Finite-state techniques are widely used in various areas of Natural Language Processing (NLP). As Kaplan and Kay [12] have argued, regular expressions are the appropriate level of abstraction for thinking about finite-state languages and finite-state relations. More complex finite-state operations (such as contexted replacement) are defined on the basis of basic operations (such as Kleene closure, complementation, composition).

For instance, context sensitive rewrite rules have been widely used in several areas of natural language processing, including syntax, phonology and speech processing. Johnson [11] has shown that such rewrite rules are equivalent to finite state transducers under the assumption that they are not allowed to rewrite their own output. An algorithm for compilation into transducers was provided by Kaplan and Kay [12]. Improvements and extensions to this algorithm have been provided by Karttunen [13] [15] [14] and Mohri & Sproat [19]. Such algorithms take as their input regular expressions for the strings to be replaced and the left and right contexts, and produce a finite-state transducer. In other words, such an algorithm provides a new regular expression operator.

Many different variants of replacement operators have been proposed, depending on whether rewrite rules are interpreted left to right, right to left or in parallel; whether rewrite rules are required to use longest, shortest or all matches; whether rules are obligatory or optional; whether contexts should match the input side or the output side of the transductions etc. For this reason, it is crucial to be able to experiment with each of the various proposals in a flexible way.

Version 5 of the FSA Utilities [25] is an extended, rewritten and redesigned version of the FSA Utilities toolbox previously presented at the first WIA [24]. The FSA Utilities toolbox has been developed as a platform for experimenting with finite-state approaches in natural language processing. For this reason, the FSA Utilities toolbox is implemented in SICStus Prolog (cf. also section 5).

FSA5 provides a very flexible * extendible* regular expression
compiler. Below, we present the basic regular expression operations
provided by the compiler, and the possibilities to create new regular
expression operators. We illustrate the exendible regular expression
compiler with a number of examples taken from recent publications in
the area of finite-state approaches to NLP.