Natural Language Processing

11-411 for undergrads | 11-611 for grads

Course Description

This course is about a variety of ways to represent human languages (like English and Chinese) as computational systems, and how to exploit those representations to write programs that do neat stuff with text and speech data, like
  • translation,
  • summarization,
  • extracting information,
  • question answering,
  • natural interfaces to databases, and
  • conversational agents.

This field is called Natural Language Processing or Computational Linguistics, and it is extremely multidisciplinary. This course will therefore include some ideas central to Machine Learning and to Linguistics.

We'll cover computational treatments of words, sounds, sentences, meanings, and conversations. We'll see how probabilities and real-world text data can help. We'll see how different levels interact in state-of-the-art approaches to applications like translation and information extraction.

From a software engineering perspective, there will be an emphasis on rapid prototyping, a useful skill in many other areas of Computer Science.

Course Prerequisites

CS courses on data structures and algorithms, and strong programming skills.


Date Topic Readings Assignments and
Project milestones
1 Jan 15 Course overview; What does it mean to know language?
Lecture Video
Chap 1
2 Jan 17 Information extraction, question answering, and NLP in IR
Lecture Video
Chap 22.0-2, 23.0-2
3 Jan 22 Project
Lecture Video / Lecture Video (better audio)
4 Jan 24 Words, morphology, and lexicons
Lecture Video
Chap 3.1-3.9 Assignment 1 out
5 Jan 29 Language models and smoothing
Lecture Video
Chap 4.3-8
Jan 31 Class is canceled. Assignment 1 due
Assignment 2 out
6 Feb 5 Noisy channel models and edit distance
Lecture Video
Chap 3.10, 3.11, 5.9
7 Feb 7 Classification
Lecture Video
Assignment 2 due
Assignment 3 out
8 Feb 12 Part of speech tags
Lecture Video
Chap 5.0-3
9 Feb 14 Hidden Markov models
Lecture Video
Chap 6.0-4 Assignment 3 due
Assignment 4 out
10 Feb 19 Syntactic representations of natural language
Lecture Video
Chap 12.0-3
11 Feb 21 Chomsky hierarchy and natural language
Lecture Video
Chap 15
12 Feb 26 Context-free recognition, CKY
Lecture Video
13 Feb 28 Parsing algorithms
Lecture Video
Chap 12.7, Chap 13, Chap 14-14.2 Assignment 4 due
Assignment 5 out
14 Mar 5 Treebanks and PCFGs
Lecture Video
Chap 12.4, 14.7 Project Progress Report due 11:59pm
Mar 7 Midterm exam
15 Mar 19 Lexical semantics
Lecture Video
Chap 17.0-2, 19.0-3
16 Mar 21 Word embeddings/vector semantics
Lecture Video
SLP3 Chap 6 Assignment 5 due
Assignment 6 out
17 Mar 26 Verb/sentence semantics
Chap 17.2-4, Chap 19.4-6
18 Mar 28 Compositional semantics, semantic parsing
Chap 18.1-3
19 Apr 2 Word Sense Disambiguation and Semantic Role Labelling
Chap 20
20 Apr 4 Discourse, entity linking, pragmatics
Chap 20.0-6, 20.8-11 Assignment 6 due
Assignment 7 out
21 Apr 9 Speech 1
Project dry run code due 11:59 PM
22 Apr 16 Speech 2
23 Apr 18 Non-English NLP
Assignment 7 due
24 Apr 23 Interpreting Social Media
25 Apr 25 Machine Translation
Chap 25.0-1, 25.9 Final Project code due 11:59 PM
26 Apr 30 Deep Learning
27 May 2 Conclusion
Final Project report due 11:59pm
TBD Final exam

Competitive Project

A major component will be the project: build a program whose input is a web page P and whose output is a set of questions about the content in P (that a human could answer if she read P), and can also, if given a question Q about the content of P, answer the question intelligently. Projects will be pitted against each other in a competition at the end of the course.


Students will be evaluated by exam (midterm and final, totaling 40%), regular short quizzes and weekly pencil-and-paper or small programming homework problems (30% together), and the group project (30%).


Should I take this course?

Yes, if:

  • you're a CS student interested in languages, language technology, or information processing
  • you're a CS student who needs an "applications" credit
  • you're a language technology minor (this course is an elective option)
  • you're a linguistics student who can write computer programs (this course is an elective option)
  • you always suspected natural language was kind of like Lisp (or Java or ...)
  • you want computers to take over the world
  • you don't want computers to take over the world, but if they do, you want to negotiate your release
  • you like AI, machine learning, and/or theoretical computer science, and want to apply them to a hard real-world problem

Related courses elsewhere (not exhaustive!)

University of California, Berkeley, Brown University, University of Colorado, Columbia University, Cornell University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, University of Utah, University of Wisconsin-Madison