Language models are often trained on text alone, without additional grounding. There is debate as to how much of natural language semantics can be inferred from such a procedure. We prove that entailment judgments between sentences can be extracted from an ideal language model that has perfectly learned its target distribution, assuming the training sentences are generated by Gricean agents, i.e., agents who follow fundamental principles of communication from the linguistic theory of pragmatics. We also show entailment judgments can be decoded from the predictions of a language model trained on such Gricean data. Our results reveal a pathway for understanding the semantic information encoded in unlabeled linguistic data and a potential framework for extracting semantics from language models.
For a natural language understanding benchmark to be useful in research, it has to consist of examples that are diverse and difficult enough to discriminate among current and near-future state-of-the-art systems. However, we do not yet know how best to select text sources to collect a variety of challenging examples. In this study, we crowdsource multiple-choice reading comprehension questions for passages taken from seven qualitatively distinct sources, analyzing what attributes of passages contribute to the difficulty and question types of the collected examples. To our surprise, we find that passage source, length, and readability measures do not significantly affect question difficulty. Through our manual annotation of seven reasoning types, we observe several trends between passage sources and reasoning types, e.g., logical reasoning is more often required in questions written for technical passages. These results suggest that when creating a new benchmark dataset, selecting a diverse set of passages can help ensure a diverse range of question types, but that passage difficulty need not be a priority.
Understanding language requires grasping not only the overtly stated content, but also making inferences about things that were left unsaid. These inferences include presuppositions, a phenomenon by which a listener learns about new information through reasoning about what a speaker takes as given. Presuppositions require complex understanding of the lexical and syntactic properties that trigger them as well as the broader conversational context. In this work, we introduce the Naturally-Occurring Presuppositions in English (NOPE) Corpus to investigate the context-sensitivity of 10 different types of presupposition triggers and to evaluate machine learning models’ ability to predict human inferences. We find that most of the triggers we investigate exhibit moderate variability. We further find that transformer-based models draw correct inferences in simple cases involving presuppositions, but they fail to capture the minority of exceptional cases in which human judgments reveal complex interactions between context and triggers.
Linguistically informed analyses of language models (LMs) contribute to the understanding and improvement of such models. Here, we introduce the corpus of Chinese linguistic minimal pairs (CLiMP) to investigate what knowledge Chinese LMs acquire. CLiMP consists of sets of 1000 minimal pairs (MPs) for 16 syntactic contrasts in Chinese, covering 9 major Chinese linguistic phenomena. The MPs are semi-automatically generated, and human agreement with the labels in CLiMP is 95.8%. We evaluate 11 different LMs on CLiMP, covering n-grams, LSTMs, and Chinese BERT. We find that classifier–noun agreement and verb complement selection are the phenomena that models generally perform best at. However, models struggle the most with the ba construction, binding, and filler-gap dependencies. Overall, Chinese BERT achieves an 81.8% average accuracy, while the performances of LSTMs and 5-grams are only moderately above chance level.
NLP is currently dominated by language models like RoBERTa which are pretrained on billions of words. But what exact knowledge or skills do Transformer LMs learn from large-scale pretraining that they cannot learn from less data? To explore this question, we adopt five styles of evaluation: classifier probing, information-theoretic probing, unsupervised relative acceptability judgments, unsupervised language model knowledge probing, and fine-tuning on NLU tasks. We then draw learning curves that track the growth of these different measures of model ability with respect to pretraining data volume using the MiniBERTas, a group of RoBERTa models pretrained on 1M, 10M, 100M and 1B words. We find that these LMs require only about 10M to 100M words to learn to reliably encode most syntactic and semantic features we test. They need a much larger quantity of data in order to acquire enough commonsense knowledge and other skills required to master typical downstream NLU tasks. The results suggest that, while the ability to encode linguistic features is almost certainly necessary for language understanding, it is likely that other, unidentified, forms of knowledge are the major drivers of recent improvements in language understanding among large pretrained models.
Crowdsourcing is widely used to create data for common natural language understanding tasks. Despite the importance of these datasets for measuring and refining model understanding of language, there has been little focus on the crowdsourcing methods used for collecting the datasets. In this paper, we compare the efficacy of interventions that have been proposed in prior work as ways of improving data quality. We use multiple-choice question answering as a testbed and run a randomized trial by assigning crowdworkers to write questions under one of four different data collection protocols. We find that asking workers to write explanations for their examples is an ineffective stand-alone strategy for boosting NLU example difficulty. However, we find that training crowdworkers, and then using an iterative process of collecting data, sending feedback, and qualifying workers based on expert judgments is an effective means of collecting challenging data. But using crowdsourced, instead of expert judgments, to qualify workers and send feedback does not prove to be effective. We observe that the data from the iterative protocol with expert assessments is more challenging by several measures. Notably, the human–model gap on the unanimous agreement portion of this data is, on average, twice as large as the gap for the baseline protocol data.
We introduce The Benchmark of Linguistic Minimal Pairs (BLiMP),1 a challenge set for evaluating the linguistic knowledge of language models (LMs) on major grammatical phenomena in English. BLiMP consists of 67 individual datasets, each containing 1,000 minimal pairs—that is, pairs of minimally different sentences that contrast in grammatical acceptability and isolate specific phenomenon in syntax, morphology, or semantics. We generate the data according to linguist-crafted grammar templates, and human aggregate agreement with the labels is 96.4%. We evaluate n-gram, LSTM, and Transformer (GPT-2 and Transformer-XL) LMs by observing whether they assign a higher probability to the acceptable sentence in each minimal pair. We find that state-of-the-art models identify morphological contrasts related to agreement reliably, but they struggle with some subtle semantic and syntactic phenomena, such as negative polarity items and extraction islands.
Natural language inference (NLI) is an increasingly important task for natural language understanding, which requires one to infer whether a sentence entails another. However, the ability of NLI models to make pragmatic inferences remains understudied. We create an IMPlicature and PRESupposition diagnostic dataset (IMPPRES), consisting of 32K semi-automatically generated sentence pairs illustrating well-studied pragmatic inference types. We use IMPPRES to evaluate whether BERT, InferSent, and BOW NLI models trained on MultiNLI (Williams et al., 2018) learn to make pragmatic inferences. Although MultiNLI appears to contain very few pairs illustrating these inference types, we find that BERT learns to draw pragmatic inferences. It reliably treats scalar implicatures triggered by “some” as entailments. For some presupposition triggers like “only”, BERT reliably recognizes the presupposition as an entailment, even when the trigger is embedded under an entailment canceling operator like negation. BOW and InferSent show weaker evidence of pragmatic reasoning. We conclude that NLI training encourages models to learn some, but not all, pragmatic inferences.
One reason pretraining on self-supervised linguistic tasks is effective is that it teaches models features that are helpful for language understanding. However, we want pretrained models to learn not only to represent linguistic features, but also to use those features preferentially during fine-turning. With this goal in mind, we introduce a new English-language diagnostic set called MSGS (the Mixed Signals Generalization Set), which consists of 20 ambiguous binary classification tasks that we use to test whether a pretrained model prefers linguistic or surface generalizations during finetuning. We pretrain RoBERTa from scratch on quantities of data ranging from 1M to 1B words and compare their performance on MSGS to the publicly available RoBERTa_BASE. We find that models can learn to represent linguistic features with little pretraining data, but require far more data to learn to prefer linguistic generalizations over surface ones. Eventually, with about 30B words of pretraining data, RoBERTa_BASE does consistently demonstrate a linguistic bias with some regularity. We conclude that while self-supervised pretraining is an effective way to learn helpful inductive biases, there is likely room to improve the rate at which models learn which features matter.
This paper investigates the ability of artificial neural networks to judge the grammatical acceptability of a sentence, with the goal of testing their linguistic competence. We introduce the Corpus of Linguistic Acceptability (CoLA), a set of 10,657 English sentences labeled as grammatical or ungrammatical from published linguistics literature. As baselines, we train several recurrent neural network models on acceptability classification, and find that our models outperform unsupervised models by Lau et al. (2016) on CoLA. Error-analysis on specific grammatical phenomena reveals that both Lau et al.’s models and ours learn systematic generalizations like subject-verb-object order. However, all models we test perform far below human level on a wide range of grammatical constructions.
Though state-of-the-art sentence representation models can perform tasks requiring significant knowledge of grammar, it is an open question how best to evaluate their grammatical knowledge. We explore five experimental methods inspired by prior work evaluating pretrained sentence representation models. We use a single linguistic phenomenon, negative polarity item (NPI) licensing, as a case study for our experiments. NPIs like any are grammatical only if they appear in a licensing environment like negation (Sue doesn’t have any cats vs. *Sue has any cats). This phenomenon is challenging because of the variety of NPI licensing environments that exist. We introduce an artificially generated dataset that manipulates key features of NPI licensing for the experiments. We find that BERT has significant knowledge of these features, but its success varies widely across different experimental methods. We conclude that a variety of methods is necessary to reveal all relevant aspects of a model’s grammatical knowledge in a given domain.