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How to Write a Spelling Corrector


tao

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One week in 2007, two friends (Dean and Bill) independently told me they were amazed at Google's spelling correction. Type in a search like [speling] and Google instantly comes back with Showing results for: spelling. I thought Dean and Bill, being highly accomplished engineers and mathematicians, would have good intuitions about how this process works. But they didn't, and come to think of it, why should they know about something so far outisde their specialty?

 

I figured they, and others, could benefit from an explanation. The full details of an industrial-strength spell corrector are quite complex (you can read a little about it here or here). But I figured that in the course of a transcontinental plane ride I could write and explain a toy spelling corrector that achieves 80 or 90% accuracy at a processing speed of at least 10 words per second in about half a page of code.

And here it is (or see spell.py):

import re
from collections import Counter

def words(text): return re.findall(r'\w+', text.lower())

WORDS = Counter(words(open('big.txt').read()))

def P(word, N=sum(WORDS.values())): 
    "Probability of `word`."
    return WORDS[word] / N

def correction(word): 
    "Most probable spelling correction for word."
    return max(candidates(word), key=P)

def candidates(word): 
    "Generate possible spelling corrections for word."
    return (known([word]) or known(edits1(word)) or known(edits2(word)) or [word])

def known(words): 
    "The subset of `words` that appear in the dictionary of WORDS."
    return set(w for w in words if w in WORDS)

def edits1(word):
    "All edits that are one edit away from `word`."
    letters    = 'abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz'
    splits     = [(word[:i], word[i:])    for i in range(len(word) + 1)]
    deletes    = [L + R[1:]               for L, R in splits if R]
    transposes = [L + R[1] + R[0] + R[2:] for L, R in splits if len(R)>1]
    replaces   = [L + c + R[1:]           for L, R in splits if R for c in letters]
    inserts    = [L + c + R               for L, R in splits for c in letters]
    return set(deletes + transposes + replaces + inserts)

def edits2(word): 
    "All edits that are two edits away from `word`."
    return (e2 for e1 in edits1(word) for e2 in edits1(e1))

The function correction(word) returns a likely spelling correction:

>>> correction('speling')
'spelling'

>>> correction('korrectud')
'corrected'

 

How It Works: Some Probability Theory

 

Please, if interested, read the entire article < here >.

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