Peng Xu


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CAiRE in DialDoc21: Data Augmentation for Information Seeking Dialogue System
Yan Xu | Etsuko Ishii | Genta Indra Winata | Zhaojiang Lin | Andrea Madotto | Zihan Liu | Peng Xu | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 1st Workshop on Document-grounded Dialogue and Conversational Question Answering (DialDoc 2021)

Information-seeking dialogue systems, including knowledge identification and response generation, aim to respond to users with fluent, coherent, and informative responses based on users’ needs, which. To tackle this challenge, we utilize data augmentation methods and several training techniques with the pre-trained language models to learn a general pattern of the task and thus achieve promising performance. In DialDoc21 competition, our system achieved 74.95 F1 score and 60.74 Exact Match score in subtask 1, and 37.72 SacreBLEU score in subtask 2. Empirical analysis is provided to explain the effectiveness of our approaches.

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X2Parser: Cross-Lingual and Cross-Domain Framework for Task-Oriented Compositional Semantic Parsing
Zihan Liu | Genta Indra Winata | Peng Xu | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 6th Workshop on Representation Learning for NLP (RepL4NLP-2021)

Task-oriented compositional semantic parsing (TCSP) handles complex nested user queries and serves as an essential component of virtual assistants. Current TCSP models rely on numerous training data to achieve decent performance but fail to generalize to low-resource target languages or domains. In this paper, we present X2Parser, a transferable Cross-lingual and Cross-domain Parser for TCSP. Unlike previous models that learn to generate the hierarchical representations for nested intents and slots, we propose to predict intents and slots separately and cast both prediction tasks into sequence labeling problems. After that, we further propose a fertility-based slot predictor that first learns to detect the number of labels for each token, and then predicts the slot types. Experimental results illustrate that our model can significantly outperform existing strong baselines in cross-lingual and cross-domain settings, and our model can also achieve a good generalization ability on target languages of target domains. Furthermore, we show that our model can reduce the latency by up to 66% compared to the generation-based model.

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Optimizing Deeper Transformers on Small Datasets
Peng Xu | Dhruv Kumar | Wei Yang | Wenjie Zi | Keyi Tang | Chenyang Huang | Jackie Chi Kit Cheung | Simon J.D. Prince | Yanshuai Cao
Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 11th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (Volume 1: Long Papers)

It is a common belief that training deep transformers from scratch requires large datasets. Consequently, for small datasets, people usually use shallow and simple additional layers on top of pre-trained models during fine-tuning. This work shows that this does not always need to be the case: with proper initialization and optimization, the benefits of very deep transformers can carry over to challenging tasks with small datasets, including Text-to-SQL semantic parsing and logical reading comprehension. In particular, we successfully train 48 layers of transformers, comprising 24 fine-tuned layers from pre-trained RoBERTa and 24 relation-aware layers trained from scratch. With fewer training steps and no task-specific pre-training, we obtain the state of the art performance on the challenging cross-domain Text-to-SQL parsing benchmark Spider. We achieve this by deriving a novel Data dependent Transformer Fixed-update initialization scheme (DT-Fixup), inspired by the prior T-Fixup work. Further error analysis shows that increasing depth can help improve generalization on small datasets for hard cases that require reasoning and structural understanding.

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Dual Reader-Parser on Hybrid Textual and Tabular Evidence for Open Domain Question Answering
Alexander Hanbo Li | Patrick Ng | Peng Xu | Henghui Zhu | Zhiguo Wang | Bing Xiang
Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 11th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (Volume 1: Long Papers)

The current state-of-the-art generative models for open-domain question answering (ODQA) have focused on generating direct answers from unstructured textual information. However, a large amount of world’s knowledge is stored in structured databases, and need to be accessed using query languages such as SQL. Furthermore, query languages can answer questions that require complex reasoning, as well as offering full explainability. In this paper, we propose a hybrid framework that takes both textual and tabular evidences as input and generates either direct answers or SQL queries depending on which form could better answer the question. The generated SQL queries can then be executed on the associated databases to obtain the final answers. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that applies Text2SQL to ODQA tasks. Empirically, we demonstrate that on several ODQA datasets, the hybrid methods consistently outperforms the baseline models that only takes homogeneous input by a large margin. Specifically we achieve the state-of-the-art performance on OpenSQuAD dataset using a T5-base model. In a detailed analysis, we demonstrate that the being able to generate structural SQL queries can always bring gains, especially for those questions that requires complex reasoning.

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TURING: an Accurate and Interpretable Multi-Hypothesis Cross-Domain Natural Language Database Interface
Peng Xu | Wenjie Zi | Hamidreza Shahidi | Ákos Kádár | Keyi Tang | Wei Yang | Jawad Ateeq | Harsh Barot | Meidan Alon | Yanshuai Cao
Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 11th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing: System Demonstrations

A natural language database interface (NLDB) can democratize data-driven insights for non-technical users. However, existing Text-to-SQL semantic parsers cannot achieve high enough accuracy in the cross-database setting to allow good usability in practice. This work presents TURING, a NLDB system toward bridging this gap. The cross-domain semantic parser of TURING with our novel value prediction method achieves 75.1% execution accuracy, and 78.3% top-5 beam execution accuracy on the Spider validation set (Yu et al., 2018b). To benefit from the higher beam accuracy, we design an interactive system where the SQL hypotheses in the beam are explained step-by-step in natural language, with their differences highlighted. The user can then compare and judge the hypotheses to select which one reflects their intention if any. The English explanations of SQL queries in TURING are produced by our high-precision natural language generation system based on synchronous grammars.


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Getting To Know You: User Attribute Extraction from Dialogues
Chien-Sheng Wu | Andrea Madotto | Zhaojiang Lin | Peng Xu | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 12th Language Resources and Evaluation Conference

User attributes provide rich and useful information for user understanding, yet structured and easy-to-use attributes are often sparsely populated. In this paper, we leverage dialogues with conversational agents, which contain strong suggestions of user information, to automatically extract user attributes. Since no existing dataset is available for this purpose, we apply distant supervision to train our proposed two-stage attribute extractor, which surpasses several retrieval and generation baselines on human evaluation. Meanwhile, we discuss potential applications (e.g., personalized recommendation and dialogue systems) of such extracted user attributes, and point out current limitations to cast light on future work.

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Improve Transformer Models with Better Relative Position Embeddings
Zhiheng Huang | Davis Liang | Peng Xu | Bing Xiang
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2020

The transformer model has demonstrated superior results on NLP tasks including machine translation and question answering. In this paper, we argue that the position information is not fully utilized in existing work. For example, the initial proposal of a sinusoid embedding is fixed and not learnable. In this paper, we first review the absolute position embeddings and existing relative position embedding methods. We then propose new methods to encourage increased interaction between query, key and relative position embeddings in the self-attention mechanism. Our most promising approach is a generalization of the absolute position embedding. Our method results in increased accuracy compared to previous approaches in absolute and relative position embeddings on the SQuAD1.1 dataset. In addition, we address the inductive property of whether a position embedding can be robust enough to handle long sequences. We demonstrate empirically that our relative embedding method can be reasonably generalized to and is robust in the inductive perspective. Finally, we show that our proposed method can be effectively and efficiently adopted as a near drop-in replacement for improving the accuracy of large models with little computational overhead.

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Coach: A Coarse-to-Fine Approach for Cross-domain Slot Filling
Zihan Liu | Genta Indra Winata | Peng Xu | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics

As an essential task in task-oriented dialog systems, slot filling requires extensive training data in a certain domain. However, such data are not always available. Hence, cross-domain slot filling has naturally arisen to cope with this data scarcity problem. In this paper, we propose a Coarse-to-fine approach (Coach) for cross-domain slot filling. Our model first learns the general pattern of slot entities by detecting whether the tokens are slot entities or not. It then predicts the specific types for the slot entities. In addition, we propose a template regularization approach to improve the adaptation robustness by regularizing the representation of utterances based on utterance templates. Experimental results show that our model significantly outperforms state-of-the-art approaches in slot filling. Furthermore, our model can also be applied to the cross-domain named entity recognition task, and it achieves better adaptation performance than other existing baselines. The code is available at

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Meta-Transfer Learning for Code-Switched Speech Recognition
Genta Indra Winata | Samuel Cahyawijaya | Zhaojiang Lin | Zihan Liu | Peng Xu | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics

An increasing number of people in the world today speak a mixed-language as a result of being multilingual. However, building a speech recognition system for code-switching remains difficult due to the availability of limited resources and the expense and significant effort required to collect mixed-language data. We therefore propose a new learning method, meta-transfer learning, to transfer learn on a code-switched speech recognition system in a low-resource setting by judiciously extracting information from high-resource monolingual datasets. Our model learns to recognize individual languages, and transfer them so as to better recognize mixed-language speech by conditioning the optimization on the code-switching data. Based on experimental results, our model outperforms existing baselines on speech recognition and language modeling tasks, and is faster to converge.

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MEGATRON-CNTRL: Controllable Story Generation with External Knowledge Using Large-Scale Language Models
Peng Xu | Mostofa Patwary | Mohammad Shoeybi | Raul Puri | Pascale Fung | Anima Anandkumar | Bryan Catanzaro
Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)

Existing pre-trained large language models have shown unparalleled generative capabilities. However, they are not controllable. In this paper, we propose MEGATRON-CNTRL, a novel framework that uses large-scale language models and adds control to text generation by incorporating an external knowledge base. Our framework consists of a keyword predictor, a knowledge retriever, a contextual knowledge ranker, and a conditional text generator. As we do not have access to ground-truth supervision for the knowledge ranker, we make use of weak supervision from sentence embedding. The empirical results show that our model generates more fluent, consistent, and coherent stories with less repetition and higher diversity compared to prior work on the ROC story dataset. We showcase the controllability of our model by replacing the keywords used to generate stories and re-running the generation process. Human evaluation results show that 77.5% of these stories are successfully controlled by the new keywords. Furthermore, by scaling our model from 124 million to 8.3 billion parameters we demonstrate that larger models improve both the quality of generation (from 74.5% to 93.0% for consistency) and controllability (from 77.5% to 91.5%).

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Cross-lingual Spoken Language Understanding with Regularized Representation Alignment
Zihan Liu | Genta Indra Winata | Peng Xu | Zhaojiang Lin | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)

Despite the promising results of current cross-lingual models for spoken language understanding systems, they still suffer from imperfect cross-lingual representation alignments between the source and target languages, which makes the performance sub-optimal. To cope with this issue, we propose a regularization approach to further align word-level and sentence-level representations across languages without any external resource. First, we regularize the representation of user utterances based on their corresponding labels. Second, we regularize the latent variable model (Liu et al., 2019) by leveraging adversarial training to disentangle the latent variables. Experiments on the cross-lingual spoken language understanding task show that our model outperforms current state-of-the-art methods in both few-shot and zero-shot scenarios, and our model, trained on a few-shot setting with only 3% of the target language training data, achieves comparable performance to the supervised training with all the training data.


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MoEL: Mixture of Empathetic Listeners
Zhaojiang Lin | Andrea Madotto | Jamin Shin | Peng Xu | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP)

Previous research on empathetic dialogue systems has mostly focused on generating responses given certain emotions. However, being empathetic not only requires the ability of generating emotional responses, but more importantly, requires the understanding of user emotions and replying appropriately. In this paper, we propose a novel end-to-end approach for modeling empathy in dialogue systems: Mixture of Empathetic Listeners (MoEL). Our model first captures the user emotions and outputs an emotion distribution. Based on this, MoEL will softly combine the output states of the appropriate Listener(s), which are each optimized to react to certain emotions, and generate an empathetic response. Human evaluations on EMPATHETIC-DIALOGUES dataset confirm that MoEL outperforms multitask training baseline in terms of empathy, relevance, and fluency. Furthermore, the case study on generated responses of different Listeners shows high interpretability of our model.

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Zero-shot Cross-lingual Dialogue Systems with Transferable Latent Variables
Zihan Liu | Jamin Shin | Yan Xu | Genta Indra Winata | Peng Xu | Andrea Madotto | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP)

Despite the surging demands for multilingual task-oriented dialog systems (e.g., Alexa, Google Home), there has been less research done in multilingual or cross-lingual scenarios. Hence, we propose a zero-shot adaptation of task-oriented dialogue system to low-resource languages. To tackle this challenge, we first use a set of very few parallel word pairs to refine the aligned cross-lingual word-level representations. We then employ a latent variable model to cope with the variance of similar sentences across different languages, which is induced by imperfect cross-lingual alignments and inherent differences in languages. Finally, the experimental results show that even though we utilize much less external resources, our model achieves better adaptation performance for natural language understanding task (i.e., the intent detection and slot filling) compared to the current state-of-the-art model in the zero-shot scenario.

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Clickbait? Sensational Headline Generation with Auto-tuned Reinforcement Learning
Peng Xu | Chien-Sheng Wu | Andrea Madotto | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP)

Sensational headlines are headlines that capture people’s attention and generate reader interest. Conventional abstractive headline generation methods, unlike human writers, do not optimize for maximal reader attention. In this paper, we propose a model that generates sensational headlines without labeled data. We first train a sensationalism scorer by classifying online headlines with many comments (“clickbait”) against a baseline of headlines generated from a summarization model. The score from the sensationalism scorer is used as the reward for a reinforcement learner. However, maximizing the noisy sensationalism reward will generate unnatural phrases instead of sensational headlines. To effectively leverage this noisy reward, we propose a novel loss function, Auto-tuned Reinforcement Learning (ARL), to dynamically balance reinforcement learning (RL) with maximum likelihood estimation (MLE). Human evaluation shows that 60.8% of samples generated by our model are sensational, which is significantly better than the Pointer-Gen baseline and other RL models.

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Generalizing Question Answering System with Pre-trained Language Model Fine-tuning
Dan Su | Yan Xu | Genta Indra Winata | Peng Xu | Hyeondey Kim | Zihan Liu | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Machine Reading for Question Answering

With a large number of datasets being released and new techniques being proposed, Question answering (QA) systems have witnessed great breakthroughs in reading comprehension (RC)tasks. However, most existing methods focus on improving in-domain performance, leaving open the research question of how these mod-els and techniques can generalize to out-of-domain and unseen RC tasks. To enhance the generalization ability, we propose a multi-task learning framework that learns the shared representation across different tasks. Our model is built on top of a large pre-trained language model, such as XLNet, and then fine-tuned on multiple RC datasets. Experimental results show the effectiveness of our methods, with an average Exact Match score of 56.59 and an average F1 score of 68.98, which significantly improves the BERT-Large baseline by8.39 and 7.22, respectively

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Domain Adaptation with BERT-based Domain Classification and Data Selection
Xiaofei Ma | Peng Xu | Zhiguo Wang | Ramesh Nallapati | Bing Xiang
Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Deep Learning Approaches for Low-Resource NLP (DeepLo 2019)

The performance of deep neural models can deteriorate substantially when there is a domain shift between training and test data. For example, the pre-trained BERT model can be easily fine-tuned with just one additional output layer to create a state-of-the-art model for a wide range of tasks. However, the fine-tuned BERT model suffers considerably at zero-shot when applied to a different domain. In this paper, we present a novel two-step domain adaptation framework based on curriculum learning and domain-discriminative data selection. The domain adaptation is conducted in a mostly unsupervised manner using a small target domain validation set for hyper-parameter tuning. We tested the framework on four large public datasets with different domain similarities and task types. Our framework outperforms a popular discrepancy-based domain adaptation method on most transfer tasks while consuming only a fraction of the training budget.

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Connecting Language and Knowledge with Heterogeneous Representations for Neural Relation Extraction
Peng Xu | Denilson Barbosa
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, Volume 1 (Long and Short Papers)

Knowledge Bases (KBs) require constant updating to reflect changes to the world they represent. For general purpose KBs, this is often done through Relation Extraction (RE), the task of predicting KB relations expressed in text mentioning entities known to the KB. One way to improve RE is to use KB Embeddings (KBE) for link prediction. However, despite clear connections between RE and KBE, little has been done toward properly unifying these models systematically. We help close the gap with a framework that unifies the learning of RE and KBE models leading to significant improvements over the state-of-the-art in RE. The code is available at

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CAiRE_HKUST at SemEval-2019 Task 3: Hierarchical Attention for Dialogue Emotion Classification
Genta Indra Winata | Andrea Madotto | Zhaojiang Lin | Jamin Shin | Yan Xu | Peng Xu | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 13th International Workshop on Semantic Evaluation

Detecting emotion from dialogue is a challenge that has not yet been extensively surveyed. One could consider the emotion of each dialogue turn to be independent, but in this paper, we introduce a hierarchical approach to classify emotion, hypothesizing that the current emotional state depends on previous latent emotions. We benchmark several feature-based classifiers using pre-trained word and emotion embeddings, state-of-the-art end-to-end neural network models, and Gaussian processes for automatic hyper-parameter search. In our experiments, hierarchical architectures consistently give significant improvements, and our best model achieves a 76.77% F1-score on the test set.

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A Cross-Domain Transferable Neural Coherence Model
Peng Xu | Hamidreza Saghir | Jin Sung Kang | Teng Long | Avishek Joey Bose | Yanshuai Cao | Jackie Chi Kit Cheung
Proceedings of the 57th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics

Coherence is an important aspect of text quality and is crucial for ensuring its readability. One important limitation of existing coherence models is that training on one domain does not easily generalize to unseen categories of text. Previous work advocates for generative models for cross-domain generalization, because for discriminative models, the space of incoherent sentence orderings to discriminate against during training is prohibitively large. In this work, we propose a local discriminative neural model with a much smaller negative sampling space that can efficiently learn against incorrect orderings. The proposed coherence model is simple in structure, yet it significantly outperforms previous state-of-art methods on a standard benchmark dataset on the Wall Street Journal corpus, as well as in multiple new challenging settings of transfer to unseen categories of discourse on Wikipedia articles.


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Neural Fine-Grained Entity Type Classification with Hierarchy-Aware Loss
Peng Xu | Denilson Barbosa
Proceedings of the 2018 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, Volume 1 (Long Papers)

The task of Fine-grained Entity Type Classification (FETC) consists of assigning types from a hierarchy to entity mentions in text. Existing methods rely on distant supervision and are thus susceptible to noisy labels that can be out-of-context or overly-specific for the training sentence. Previous methods that attempt to address these issues do so with heuristics or with the help of hand-crafted features. Instead, we propose an end-to-end solution with a neural network model that uses a variant of cross-entropy loss function to handle out-of-context labels, and hierarchical loss normalization to cope with overly-specific ones. Also, previous work solve FETC a multi-label classification followed by ad-hoc post-processing. In contrast, our solution is more elegant: we use public word embeddings to train a single-label that jointly learns representations for entity mentions and their context. We show experimentally that our approach is robust against noise and consistently outperforms the state-of-the-art on established benchmarks for the task.

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Emo2Vec: Learning Generalized Emotion Representation by Multi-task Training
Peng Xu | Andrea Madotto | Chien-Sheng Wu | Ji Ho Park | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of the 9th Workshop on Computational Approaches to Subjectivity, Sentiment and Social Media Analysis

In this paper, we propose Emo2Vec which encodes emotional semantics into vectors. We train Emo2Vec by multi-task learning six different emotion-related tasks, including emotion/sentiment analysis, sarcasm classification, stress detection, abusive language classification, insult detection, and personality recognition. Our evaluation of Emo2Vec shows that it outperforms existing affect-related representations, such as Sentiment-Specific Word Embedding and DeepMoji embeddings with much smaller training corpora. When concatenated with GloVe, Emo2Vec achieves competitive performances to state-of-the-art results on several tasks using a simple logistic regression classifier.

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PlusEmo2Vec at SemEval-2018 Task 1: Exploiting emotion knowledge from emoji and #hashtags
Ji Ho Park | Peng Xu | Pascale Fung
Proceedings of The 12th International Workshop on Semantic Evaluation

This paper describes our system that has been submitted to SemEval-2018 Task 1: Affect in Tweets (AIT) to solve five subtasks. We focus on modeling both sentence and word level representations of emotion inside texts through large distantly labeled corpora with emojis and hashtags. We transfer the emotional knowledge by exploiting neural network models as feature extractors and use these representations for traditional machine learning models such as support vector regression (SVR) and logistic regression to solve the competition tasks. Our system is placed among the Top3 for all subtasks we participated.


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A Systematic Comparison of Phrase Table Pruning Techniques
Richard Zens | Daisy Stanton | Peng Xu
Proceedings of the 2012 Joint Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and Computational Natural Language Learning

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Improved Domain Adaptation for Statistical Machine Translation
Wei Wang | Klaus Macherey | Wolfgang Macherey | Franz Och | Peng Xu
Proceedings of the 10th Conference of the Association for Machine Translation in the Americas: Research Papers

We present a simple and effective infrastructure for domain adaptation for statistical machine translation (MT). To build MT systems for different domains, it trains, tunes and deploys a single translation system that is capable of producing adapted domain translations and preserving the original generic accuracy at the same time. The approach unifies automatic domain detection and domain model parameterization into one system. Experiment results on 20 language pairs demonstrate its viability.


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Book Reviews: Data-Intensive Text Processing with MapReduce by Jimmy Lin and Chris Dyer
Peng Xu
Computational Linguistics, Volume 37, Issue 3 - September 2011

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Binarized Forest to String Translation
Hao Zhang | Licheng Fang | Peng Xu | Xiaoyun Wu
Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies


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Using a Dependency Parser to Improve SMT for Subject-Object-Verb Languages
Peng Xu | Jaeho Kang | Michael Ringgaard | Franz Och
Proceedings of Human Language Technologies: The 2009 Annual Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics

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Distributed Language Models
Thorsten Brants | Peng Xu
Proceedings of Human Language Technologies: The 2009 Annual Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Companion Volume: Tutorial Abstracts


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Large Language Models in Machine Translation
Thorsten Brants | Ashok C. Popat | Peng Xu | Franz J. Och | Jeffrey Dean
Proceedings of the 2007 Joint Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and Computational Natural Language Learning (EMNLP-CoNLL)


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Minimum Sample Risk Methods for Language Modeling
Jianfeng Gao | Hao Yu | Wei Yuan | Peng Xu
Proceedings of Human Language Technology Conference and Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing


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Random Forests in Language Modelin
Peng Xu | Frederick Jelinek
Proceedings of the 2004 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing


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Training Connectionist Models for the Structured Language Model
Peng Xu | Ahmad Emami | Frederick Jelinek
Proceedings of the 2003 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing


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A Study on Richer Syntactic Dependencies for Structured Language Modeling
Peng Xu | Ciprian Chelba | Frederick Jelinek
Proceedings of the 40th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics