CCE Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Information Systems (DISS)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Sumitra Mukherjee

Committee Member

Amon B. Seagull

Committee Member

Michael Lazlo


Information science, Conversational Agent, disambiguation, malapropism, Natural Language Processing, n-gram probability, semantic distance


The use of Conversational Agents (CAs) utilizing Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML) has been studied in a number of disciplines. Previous research has shown a great deal of promise. It has also documented significant limitations in the abilities of these CAs. Many of these limitations are related specifically to the method employed by AIML to resolve ambiguities in the meaning and context of words. While methods exist to detect and correct common errors in spelling and grammar of sentences and queries submitted by a user, one class of input error that is particularly difficult to detect and correct is the malapropism. In this research a malapropism is defined a "verbal blunder in which one word is replaced by another similar in sound but different in meaning" ("malapropism," 2013).

This research explored the use of alternative methods of correcting malapropisms in sentences input to AIML CAs using measures of Semantic Distance and tri-gram probabilities. Results of these alternate methods were compared against AIML CAs using only the Symbolic Reductions built into AIML.

This research found that the use of the two methodologies studied here did indeed lead to a small, but measurable improvement in the performance of the CA in terms of the appropriateness of its responses as classified by human judges. However, it was also noted that in a large number of cases, the CA simply ignored the existence of a malapropism altogether in formulating its responses. In most of these cases, the interpretation and response to the user's input was of such a general nature that one might question the overall efficacy of the AIML engine. The answer to this question is a matter for further study.