I stumbled across this Wikipedia article on Van Wijngaarden grammar.

This cut-down quote of the intro paragraph picks out the elements that I found tantalizingly interesting:

... Van Wijngaarden grammar ... was invented ... to define rigorously some syntactic restrictions which previously had to be formulated in natural language, despite their essentially syntactical content. Typical applications are the treatment of gender and number in natural language syntax ...

So I'm trying to find concrete examples of how to actually apply this Van Wijngaarden grammar to natural languages. (Gender, number, and I'm assuming stuff like verb inflection subtypes etc too...)

It seems to be pretty easy to find equivalent concrete examples of how the Backus-Naur Form can be applied to (limited subsets of) natural English grammar.

For instance, this page, under "3.1 THE SYNTAX OF A SIMPLE ENGLISH FRAGMENT" (no direct link to section; ctrl-f to it), has a good demonstration of how to build up to stuff like this:

sentence ::= subject verb (objects) {prepositional_phrase}

subject ::= noun_phrase

objects ::= (noun_phrase) noun_phrase

noun_phrase ::= pronoun | modified_noun

modified_noun ::= (specifier) (number) {adjective} {prepositional_phrase}

prepositional_phrase ::= preposition noun_phrase

So I'm looking for something like that, but for Van Wijngaarden grammar.

  • "Defining rigorously some syntactic restrictions" seems to speak to computer languages, not natural languages. Syntactic restrictions that can be rigorously defined are artifacts of theoretical and pre-theoretical assumptions, like the unspoken presuppositions here that "syntactical content" is independent of natural language, and that syntax not only can be, but should be formalized rigorously. This is probably somebody's dissertation, pushing some symbols around to get some variant of a Chomskyan grammar.
    – jlawler
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 16:05
  • 1
    You're almost certainly theoretically correct, if it had to work 100% perfectly. But there are really interesting practical applications if it only works more-often-than-not. If you maybe have some idea where I should look to find what I'm looking for (ie more concrete info on vW-grammar's "treatment of gender and number in natural language syntax"), then please do tell me? Otherwise, you don't have to bother answering at all. Thanks! :)
    – Owen_AR
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 21:42
  • What is supposed to be somebody's dissertation?- Programming languages started using Chomskyan context-free grammars with the language Algol 58 and the Backus-Normal Form (later Backus-Naur Form) to express context-free languages. Algol 68 was a sophisticated but unsuccessful attempt at improving Algol 60. It also attempted to improve syntax with the VW grammars, which are probably close to what is now a context-free skeleton with features structures (not pointing to any specific formalization). I am not sure using them will bring any benefit today. Algol 68 is the only use I know. CC @jlawler
    – babou
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 12:28
  • @babou: This isn't just any CF grammar; I thought it was a variant of BNF at first, too, but it actually appears to try to take real language seriously (or at least some theoretically-defined subset), and that's certainly not normal in Chomsky-level-1 grammars. It might not be a recent dissertation, of course; but the fact that it's got a person's name and that I haven't ever heard the name suggests either that it's outside the normal range of linguistic syntax and serious CL/NLP, or else it's recent. (P.S. Ah, Algol. I wrote my MA thesis in Burroughs B5500 Algol in 1967)
    – jlawler
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 15:33
  • 1
    @jlawler I am a bit lost. What person and/or dissertation are you talking about? If you mean Van Wijngaarden, he was a dutch mathematician, who died in 1987, and the main designer of Algol 68, for which he also designed the VW grammars. He was also in the Algol 60 committee.
    – babou
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 16:55


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