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The universal dependency annotation is based on a lexicalist view of syntax, which means that dependency relations hold between words. Hence, morphological features are encoded as properties of words and there is no attempt at segmenting words into morphemes. However, it is important to note that the basic units of annotation are syntactic words (not phonological or orthographic words), which means that we systematically want to split off clitics, as in Spanish dámelo = da me lo, and undo contractions, as in French au = à le. (In principle, the lexicalist view could also be taken to imply that certain multiword annotations should be treated as single words in the annotation. So far, however, multiword expressions are annotated as such using special dependency relations, rather than by collapsing multiple tokens into one.)

Since word segmentation in general is a non-trivial task in many languages, and since the usefulness of tools trained on treebank data ultimately depends on how well the word segmentation can be reproduced for new data, it is important to document the principles of word segmentation for each language. The nature of this documentation will vary from one language to the next, depending on properties of the language and the writing system. For languages where word segmentation can be performed by a simple script given white-space and punctuation, only the words need to be represented in the treebank. For languages not using white-space at all, such as Chinese and Japanese, a complex word segmentation algorithm has to be employed, but there is no need to represent the basic character sequence in the treebank since it is completely recoverable from the word representation. By contrast, in languages where the mapping between white-space delimited tokens and syntactic words is highly ambiguous, such as Arabic and Hebrew, we provide the option of including both tokens and words in the treebank using a two-level indexing scheme described in the CoNLL-U format section. The morphological and syntactic annotation is only defined at the word level, but a heuristic mapping to the token level can usually be provided.

Language-specific extensions to this documentation must describe how tokenization and word segmentation has been performed for each language (including references to standard tokenization schemes if any), whether the treebank includes (multiword) tokens as well as words, and what types of white-space separated tokens are split into multiple words (if any).