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Google Spell Checker Using Probability Theory

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Peter Norvig outlines how Google’s ‘did you mean’ spelling corrector uses probability theory, large training sets and some elegant statistical language processing to be so effective.  Type in a search like [speling] and Google comes back in 0.1 seconds or so with Did you mean: spelling. Here is a toy spelling corrector in python that achieves 80 to 90% accuracy and is very fast. (see  code below)

The big.txt file that is referenced here consists of about a million words. The file is a concatenation of several public domain books from Project Gutenberg and lists of most frequent words from Wiktionary and the British National Corpus. It uses a simple training method of just counting the occurrences of each word in the big text file. Obviously Google has a lot more data to seed this spelling checker with but I was suprised at how effective this relatively small seed was.


import re, collections

def words(text): return re.findall('[a-z]+', text.lower())

def train(features):
    model = collections.defaultdict(lambda: 1)
    for f in features:
        model[f] += 1
    return model

NWORDS = train(words(file('big.txt').read()))
alphabet = 'abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz'

def edits1(word):
   s = [(word[:i], word[i:]) for i in range(len(word) + 1)]
   deletes    = [a + b[1:] for a, b in s if b]
   transposes = [a + b[1] + b[0] + b[2:] for a, b in s if len(b)>1]
   replaces   = [a + c + b[1:] for a, b in s for c in alphabet if b]
   inserts    = [a + c + b     for a, b in s for c in alphabet]
   return set(deletes + transposes + replaces + inserts)

def known_edits2(word):
    return set(e2 for e1 in edits1(word) for e2 in edits1(e1) if e2 in NWORDS)

def known(words): return set(w for w in words if w in NWORDS)

def correct(word):
    candidates = known([word]) or known(edits1(word)) or known_edits2(word) or [word]
    return max(candidates, key=NWORDS.get)

See more details, test results and further work at Peter Novig’s site. http://norvig.com/spell-correct.html

Written by mattalcock

November 6, 2009 at 10:24 am