Multimodal embeddings aim to enrich the semantic information in neural representations of language compared to text-only models. While different embeddings exhibit different applicability and performance on downstream tasks, little is known about the systematic representation differences attributed to the visual modality. Our paper compares word embeddings from three vision-and-language models (CLIP, OpenCLIP and Multilingual CLIP, Radford et al. 2021; Ilharco et al. 2021; Carlsson et al. 2022) and three text-only models, with static (FastText, Bojanowski et al. 2017) as well as contextual representations (multilingual BERT Devlin et al. 2018; XLM-RoBERTa, Conneau et al. 2019). This is the first large-scale study of the effect of visual grounding on language representations, including 46 semantic parameters. We identify meaning properties and relations that characterize words whose embeddings are most affected by the inclusion of visual modality in the training data; that is, points where visual grounding turns out most important. We find that the effect of visual modality correlates most with denotational semantic properties related to concreteness, but is also detected for several specific semantic classes, as well as for valence, a sentiment-related connotational property of linguistic expressions.
Representation of linguistic phenomena in computational language models is typically assessed against the predictions of existing linguistic theories of these phenomena. Using the notion of polarity as a case study, we show that this is not always the most adequate set-up. We probe polarity via so-called ‘negative polarity items’ (in particular, English ‘any’) in two pre-trained Transformer-based models (BERT and GPT-2). We show that – at least for polarity – metrics derived from language models are more consistent with data from psycholinguistic experiments than linguistic theory predictions. Establishing this allows us to more adequately evaluate the performance of language models and also to use language models to discover new insights into natural language grammar beyond existing linguistic theories. This work contributes to establishing closer ties between psycholinguistic experiments and experiments with language models.