Learning Disentangled Representations for Natural Language Definitions
Danilo Silva De Carvalho | Giangiacomo Mercatali | Yingji Zhang | André Freitas
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EACL 2023
Disentangling the encodings of neural models is a fundamental aspect for improving interpretability, semantic control and downstream task performance in Natural Language Processing. Currently, most disentanglement methods are unsupervised or rely on synthetic datasets with known generative factors. We argue that recurrent syntactic and semantic regularities in textual data can be used to provide the models with both structural biases and generative factors. We leverage the semantic structures present in a representative and semantically dense category of sentence types, definitional sentences, for training a Variational Autoencoder to learn disentangled representations. Our experimental results show that the proposed model outperforms unsupervised baselines on several qualitative and quantitative benchmarks for disentanglement, and it also improves the results in the downstream task of definition modeling.
The ability of learning disentangled representations represents a major step for interpretable NLP systems as it allows latent linguistic features to be controlled. Most approaches to disentanglement rely on continuous variables, both for images and text. We argue that despite being suitable for image datasets, continuous variables may not be ideal to model features of textual data, due to the fact that most generative factors in text are discrete. We propose a Variational Autoencoder based method which models language features as discrete variables and encourages independence between variables for learning disentangled representations. The proposed model outperforms continuous and discrete baselines on several qualitative and quantitative benchmarks for disentanglement as well as on a text style transfer downstream application.