Contextual Word Spotting in Historical Handwritten Documents

David Fernández


There are countless collections of historical documents in archives and libraries that contain plenty of valuable information for historians and researchers. The extraction of this information has become a central task among the Document Analysis researches and practitioners. There is an increasing interest to digital preserve and provide access to these kind of documents. But only the digitalization is not enough for the researchers. The extraction and/or indexation of information of this documents has had an increased interest among researchers. In many cases, and in particular in historical manuscripts, the full transcription of these documents is extremely difficult due the inherent deficiencies: poor physical preservation, different writing styles, obsolete languages, etc.

Word spotting has become a popular an efficient alternative to full transcription. It inherently involves a high level of degradation in the images. The search of words is holistically formulated as a visual search of a given query shape in a larger image, instead of recognising the input text and searching the query word with an ascii string comparison. But the performance of classical word spotting approaches depend on the degradation level of the images being unacceptable in many cases . In this thesis we have proposed a novel paradigm called contextual word spotting method that uses the contextual/semantic information to achieve acceptable results whereas classical word spotting does not reach.

The contextual word spotting framework proposed in this thesis is a segmentation-based word spotting approach, so an efficient word segmentation is needed. Historical handwritten documents present some common difficulties that can increase the difficulties the extraction of the words. We have proposed a line segmentation approach that formulates the problem as finding the central part path in the area between two consecutive lines. This is solved as a graph traversal problem. A path finding algorithm is used to find the optimal path in a graph, previously computed, between the text lines. Once the text lines are extracted, words are localized inside the text lines using a word segmentation technique from the state of the art.

Classical word spotting approaches can be improved using the contextual information of the documents. We have introduced a new framework, oriented to handwritten documents that present a highly structure, to extract information making use of context. The framework is an efficient tool for semi-automatic transcription that uses the contextual information to achieve better results than classical word spotting approaches. The contextual information is automatically discovered by recognizing repetitive structures and categorizing all the words according to semantic classes. The most frequent words in each semantic cluster are extracted and the same text is used to transcribe all them.

The experimental results achieved in this thesis outperform classical word spotting approaches demonstrating the suitability of the proposed ensemble architecture for spotting words in historical handwritten documents using contextual information.


Word Spotting; Contextual Historical Documents; Handwritten Text Recognition

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Copyright (c) 2015 David Fernández