywhere in a word [5] led to poorer results. As before, false friends are not taken into account.

3.2 Learning thresholds

In JAWS, each English literal can only correspond to the highest scoring French translation, regardless of the scores of lower-rated translations. This rejects valid candidates and accepts wrong ones. For example, JAWS does not include particulier in the human being synset because personne is already included with a higher score.

In WoNeF, we learned a threshold for each part of speech and selector. We first generated scores for all (literal, synset) candidate pairs, then sorted these pairs by score. The 12 399 pairs present in the WOLF 1.0b manual evaluation (our training set) were considered to be correct, while the pairs outside this set were not. We then calculated the thresholds maximizing precision and F-score.

Once these thresholds are defined, the selectors choose all candidates above the new threshold. This has two positive effects: valid candidates are not rejected when only the best candidate is already selected (improving both recall and coverage) and invalid candidates which were previously accepted are now rejected thanks to a stricter threshold (increasing precision).

3.3 Vote

After applying all selectors, our WordNet is large but contains some noisy synsets. In WoNeF, noise comes from several factors: selectors try to infer semantic information from a syntactic analysis without taking into account the full complexity of the syntax-semantics interface; the parser itself produces some noisy results; the syntactic language model is generated from a noisy corpus extracted from the Web (poorly written text, non-text content, non French sentences); and selected translations in one step are considered valid in the following steps while this is not always the case.

For the high-precision resource, we only keep literals for which the selectors were more confident. Since multiple selectors can now choose a given translation (section 3.2), our solution is simple and effective: translations proposed by multiple selectors are kept while the others are deleted. This voting principle is inspired from ensemble learning in machine learning. It is also similar to the combination method used in [2] but we can avoid their manual inspection of samples of each method thanks to the development of our gold standard.

This cleaning operation retains only 18% of translations (from 87 757 (literal, synset) pairs to 15 625) but the accuracy increases from 68.4% to 93.3%. This high precision resource can be used as training data for other French WordNets. A typical voting methods problem is to choose only easier and poorly interesting examples, but the resource obtained here is well balanced between synsets containing only monosemic words and other synsets containing polysemous and more difficult to disambiguate words (section 5.2).

3.4 Extension to verbs, adjectives and adverbs

The work on JAWS began with nouns because they represent 70% of the synsets in WordNet. We continued this work on all other parts of speech: verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Here, generic selectors have been modified, but in the future, we will develop selectors taking into account the different parts of speech characteristics in WordNet.


Selectors chosen for verbs are the uniqueness and monosemy selectors. Indeed, the Levenshtein distance gave poor results for verbs: only 25% of the verbs chosen by this selector were correct translations. For syntactic selectors, only the selector by synonymy gave good results, while the selector by hyponymy had the performance of a random classifier.


For adjectives, all initial selectors are chosen, and the selected syntactic selector is the selector by synonymy.


The configuration is the same than for adjectives. We have no gold standard for adverbs, which explains why they are not included in our evaluation. However, comparison with WOLF (section 5.4) shows that adverbs are better than other parts of speech.

4 WoNeF: an evaluated JAWS

4.1 Gold standard development

Evaluation of JAWS suffers from a number of limitations (section 2.2). We produced a gold standard for rigorous evaluation to evaluate WoNeF. For nouns, verbs and adjectives, 300 synsets have been annotated by two authors of this paper, both computational linguists, both native French speakers and respectively with a background in computer science and linguistics. For each candidate provided by our translation dictionaries, they had to decide whether or not it belonged to the synset. They used WordNet synsets to examine their neighbors, the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the French electronic dictionary TLFi and search engines to demonstrate the use of different senses of the words in question. Because dictionaries do not provide candidates for all synsets and some synsets have no suitable candidate, the actual number of non-empty synsets is less than 300 (section 4.2).

During manual annotation, we encountered difficulties arising from the attempt to translate the Princeton WordNet to French. Most problems come from verbs and adjectives appearing in a collocation. In WordNet, they can be grouped in a way that makes sense in English, but that is not reflected directly in another language. For example, the adjective pointed is the only element of a synset defined as Direct and obvious in meaning or reference; often unpleasant, ‘‘a pointed critique’’, ‘‘a pointed allusion to what was going on’’, ‘‘another pointed look in their direction’’. These three examples would result in three different translations in French: une critique dure, une allusion claire and un regard appuyé. There is no satisfactory solution in translating such a synset: the resulting synset contains either too many or too few translations. We view this issue as a mainly linguistic one in the way WordNet has grouped those three usages of pointed. We marked the concerned synsets and will handle them in a future work, either manually or with other approaches. These granularity problems concern 3% of nominal synsets, 8% of verbal synsets and 6% of adjectival synsets.

The other main difficulty stems from missing translations in our bilingual dictionaries. Rare meanings of a word are sometimes missing. For example, there is a WordNet synset containing the egg verb for its coat with beaten egg sense. Our dictionaries only consider egg as a noun: neither our gold standard nor JAWS can translate this synset. This case appeared rarely in practice, and none of these senses are in the most polysemous synsets (BCS synsets as defined in section 5.2), confirming that it doesn’t affect the quality of our gold standard for the most important synsets. Yet WoNeF could be improved by using specific dictionaries for species (as in [22] with WikiSpecies), medical terms, etc. The last difficulty lied in judgment adjectives: for example, there is no good translation of weird in French. Although most dictionaries provide bizarre as a translation, this one does not provide the stupid aspect of weird. There is no translation that would fit in all contexts: the synset meaning is not fully preserved after translation.

4.2 Inter-annotators agreement

Nouns Verbs Adj.
Fleiss Kappa 0.715 0.711 0.663
Synsets 270 222 267
Candidates 6.22 14.50 7.27
Table 2: Gold standard inter-annotator agreement

Table 2 shows the inter-annotator agreement measured through Fleiss kappa for the three annotated parts of speech. Even if it is a discussed metric [20], all existing evaluation tables consider these scores as high enough to describe the inter-annotator agreement as "good" [14], which allows us to say that our gold standard is good. The expand approach for the translation of WordNets is also validated : it is possible to produce useful resource in spite of the difficulties mentioned in section 4.1.

5 Results

We present in this section the results of WoNeF. We first describe the initial selectors and proceed with the full resource. Our gold standard is divided into two parts: 10% of the literals form the validation set used to choose the selectors that apply to different versions of WoNeF, while the remaining 90% form the evaluation set. No training was performed on our gold standard. Precision and recall are based on the intersection of synsets present in WoNeF and our gold standard. Precision is the fraction of correct (literal, synset) pairs in the intersection while recall is the fraction of correctly retrieved pairs.

5.1 Initial selectors

For nouns, verbs and adjectives, we calculated the efficiency of each initial selector on our development set, and used this data to determine which ones should be included in the high precision version, the high F-score version and the large coverage one. Scores are reported on the test set.

P R F1 C
monosemy 71.5 76.6 74.0 54 499
unicity 91.7 63.0 75.3  9 533
mult. sources 64.5 45.0 53.0 27 316
Levenshtein 61.9 29.0 39.3 20 034
high precision 93.8 50.1 65.3 13 867
high F-score 71.1 72.7 71.9 82 730
high coverage 69.0 69.8 69.4 90 248
Table 3: Top part: Precision, Recall and F1-measure of initial selectors on all translations (nouns, verbs and adjectives). Bottom part: scores for various combinations of them. Coverage C is the total number of pairs (literal, synset).

Table 3 shows the results of this operation. Coverage gives an idea of the size of the resource. Depending on the objectives of each resource, the selected initial selectors are different. Different selectors can choose several times the same translation, which explains why the sum of coverages is greater than the coverage of the high coverage resource.

5.2 Global results

We now focus on the overall results which include the application of initial selectors and syntactic selectors (Table 4). The high-precision method also applies a vote (section 3.3). As in the previous table, the coverage C is the number of (literal, synset) pairs. Without using structure-based nor conceptual distance-based selectors as in [9], we obtain a coverage at 93% precision for our French wordnet (15 625) equal to their Spanish one (11 770) and larger than their Thai one (2 013).

All synsets P R F1 C
high precision 93.3 51.5 66.4  15 625
high F-score 68.9 73.0 70.9  88 736
high coverage 60.5 74.3 66.7 109 447
BCS synsets P R F1 C
high precision 90.4 36.5 52.0  1 877
high F-score 56.5 62.8 59.1 14 405
high coverage 44.5 66.9 53.5 23 166
Table 4: Global results for all synsets and BCS synsets only.

In WordNet, most words are monosemous, but a small minority of polysemous words are the most represented in texts. It is precisely on this minority that we wish to create a quality resource. To evaluate this, we use the list of BCS (Basic Concept Set) synsets provided by the BalkaNet project [24]. This list contains 8 516 synsets lexicalized in six different translations of WordNet. They should represent the most frequent synsets and those with the most polysemous words. While the high F-score and the high coverage resources lose precision for BCS synsets, this is not the case for the high precision resource. In fact, the voting mechanism makes the high-precision resource very robust, even for the BCS synsets.

5.3 Results by part of speech

Table 5 shows the detailed results for each part of speech. Concerning nouns, the high precision mode uses two selectors, both based on the noun modifier syntactic relation: the meronymy selector described in section 2.1 and the hyponymy selector. The high precision resource for nouns is our best resource. The high F-score version has an F-score of 72.4%, which ensures that present (literal, synset) pairs have good quality and that it does not miss too many translations. The nominal version is better than JAWS by 2.8% points of F-score.

P R F1 C
PR nouns 96.8 56.6 71.4 11 294
verbs 68.4 41.9 52.0  1 110
adj. 90.0 36.7 52.2  3 221
F1R nouns 71.7 73.2 72.4 59 213
JAWS 70.7 68.5 69.6  55 416
verbs 48.9 76.6 59.6  9 138
adj. 69.8 71.0 70.4 20 385
CR nouns 61.8 78.4 69.1 70 218
verbs 45.4 61.5 52.2 18 844
adj. 69.8 71.9 70.8 20 385
Table 5: Results by part of speech. Horizontal parts give scores for the high-precision resource (PR), the high-F1-measure one (F1R) and the high coverage one (CR). JAWS containing only nouns, it is compared with the high F-score nominal WoNeF resource.

Results for verbs are lower. The main reason is that verbs are on average more polysemous in WordNet and our dictionaries than other parts of speech: verbal synsets have twice as many candidates as nouns and adjectives synsets (Table 2). This shows the importance of the dictionary to limit the number of literals from which algorithms must choose. The synonymy selector is the only syntactic selector applied to verbs: it uses second-order syntactic relations for three types of verbal syntactic dependencies: if two verbs share the same objects, they are likely to be synonyms or near-synonyms. This is the case for dévorer and manger which both accept the object pain. Other syntactic selectors have not been used for verbs because of their poor results. Indeed, while the detection of hyponymy using only the inclusion of contexts was effective on the nouns, it has the performance of a random classifier for verbs. This highlights the complexity of verbal polysemy.

For adjectives and verbs, only the synonymy selector was applied. For high F-score and high coverage resources, the same selectors (initial and syntactic) are applied, which is why the results are the same. While the inter-annotator agreement was lower on adjectives than on verbs, results are much better for adjectives. This is mainly due to the number of candidates from which to select: there are twice as less candidates for adjectives. This highlights the importance of dictionaries.

5.4 Evaluation against WOLF

Using our gold standard to compare WOLF and WoNeF would unfairly penalize WOLF for all correct words not present in our dictionaries. Conversely, we cannot consider WOLF as a direct reference as WOLF itself is not fully validated. The last publication giving overall WOLF figures [23] indicates a number of pairs around 77 000 with 86% precision33The detailed results for WOLF 1.0b are not currently available.. We thus compare the intersections between the high-precision WoNeF (93.3% precision) and WOLF 0.1.4 and 1.0b (Table 6). It shows that although WoNeF is still smaller than WOLF, it is a complementary resource. The comparison of the differences between WOLF 0.1.4 and WOLF 1.0b is instructive as it highlights WOLF improvements.

WOLF 0.1.4 \subset \supset \bigoplus
Nouns 18.7 3.0 10 526
Verbs 6.5 0.8 1 743
Adjectives 26.9 5.8 3 710
Adverbs 23.8 5.6 757
WOLF 1.0b \subset \supset \bigoplus
Nouns 49.7 8.6 6 503
Verbs 26.5 2.6 1 338
Adjectives 36.4 13.3 2 530
Adverbs 41.2 12.6 543
Table 6: Intersections between the high precision WoNeF and WOLF 0.1.4 and 1.0b. \subset is the percentage of WoNeF pairs included in WOLF and \supset is the percentage of WOLF pairs included in WoNeF. \bigoplus is the number of new elements contributed by WoNeF.

The \bigoplus column gives the number of translations that are present in WoNeF but not in WOLF. For nouns, verbs and adjectives, it means that we contribute 10 914 new high precision (literal, synset) pairs by merging WoNeF and WOLF 1.0, in other words 94% of the high precision WoNeF pairs which shows how much the two approaches are complementary: different literals are selected. This produces a French wordnet 10% larger than WOLF with an improved accuracy. A merging with the high F-score resource would be slightly less precise, but it would provide 81 052 new (literal, synset) pairs comparing to WOLF 1.0b, resulting in a merge containing 73 712 non-empty synsets and 188,657 (literal, synset) pairs, increasing WOLF coverage by 75% and the WoNeF one by 63%.


In this work, we have shown that the use of a syntactic language model to identify lexical relations between lexemes is possible in a constrained environment and leads to results with a state of the art precision for the task of translating WordNet. We offer three different resources, each with a different purpose. Finally, we provide a validated high quality gold standard that has enabled us to demonstrate both the validity of the approach of translating WordNet by extension and the validity of our specific approach. This gold standard can also be used to evaluate and develop other French WordNet translations. WoNeF is freely available on https://wonef.pradet.me/. It is licensed under the Creative Common Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 France licence. The current distribution formats are the DEBVisDic XML and WordNet-LMF formats, allowing integrating WoNeF into the Global WordNet Grid, easy access and easy conversions into any lexical resource format.

Future work on WoNeF will focus on verbs, adjectives and adverbs, for which dedicated new selectors may be considered to improve coverage. For example, the synonymy selector can be extended to the WordNet adjectival quasi-synonymy relationship because distributional semantic techniques tend to identify quasi-synonyms rather than synonyms.

Another important source of improvement will be to enrich our syntactic language model by taking into account reflexive verbs and multi-word expressions. We would also like to move towards a continuous language model []. This will be coupled with the collection of a more recent and larger Web corpus analyzed with a recent version of the linguistic analyzer. This will allow us to measure the impact of the language model quality on the WordNet translation.

The WOLF French wordnet was built using several techniques. Merging WoNeF and WOLF will soon improve again the status of the French translation of WordNet: we are working with WOLF authors to merge WOLF and WoNeF.


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