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    Probabilistic Earley parser

    This is a library for parsing a string of tokens (like words) into parse trees that are weighted by probability. For example: you might want to know the probabilities for all derivations of an English sentence, or the most likely table of contents structure for a list of paragraphs. This library allows you to do so efficiently, as long as you can describe the rules as a Context-free Grammar (CFG).

    The innovation of this library with respect to the gazillion other parsing libraries is that this one allows the poduction rules in your grammar to have a probability attached to them. This allows us to make a better choice in case of an ambiguous sentence: just select the derivation with the highest probability (this is called the Viterbi parse). If you do not need probabilities attached to your parse trees, you are probably better off using nearley instead.

    For a theoretical grounding of this work, refer to Stolcke, An Efficient Probabilistic Context-Free Parsing Algorithm that Computes Prefix Probabilities.


    While libraries for nondeterministic grammars abound, I could not find an existing JavaScript implementation of the Probabilistic Earley Parser. I have made a stochastic CYK parser before, but I wanted something more top down that makes it easier to intervene in the parsing process, for instance when an unexpected token is encountered. In many cases Earley also parses faster than CYK (sparse grammars) and it doesn't require the grammar to be rewritten in any normal form.


    import {getViterbiParse, Grammar} from 'probabilistic-earley-parser';
    import treeify from 'treeify';
    // Nonterminals are string
    const S = "S"; // : NonTerminal 
    const NP = "NP"; // : NonTerminal 
    const VP = "VP"; // : NonTerminal 
    const TV = "TV"; // : NonTerminal 
    const Det = "Det"; // : NonTerminal 
    const N = "N"; // : NonTerminal 
    const Mod = "Mod"; // : NonTerminal 
    // Terminals are functions that should return true when the parameter is of given type
    const transitiveVerb = (token) => !!token.match(/(hit|chased)/); // : Terminal<string>
    const the = (token) => !!token.match(/the/i);// : Terminal<string> 
    const a = (token) => !!token.match(/a/i);// : Terminal<string> 
    const man = (token) => !!token.match(/man/);// : Terminal<string> 
    const stick = (token) => !!token.match(/stick/);// : Terminal<string> 
    const with_ = (token) => !!token.match(/with/);// : Terminal<string> 
    const grammar = Grammar.builder("test") //: Grammar<string,number> 
            1.0,   // Probability between 0.0 and 1.0, defaults to 1.0. The builder takes care of converting it to the semiring element
            S,     // Left hand side of the rule
            [NP, VP] // Right hand side of the rule
        // NP -> Det N (1.0)
            [Det, N] // eg. The man
        // NP -> Det N Mod (1.0)
            [Det, N, Mod] // eg. The man (with a stick)
        // VP -> TV NP Mod (0.4)
            [TV, NP, Mod] // eg. (chased) (the man) (with a stick)
        // VP -> TV NP (0.6)
            [TV, NP] // eg. (chased) (the man with a stick)
        .addNewRule(1.0, Det, [a])
        .addNewRule(1.0, Det, [the])
        .addNewRule(1.0, N, [man])
        .addNewRule(1.0, N, [stick])
        .addNewRule(1.0, TV, [transitiveVerb])
        .addNewRule(1.0, Mod, [with_, NP]) // eg. with a stick
    const tokens = ["The", "man", "chased", "the", "man", "with", "a", "stick"];
    const viterbi = getViterbiParse(
    ); // : ParseTreeWithScore<string>
    console.log(viterbi.probability); // 0.6
    function makeTree(o){
        if(o.children && o.children.length > 0){
            const obj = {
            for(var i=0;i<o.children.length;i++){
                const name = o.children[i].token?o.children[i].token:o.children[i].category;
                obj[name] = makeTree(o.children[i]);
            return obj;
        }else if(o.token) return o.token;
        else return o.category;
    └─ S
       ├─ NP
       │  ├─ Det
       │  │  └─ The
       │  └─ N
       │     └─ man
       └─ VP
          ├─ TV
          │  └─ chased
          └─ NP
             ├─ Det
             │  └─ the
             ├─ N
             │  └─ man
             └─ Mod
                ├─ with
                └─ NP
                   ├─ Det
                   │  └─ a
                   └─ N
                      └─ stick

    Some notes on implementation

    Written in TypeScript, published as a commonjs module on NPM (ES6 with type declarations) and a single-file minified UMD module on Github in vulgar ES5.

    This is an implementation of a probabilistic Earley parsing algorithm, which can parse any Probabilistic Context Free Grammar (PCFG) (also known as Stochastic Context Free Grammar (SCFG)), or equivalently any language described in Backus-Naur Form (BNF). In these grammars, rewrite rules may be non-deterministic and have a probability attached to them.

    The probability of a parse is defined as the product of the probalities all the applied rules. Usually, we define probability as a number between 0 and 1 inclusive, and use common algebraic notions of addition and multiplication.

    This code makes it possible to use any semiring for computing scores. My use for this is to avoid arithmetic underflow: imagine a computation like 0.1 * 0.1 * ... * 0.1. At some point, floating point arithmetic will be unable to represent a number so small. To counter, we use the Log semiring which holds the minus log of the probability. So that maps the numbers 0 and 1 to the numbers between infinity and zero, skewed towards lower probabilities:

    Graph plot of f(x) = -log(x)

    Graph for f(x) = -log x

    Runtime complexity

    The Earley algorithm has nice complexity properties. In particular, it can parse:

    • any CFG in O(n³),
    • unambiguous CFGs in O(n²)
    • left-recursive unambiguous grammars in O(n)

    Note that this implementation does not apply innovations such as Joop Leo's improvement to run linearly on on right-recursive grammars as well. It might be complicated to implement this: making the parser stochastic is not as easy for Earley as it is for CYK.

    For a faster parser that work on non-probabilistic grammars, look into nearley.


    • I have not provisioned for ε-rules (rules with an empty right hand side)
    • Rule probability estimation may be performed using the inside-outside algorithm, but is not currently implemented
    • Higher level concepts such as wildcards, * and + are not implemented
    • Viterbi parsing (querying the most likely parse tree) only returns one single parse. In the case of an ambiguous sentence in which multiple dervation have the highest probability, the returned parse is not guaranteed the left-most parse (I think).


    This software is licensed under a permissive MIT license.


    Stolcke, Andreas. "An efficient probabilistic context-free parsing algorithm that computes prefix probabilities." Computational linguistics 21.2 (1995): 165-201. APA




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