Machine translation has seen rapid progress with the advent of Transformer-based models. These models have no explicit linguistic structure built into them, yet they may still implicitly learn structured relationships by attending to relevant tokens. We hypothesize that this structural learning could be made more robust by explicitly endowing Transformers with a structural bias, and we investigate two methods for building in such a bias. One method, the TP-Transformer, augments the traditional Transformer architecture to include an additional component to represent structure. The second method imbues structure at the data level by segmenting the data with morphological tokenization. We test these methods on translating from English into morphologically rich languages, Turkish and Inuktitut, and consider both automatic metrics and human evaluations. We find that each of these two approaches allows the network to achieve better performance, but this improvement is dependent on the size of the dataset. In sum, structural encoding methods make Transformers more sample-efficient, enabling them to perform better from smaller amounts of data.
Learners that are exposed to the same training data might generalize differently due to differing inductive biases. In neural network models, inductive biases could in theory arise from any aspect of the model architecture. We investigate which architectural factors affect the generalization behavior of neural sequence-to-sequence models trained on two syntactic tasks, English question formation and English tense reinflection. For both tasks, the training set is consistent with a generalization based on hierarchical structure and a generalization based on linear order. All architectural factors that we investigated qualitatively affected how models generalized, including factors with no clear connection to hierarchical structure. For example, LSTMs and GRUs displayed qualitatively different inductive biases. However, the only factor that consistently contributed a hierarchical bias across tasks was the use of a tree-structured model rather than a model with sequential recurrence, suggesting that human-like syntactic generalization requires architectural syntactic structure.
If the same neural network architecture is trained multiple times on the same dataset, will it make similar linguistic generalizations across runs? To study this question, we fine-tuned 100 instances of BERT on the Multi-genre Natural Language Inference (MNLI) dataset and evaluated them on the HANS dataset, which evaluates syntactic generalization in natural language inference. On the MNLI development set, the behavior of all instances was remarkably consistent, with accuracy ranging between 83.6% and 84.8%. In stark contrast, the same models varied widely in their generalization performance. For example, on the simple case of subject-object swap (e.g., determining that “the doctor visited the lawyer” does not entail “the lawyer visited the doctor”), accuracy ranged from 0.0% to 66.2%. Such variation is likely due to the presence of many local minima in the loss surface that are equally attractive to a low-bias learner such as a neural network; decreasing the variability may therefore require models with stronger inductive biases.
How can neural networks perform so well on compositional tasks even though they lack explicit compositional representations? We use a novel analysis technique called ROLE to show that recurrent neural networks perform well on such tasks by converging to solutions which implicitly represent symbolic structure. This method uncovers a symbolic structure which, when properly embedded in vector space, closely approximates the encodings of a standard seq2seq network trained to perform the compositional SCAN task. We verify the causal importance of the discovered symbolic structure by showing that, when we systematically manipulate hidden embeddings based on this symbolic structure, the model’s output is changed in the way predicted by our analysis.
Pretrained neural models such as BERT, when fine-tuned to perform natural language inference (NLI), often show high accuracy on standard datasets, but display a surprising lack of sensitivity to word order on controlled challenge sets. We hypothesize that this issue is not primarily caused by the pretrained model’s limitations, but rather by the paucity of crowdsourced NLI examples that might convey the importance of syntactic structure at the fine-tuning stage. We explore several methods to augment standard training sets with syntactically informative examples, generated by applying syntactic transformations to sentences from the MNLI corpus. The best-performing augmentation method, subject/object inversion, improved BERT’s accuracy on controlled examples that diagnose sensitivity to word order from 0.28 to 0.73, without affecting performance on the MNLI test set. This improvement generalized beyond the particular construction used for data augmentation, suggesting that augmentation causes BERT to recruit abstract syntactic representations.
Sequence-based neural networks show significant sensitivity to syntactic structure, but they still perform less well on syntactic tasks than tree-based networks. Such tree-based networks can be provided with a constituency parse, a dependency parse, or both. We evaluate which of these two representational schemes more effectively introduces biases for syntactic structure that increase performance on the subject-verb agreement prediction task. We find that a constituency-based network generalizes more robustly than a dependency-based one, and that combining the two types of structure does not yield further improvement. Finally, we show that the syntactic robustness of sequential models can be substantially improved by fine-tuning on a small amount of constructed data, suggesting that data augmentation is a viable alternative to explicit constituency structure for imparting the syntactic biases that sequential models are lacking.
As the name implies, contextualized representations of language are typically motivated by their ability to encode context. Which aspects of context are captured by such representations? We introduce an approach to address this question using Representational Similarity Analysis (RSA). As case studies, we investigate the degree to which a verb embedding encodes the verb’s subject, a pronoun embedding encodes the pronoun’s antecedent, and a full-sentence representation encodes the sentence’s head word (as determined by a dependency parse). In all cases, we show that BERT’s contextualized embeddings reflect the linguistic dependency being studied, and that BERT encodes these dependencies to a greater degree than it encodes less linguistically-salient controls. These results demonstrate the ability of our approach to adjudicate between hypotheses about which aspects of context are encoded in representations of language.
Natural language understanding has recently seen a surge of progress with the use of sentence encoders like ELMo (Peters et al., 2018a) and BERT (Devlin et al., 2019) which are pretrained on variants of language modeling. We conduct the first large-scale systematic study of candidate pretraining tasks, comparing 19 different tasks both as alternatives and complements to language modeling. Our primary results support the use language modeling, especially when combined with pretraining on additional labeled-data tasks. However, our results are mixed across pretraining tasks and show some concerning trends: In ELMo’s pretrain-then-freeze paradigm, random baselines are worryingly strong and results vary strikingly across target tasks. In addition, fine-tuning BERT on an intermediate task often negatively impacts downstream transfer. In a more positive trend, we see modest gains from multitask training, suggesting the development of more sophisticated multitask and transfer learning techniques as an avenue for further research.