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.
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.