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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

An English language question answering system for a large relational database

By typing requests in English, casual users will be able to obtain explicit answers from a large relational database of aircraft flight and maintenance data using a system called PLANES. The design and implementation of this system is described and illustrated with detailed examples of the operation of system components and examples of overall system operation. The language processing portion of the system uses a number of augmented transition networks, each of which matches phrases with a specific meaning, along with context registers (history keepers) and concept case frames; these are used for judging meaningfulness of questions, generating dialogue for clarifying partially understood questions, and resolving ellipsis and pronoun reference problems. Other system components construct a formal query for the relational database, and optimize the order of searching relations. Methods are discussed for handling vague or complex questions and for providing browsing ability. Also included are discussions of important issues in programming natural language systems for limited domains, and the relationship of this system to others.

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