Porter Stemming

September 8, 2009

Stemming, in the parlance of searching and information retrieval, is the operation of stripping the suffices from a word, leaving its stem. Google, for instance, uses stemming to search for web pages containing the words connected, connecting, connection and connections when you ask for a web page that contains the word connect.

There are basically two ways to implement stemming. The first approach is to create a big dictionary that maps words to their stems. The advantage of this approach is that it works perfectly (insofar as the stem of a word can be defined perfectly); the disadvantages are the space required by the dictionary and the investment required to maintain the dictionary as new words appear. The second approach is to use a set of rules that extract stems from words. The advantages of this approach are that the code is typically small, and it can gracefully handle new words; the disadvantage is that it occasionally makes mistakes. But, since stemming is imperfectly defined, anyway, occasional mistakes are tolerable, and the rule-based approach is the one that is generally chosen.

In 1979, Martin Porter developed a stemming algorithm that, with minor modifications, is still in use today; it uses a set of rules to extract stems from words, and though it makes some mistakes, most common words seem to work out right. Porter describes his algorithm and provides a reference implementation in C at http://tartarus.org/~martin/PorterStemmer/index.html; the description of the algorithm is repeated on the next page.

Your task is to write a function that stems words according to Porter’s algorithm; you should be aware that this exercise requires rather more code than we usually write, though it’s no harder than usual. When you are finished, you are welcome to read or run a suggested solution, or to post your solution or discuss the exercise in the comments below.

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