Generalized context-free grammar

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Generalized Context-free Grammar (GCFG) is a grammar formalism that expands on context-free grammars by adding potentially non-context free composition functions to rewrite rules.[1] Head grammar (and its weak equivalents) is an instance of such a GCFG which is known to be especially adept at handling a wide variety of non-CF properties of natural language.


A GCFG consists of two components: a set of composition functions that combine string tuples, and a set of rewrite rules. The composition functions all have the form , where is either a single string tuple, or some use of a (potentially different) composition function which reduces to a string tuple. Rewrite rules look like , where , , ... are string tuples or non-terminal symbols.

The rewrite semantics of GCFGs is fairly straight forward. An occurrence of a non-terminal symbol is rewritten using rewrite rules as in a context-free grammar, eventually yielding just compositions (composition functions applied to string tuples or other compositions). The composition functions are then applied, successively reducing the tuples to a single tuple.


A simple translation of a context-free grammar into a GCFG can be performed in the following fashion. Given the grammar in (1), which generates the palindrome language , where is the string reverse of , we can define the composition function conc as in (2a) and the rewrite rules as in (2b).

The CF production of abbbba is






and the corresponding GCFG production is

Linear Context-free Rewriting Systems (LCFRSs)[edit]

Weir (1988)[1] describes two properties of composition functions, linearity and regularity. A function defined as is linear if and only if each variable appears at most once on either side of the =, making linear but not . A function defined as is regular if the left hand side and right hand side have exactly the same variables, making regular but not or .

A grammar in which all composition functions are both linear and regular is called a Linear Context-free Rewriting System (LCFRS). LCFRS is a proper subclass of the GCFGs, i.e. it has strictly less computational power than the GCFGs as a whole.

On the other hand, LCFRSs are strictly more expressive than linear-indexed grammars and their weakly equivalent variant tree adjoining grammars (TAGs).[2] Head grammar is another example of an LCFRS that is strictly less powerful than the class of LCFRSs as a whole.

LCFRS are weakly equivalent to (set-local) multicomponent TAGs (MCTAGs) and also with multiple context-free grammar (MCFGs [1]).[3] and minimalist grammars (MGs). The languages generated by LCFRS (and their weakly equivalents) can be parsed in polynomial time.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Weir, David Jeremy (Sep 1988). Characterizing mildly context-sensitive grammar formalisms (PDF) (Ph.D.). Paper. University of Pennsylvania Ann Arbor. 
  2. ^ Laura Kallmeyer (2010). Parsing Beyond Context-Free Grammars. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 33. ISBN 978-3-642-14846-0. 
  3. ^ Laura Kallmeyer (2010). Parsing Beyond Context-Free Grammars. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 35-36. ISBN 978-3-642-14846-0. 
  4. ^ Johan F.A.K. van Benthem; Alice ter Meulen (2010). Handbook of Logic and Language (2nd ed.). Elsevier. p. 404. ISBN 978-0-444-53727-0.