The Importance of Modeling Social Factors of Language: Theory and Practice

Dirk Hovy, Diyi Yang


Abstract
Natural language processing (NLP) applications are now more powerful and ubiquitous than ever before. With rapidly developing (neural) models and ever-more available data, current NLP models have access to more information than any human speaker during their life. Still, it would be hard to argue that NLP models have reached human-level capacity. In this position paper, we argue that the reason for the current limitations is a focus on information content while ignoring language’s social factors. We show that current NLP systems systematically break down when faced with interpreting the social factors of language. This limits applications to a subset of information-related tasks and prevents NLP from reaching human-level performance. At the same time, systems that incorporate even a minimum of social factors already show remarkable improvements. We formalize a taxonomy of seven social factors based on linguistic theory and exemplify current failures and emerging successes for each of them. We suggest that the NLP community address social factors to get closer to the goal of human-like language understanding.
Anthology ID:
2021.naacl-main.49
Volume:
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies
Month:
June
Year:
2021
Address:
Online
Venue:
NAACL
SIG:
Publisher:
Association for Computational Linguistics
Note:
Pages:
588–602
Language:
URL:
https://aclanthology.org/2021.naacl-main.49
DOI:
10.18653/v1/2021.naacl-main.49
Bibkey:
Cite (ACL):
Dirk Hovy and Diyi Yang. 2021. The Importance of Modeling Social Factors of Language: Theory and Practice. In Proceedings of the 2021 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, pages 588–602, Online. Association for Computational Linguistics.
Cite (Informal):
The Importance of Modeling Social Factors of Language: Theory and Practice (Hovy & Yang, NAACL 2021)
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PDF:
https://aclanthology.org/2021.naacl-main.49.pdf
Video:
 https://aclanthology.org/2021.naacl-main.49.mp4