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A Context-free Markup Language for Semi-structured Text

Report ID:
November 2009
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An ad hoc data format is any nonstandard, semi-structured data format for which robust data processing tools are not available. In this paper, we present ANNE, a new kind of mark-up language designed to help users generate documentation and data processing tools for ad hoc text data. More specifically, given a new ad hoc data source, an ANNE programmer will edit the document to add a number of simple annotations, which serve to specify its syntactic structure. Annotations include elements that specify constants, optional data, alternatives, enumerations, sequences, tabular data, and recursive patterns. The ANNE system uses a combination of user annotations and the raw data itself to extract a context-free grammar from the document. This context-free grammar can then be used to parse the data and transform it into an XML parse tree, which may be viewed through a browser for analysis or debugging purposes. In addition, the ANNE system will generate a PADS/ML description which may be saved as lasting documentation of the data format or compiled into a host of useful data processing tools ranging from parsers, printers and traversal libraries to format translators and query engines. Overall, ANNE simplifies the process of generating descriptions for data formats and improves the productivity of programmers who work with ad hoc data regularly.

In addition to designing and implementing ANNE, we have devised a semantic theory for the core elements of the language. This semantic theory describes the editing process, which translates a raw, unannotated text document into an annotated document, and the grammar extraction process, which generates a context-free grammar from an annotated document. We also present an alternative characterization of system behavior by drawing upon ideas from the field of relevance logic. This secondary characterization, which we call relevance analysis, specifies a direct relationship be- tween unannotated documents and the context-free grammars that our system can generate from them. Relevance analysis allows us to prove a number of important theorems concerning the expressiveness and utility of our system.

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