Kyle Mahowald


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Investigating Information-Theoretic Properties of the Typology of Spatial Demonstratives
Sihan Chen | Richard Futrell | Kyle Mahowald
Proceedings of the 4th Workshop on Research in Computational Linguistic Typology and Multilingual NLP

Using data from Nintemann et al. (2020), we explore the variability in complexity and informativity across spatial demonstrative systems using spatial deictic lexicons from 223 languages. We argue from an information-theoretic perspective (Shannon, 1948) that spatial deictic lexicons are efficient in communication, balancing informativity and complexity. Specifically, we find that under an appropriate choice of cost function and need probability over meanings, among all the 21146 theoretically possible spatial deictic lexicons, those adopted by real languages lie near an efficient frontier. Moreover, we find that the conditions that the need probability and the cost function need to satisfy are consistent with the cognitive science literature regarding the source-goal asymmetry. We also show that the data are better explained by introducing a notion of systematicity, which is not currently accounted for in Information Bottleneck approaches to linguistic efficiency.

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longhorns at DADC 2022: How many linguists does it take to fool a Question Answering model? A systematic approach to adversarial attacks.
Venelin Kovatchev | Trina Chatterjee | Venkata S Govindarajan | Jifan Chen | Eunsol Choi | Gabriella Chronis | Anubrata Das | Katrin Erk | Matthew Lease | Junyi Jessy Li | Yating Wu | Kyle Mahowald
Proceedings of the First Workshop on Dynamic Adversarial Data Collection

Developing methods to adversarially challenge NLP systems is a promising avenue for improving both model performance and interpretability. Here, we describe the approach of the team “longhorns” on Task 1 of the The First Workshop on Dynamic Adversarial Data Collection (DADC), which asked teams to manually fool a model on an Extractive Question Answering task. Our team finished first (pending validation), with a model error rate of 62%. We advocate for a systematic, linguistically informed approach to formulating adversarial questions, and we describe the results of our pilot experiments, as well as our official submission.

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When classifying arguments, BERT doesn’t care about word order...except when it matters
Isabel Papadimitriou | Richard Futrell | Kyle Mahowald
Proceedings of the Society for Computation in Linguistics 2022

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What do tokens know about their characters and how do they know it?
Ayush Kaushal | Kyle Mahowald
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

Pre-trained language models (PLMs) that use subword tokenization schemes can succeed at a variety of language tasks that require character-level information, despite lacking explicit access to the character composition of tokens. Here, studying a range of models (e.g., GPT- J, BERT, RoBERTa, GloVe), we probe what word pieces encode about character-level information by training classifiers to predict the presence or absence of a particular alphabetical character in a token, based on its embedding (e.g., probing whether the model embedding for “cat” encodes that it contains the character “a”). We find that these models robustly encode character-level information and, in general, larger models perform better at the task. We show that these results generalize to characters from non-Latin alphabets (Arabic, Devanagari, and Cyrillic). Then, through a series of experiments and analyses, we investigate the mechanisms through which PLMs acquire English-language character information during training and argue that this knowledge is acquired through multiple phenomena, including a systematic relationship between particular characters and particular parts of speech, as well as natural variability in the tokenization of related strings.

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When classifying grammatical role, BERT doesn’t care about word order... except when it matters
Isabel Papadimitriou | Richard Futrell | Kyle Mahowald
Proceedings of the 60th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 2: Short Papers)

Because meaning can often be inferred from lexical semantics alone, word order is often a redundant cue in natural language. For example, the words chopped, chef, and onion are more likely used to convey “The chef chopped the onion,” not “The onion chopped the chef.” Recent work has shown large language models to be surprisingly word order invariant, but crucially has largely considered natural prototypical inputs, where compositional meaning mostly matches lexical expectations. To overcome this confound, we probe grammatical role representation in English BERT and GPT-2, on instances where lexical expectations are not sufficient, and word order knowledge is necessary for correct classification. Such non-prototypical instances are naturally occurring English sentences with inanimate subjects or animate objects, or sentences where we systematically swap the arguments to make sentences like “The onion chopped the chef”. We find that, while early layer embeddings are largely lexical, word order is in fact crucial in defining the later-layer representations of words in semantically non-prototypical positions. Our experiments isolate the effect of word order on the contextualization process, and highlight how models use context in the uncommon, but critical, instances where it matters.


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A Massively Multilingual Analysis of Cross-linguality in Shared Embedding Space
Alexander Jones | William Yang Wang | Kyle Mahowald
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

In cross-lingual language models, representations for many different languages live in the same space. Here, we investigate the linguistic and non-linguistic factors affecting sentence-level alignment in cross-lingual pretrained language models for 101 languages and 5,050 language pairs. Using BERT-based LaBSE and BiLSTM-based LASER as our models, and the Bible as our corpus, we compute a task-based measure of cross-lingual alignment in the form of bitext retrieval performance, as well as four intrinsic measures of vector space alignment and isomorphism. We then examine a range of linguistic, quasi-linguistic, and training-related features as potential predictors of these alignment metrics. The results of our analyses show that word order agreement and agreement in morphological complexity are two of the strongest linguistic predictors of cross-linguality. We also note in-family training data as a stronger predictor than language-specific training data across the board. We verify some of our linguistic findings by looking at the effect of morphological segmentation on English-Inuktitut alignment, in addition to examining the effect of word order agreement on isomorphism for 66 zero-shot language pairs from a different corpus. We make the data and code for our experiments publicly available.

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Deep Subjecthood: Higher-Order Grammatical Features in Multilingual BERT
Isabel Papadimitriou | Ethan A. Chi | Richard Futrell | Kyle Mahowald
Proceedings of the 16th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Main Volume

We investigate how Multilingual BERT (mBERT) encodes grammar by examining how the high-order grammatical feature of morphosyntactic alignment (how different languages define what counts as a “subject”) is manifested across the embedding spaces of different languages. To understand if and how morphosyntactic alignment affects contextual embedding spaces, we train classifiers to recover the subjecthood of mBERT embeddings in transitive sentences (which do not contain overt information about morphosyntactic alignment) and then evaluate them zero-shot on intransitive sentences (where subjecthood classification depends on alignment), within and across languages. We find that the resulting classifier distributions reflect the morphosyntactic alignment of their training languages. Our results demonstrate that mBERT representations are influenced by high-level grammatical features that are not manifested in any one input sentence, and that this is robust across languages. Further examining the characteristics that our classifiers rely on, we find that features such as passive voice, animacy and case strongly correlate with classification decisions, suggesting that mBERT does not encode subjecthood purely syntactically, but that subjecthood embedding is continuous and dependent on semantic and discourse factors, as is proposed in much of the functional linguistics literature. Together, these results provide insight into how grammatical features manifest in contextual embedding spaces, at a level of abstraction not covered by previous work.

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How (Non-)Optimal is the Lexicon?
Tiago Pimentel | Irene Nikkarinen | Kyle Mahowald | Ryan Cotterell | Damián Blasi
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

The mapping of lexical meanings to wordforms is a major feature of natural languages. While usage pressures might assign short words to frequent meanings (Zipf’s law of abbreviation), the need for a productive and open-ended vocabulary, local constraints on sequences of symbols, and various other factors all shape the lexicons of the world’s languages. Despite their importance in shaping lexical structure, the relative contributions of these factors have not been fully quantified. Taking a coding-theoretic view of the lexicon and making use of a novel generative statistical model, we define upper bounds for the compressibility of the lexicon under various constraints. Examining corpora from 7 typologically diverse languages, we use those upper bounds to quantify the lexicon’s optimality and to explore the relative costs of major constraints on natural codes. We find that (compositional) morphology and graphotactics can sufficiently account for most of the complexity of natural codes—as measured by code length.

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Multilingual BERT, ergativity, and grammatical subjecthood
Isabel Papadimitriou | Ethan A. Chi | Richard Futrell | Kyle Mahowald
Proceedings of the Society for Computation in Linguistics 2021


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With Little Power Comes Great Responsibility
Dallas Card | Peter Henderson | Urvashi Khandelwal | Robin Jia | Kyle Mahowald | Dan Jurafsky
Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)

Despite its importance to experimental design, statistical power (the probability that, given a real effect, an experiment will reject the null hypothesis) has largely been ignored by the NLP community. Underpowered experiments make it more difficult to discern the difference between statistical noise and meaningful model improvements, and increase the chances of exaggerated findings. By meta-analyzing a set of existing NLP papers and datasets, we characterize typical power for a variety of settings and conclude that underpowered experiments are common in the NLP literature. In particular, for several tasks in the popular GLUE benchmark, small test sets mean that most attempted comparisons to state of the art models will not be adequately powered. Similarly, based on reasonable assumptions, we find that the most typical experimental design for human rating studies will be underpowered to detect small model differences, of the sort that are frequently studied. For machine translation, we find that typical test sets of 2000 sentences have approximately 75% power to detect differences of 1 BLEU point. To improve the situation going forward, we give an overview of best practices for power analysis in NLP and release a series of notebooks to assist with future power analyses.


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Quantifying Word Order Freedom in Dependency Corpora
Richard Futrell | Kyle Mahowald | Edward Gibson
Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Dependency Linguistics (Depling 2015)