I was reading about semantic selection and came to know about the difference between semantic selection and word sense disambiguation. The difference is that its aim is to find the most adequate translation, not the most adequate sense. Thus, it is not necessary to choose between a series of fine-grained senses if all these senses result in the same final translation. But can someone please explain this with help of an example?

1 Answer 1


To give an example:

English and French (as well as many other langugages) do not make a distinction between inclusive vs exclusive or (lexically at least, we can ignore obviously available hints like prosody for this purpose 1):

Do you eat fish or meat? - Fish. (exclusive or: choose one of the disjuncts)
Do you eat fish or meat? - Yes. (inclusive or: true if any of the disjuncts is true)

Est-ce que tu manges du poisson ou de la viande? - Du poisson.
Est-ce que tu manges du poisson ou de la viande? - Oui.

Finnish, on the other hand, does make this distinction:

Syötkö kalaa vai lihaa? - Kalaa.
Syötkö kalaa tai lihaa? - Syön. ("syön" = "I eat"; this is the Finnish way of giving a positive answer to a yes-no question)

Now when disambiguating the English word or, we could make the following semantic disambiguation:

or =

  1. exclusive or
  2. inclusive or

When translating the English sentence to French, this distinction is irrelevant: Since French doesn't lexically realize the difference between inclusive vs. exclusive or either, we don't need to make the distinction in the first place, as both sense will result in the same translation (ou).

However, when translating English to Finnish, the distinction does become relevant: Depending on whether or is used in the exclusive or the inclusive sense, the translation will result in either vai or tai, the two words having a different meaning in Finnish.

Thus, for English -- French, we only need the most adequate translation (which will be ou anyway) and can igonre the further difference between exclusive vs. inclusive or, which corresponds to semantic selection, while for English -- Finnish, we actually need the most adequate sense, so here a WSD is required.

1 and let's also ignore the rather unplausible third reading where we have a yes-no question but with an exclusive or, to which a valid answer would "yes" if the adressee eats either fish or meat, but not both

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