Latin pars orationis part of speech
- b : to describe grammatically by stating the part of speech and explaining the inflection and syntactical relationships
- 2: to examine in a minute way : analyze critically <having trouble parsing … explanations for dwindling market shares — R. S. Anson>
Parsing or syntactic analysis is the process of analysing a string of symbols, either in natural language or in computer languages, according to the rules of a formal grammar. The term parsing comes from Latin pars (orationis), meaning part (of speech).
The term has slightly different meanings in different branches of linguistics and computer science. Traditional sentence parsing is often performed as a method of understanding the exact meaning of a sentence, sometimes with the aid of devices such as sentence diagrams. It usually emphasizes the importance of grammatical divisions such as subject and predicate.
Within computational linguistics the term is used to refer to the formal analysis by a computer of a sentence or other string of words into its constituents, resulting in a parse tree showing their syntactic relation to each other, which may also contain semantic and other information.
The term is also used in psycholinguistics when describing language comprehension. In this context, parsing refers to the way that human beings analyze a sentence or phrase (in spoken language or text) "in terms of grammatical constituents, identifying the parts of speech, syntactic relations, etc." This term is especially common when discussing what linguistic cues help speakers to interpret garden-path sentences.
Within computer science, the term is used in the analysis of computer languages, referring to the syntactic analysis of the input code into its component parts in order to facilitate the writing of compilers and interpreters.
The traditional grammatical exercise of parsing, sometimes known as clause analysis, involves breaking down a text into its component parts of speech with an explanation of the form, function, and syntactic relationship of each part. This is determined in large part from study of the language's conjugations and declensions, which can be quite intricate for heavily inflected languages. To parse a phrase such as 'man bites dog' involves noting that the singular noun 'man' is the subject of the sentence, the verb 'bites' is the third person singular of the present tense of the verb 'to bite', and the singular noun 'dog' is the object of the sentence. Techniques such as sentence diagrams are sometimes used to indicate relation between elements in the sentence.
Parsing was formerly central to the teaching of grammar throughout the English-speaking world, and widely regarded as basic to the use and understanding of written language. However the teaching of such techniques is no longer current.