Identifying nocuous ambiguity in natural language requirements

Francis J. Chantree
This dissertation is an investigation into how ambiguity should be classified for authors and readers of text, and how this process can be automated. Usually, authors and readers disambiguate ambiguity, either consciously or unconsciously. However, disambiguation is not always appropriate. For instance, a linguistic construction may be read differently by different people, with no consensus about which reading is the intended one. This is particularly dangerous if they do not realise that other
more » ... readings are possible. Misunderstandings may then occur. This is particularly serious in the field of requirements engineering. If requirements are misunderstood, systems may be built incorrectly, and this can prove very costly. Our research uses natural language processing techniques to address ambiguity in requirements. We develop a model of ambiguity, and a method of applying it, which represent a novel approach to the problem described here. Our model is based on the notion that human perception is the only valid criterion for judging ambiguity. If people perceive very differently how an ambiguity should be read, it will cause misunderstandings. Assigning a preferred reading to it is therefore unwise. In text, such ambiguities should be located and rewritten in a less ambiguous form; others need not be reformulated. We classify the former as nocuous and the latter as innocuous. We allow the dividing line between these two classifications to be adjustable. We term this the ambiguity threshold, and it represents a level of intolerance to ambiguity. A nocuous ambiguity can be an unacknowledged or an acknowledged ambiguity for a given set of readers. In the former case, they assign disparate readings to the ambiguity, but each is unaware that the others read it differently. In the latter case, they recognise that the ambiguity has more than one reading, but this fact may be unacknowledged by new readers. We present an automated approach to determine whether ambiguities in [...]
doi:10.21954/ fatcat:z2he6jm365ezxmixf5sumtaquq