Autoregressive language models are powerful and relatively easy to train. However, these models are usually trained without explicit conditioning labels and do not offer easy ways to control global aspects such as sentiment or topic during generation. Bowman & al. 2016 adapted the Variational Autoencoder (VAE) for natural language with the sequence-to-sequence architecture and claimed that the latent vector was able to capture such global features in an unsupervised manner. We question this claim. We measure which words benefit most from the latent information by decomposing the reconstruction loss per position in the sentence. Using this method, we find that VAEs are prone to memorizing the first words and the sentence length, producing local features of limited usefulness. To alleviate this, we investigate alternative architectures based on bag-of-words assumptions and language model pretraining. These variants learn latent variables that are more global, i.e., more predictive of topic or sentiment labels. Moreover, using reconstructions, we observe that they decrease memorization: the first word and the sentence length are not recovered as accurately than with the baselines, consequently yielding more diverse reconstructions.
Monolingual dictionaries are widespread and semantically rich resources. This paper presents a simple model that learns to compute word embeddings by processing dictionary definitions and trying to reconstruct them. It exploits the inherent recursivity of dictionaries by encouraging consistency between the representations it uses as inputs and the representations it produces as outputs. The resulting embeddings are shown to capture semantic similarity better than regular distributional methods and other dictionary-based methods. In addition, our method shows strong performance when trained exclusively on dictionary data and generalizes in one shot.