Tong Niu


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OneAligner: Zero-shot Cross-lingual Transfer with One Rich-Resource Language Pair for Low-Resource Sentence Retrieval
Tong Niu | Kazuma Hashimoto | Yingbo Zhou | Caiming Xiong
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: ACL 2022

Aligning parallel sentences in multilingual corpora is essential to curating data for downstream applications such as Machine Translation. In this work, we present OneAligner, an alignment model specially designed for sentence retrieval tasks. This model is able to train on only one language pair and transfers, in a cross-lingual fashion, to low-resource language pairs with negligible degradation in performance. When trained with all language pairs of a large-scale parallel multilingual corpus (OPUS-100), this model achieves the state-of-the-art result on the Tateoba dataset, outperforming an equally-sized previous model by 8.0 points in accuracy while using less than 0.6% of their parallel data. When finetuned on a single rich-resource language pair, be it English-centered or not, our model is able to match the performance of the ones finetuned on all language pairs under the same data budget with less than 2.0 points decrease in accuracy. Furthermore, with the same setup, scaling up the number of rich-resource language pairs monotonically improves the performance, reaching a minimum of 0.4 points discrepancy in accuracy, making it less mandatory to collect any low-resource parallel data. Finally, we conclude through empirical results and analyses that the performance of the sentence alignment task depends mostly on the monolingual and parallel data size, up to a certain size threshold, rather than on what language pairs are used for training or evaluation.


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Testing Cross-Database Semantic Parsers With Canonical Utterances
Heather Lent | Semih Yavuz | Tao Yu | Tong Niu | Yingbo Zhou | Dragomir Radev | Xi Victoria Lin
Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Evaluation and Comparison of NLP Systems

The benchmark performance of cross-database semantic parsing has climbed steadily in recent years, catalyzed by the wide adoption of pre-trained language models. Yet existing work have shown that state-of-the-art cross-database semantic parsers struggle to generalize to novel user utterances, databases and query structures. To obtain transparent details on the strengths and limitation of these models, we propose a diagnostic testing approach based on controlled synthesis of canonical natural language and SQL pairs. Inspired by the CheckList, we characterize a set of essential capabilities for cross-database semantic parsing models, and detailed the method for synthesizing the corresponding test data. We evaluated a variety of high performing models using the proposed approach, and identified several non-obvious weaknesses across models (e.g. unable to correctly select many columns). Our dataset and code are released as a test suite at

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Unsupervised Paraphrasing with Pretrained Language Models
Tong Niu | Semih Yavuz | Yingbo Zhou | Nitish Shirish Keskar | Huan Wang | Caiming Xiong
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Paraphrase generation has benefited extensively from recent progress in the designing of training objectives and model architectures. However, previous explorations have largely focused on supervised methods, which require a large amount of labeled data that is costly to collect. To address this drawback, we adopt a transfer learning approach and propose a training pipeline that enables pre-trained language models to generate high-quality paraphrases in an unsupervised setting. Our recipe consists of task-adaptation, self-supervision, and a novel decoding algorithm named Dynamic Blocking (DB). To enforce a surface form dissimilar from the input, whenever the language model emits a token contained in the source sequence, DB prevents the model from outputting the subsequent source token for the next generation step. We show with automatic and human evaluations that our approach achieves state-of-the-art performance on both the Quora Question Pair (QQP) and the ParaNMT datasets and is robust to domain shift between the two datasets of distinct distributions. We also demonstrate that our model transfers to paraphrasing in other languages without any additional finetuning.

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Char2Subword: Extending the Subword Embedding Space Using Robust Character Compositionality
Gustavo Aguilar | Bryan McCann | Tong Niu | Nazneen Rajani | Nitish Shirish Keskar | Thamar Solorio
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2021

Byte-pair encoding (BPE) is a ubiquitous algorithm in the subword tokenization process of language models as it provides multiple benefits. However, this process is solely based on pre-training data statistics, making it hard for the tokenizer to handle infrequent spellings. On the other hand, though robust to misspellings, pure character-level models often lead to unreasonably long sequences and make it harder for the model to learn meaningful words. To alleviate these challenges, we propose a character-based subword module (char2subword) that learns the subword embedding table in pre-trained models like BERT. Our char2subword module builds representations from characters out of the subword vocabulary, and it can be used as a drop-in replacement of the subword embedding table. The module is robust to character-level alterations such as misspellings, word inflection, casing, and punctuation. We integrate it further with BERT through pre-training while keeping BERT transformer parameters fixed–and thus, providing a practical method. Finally, we show that incorporating our module to mBERT significantly improves the performance on the social media linguistic code-switching evaluation (LinCE) benchmark.


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Automatically Learning Data Augmentation Policies for Dialogue Tasks
Tong Niu | Mohit Bansal
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP)

Automatic data augmentation (AutoAugment) (Cubuk et al., 2019) searches for optimal perturbation policies via a controller trained using performance rewards of a sampled policy on the target task, hence reducing data-level model bias. While being a powerful algorithm, their work has focused on computer vision tasks, where it is comparatively easy to apply imperceptible perturbations without changing an image’s semantic meaning. In our work, we adapt AutoAugment to automatically discover effective perturbation policies for natural language processing (NLP) tasks such as dialogue generation. We start with a pool of atomic operations that apply subtle semantic-preserving perturbations to the source inputs of a dialogue task (e.g., different POS-tag types of stopword dropout, grammatical errors, and paraphrasing). Next, we allow the controller to learn more complex augmentation policies by searching over the space of the various combinations of these atomic operations. Moreover, we also explore conditioning the controller on the source inputs of the target task, since certain strategies may not apply to inputs that do not contain that strategy’s required linguistic features. Empirically, we demonstrate that both our input-agnostic and input-aware controllers discover useful data augmentation policies, and achieve significant improvements over the previous state-of-the-art, including trained on manually-designed policies.


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Polite Dialogue Generation Without Parallel Data
Tong Niu | Mohit Bansal
Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Volume 6

Stylistic dialogue response generation, with valuable applications in personality-based conversational agents, is a challenging task because the response needs to be fluent, contextually-relevant, as well as paralinguistically accurate. Moreover, parallel datasets for regular-to-stylistic pairs are usually unavailable. We present three weakly-supervised models that can generate diverse, polite (or rude) dialogue responses without parallel data. Our late fusion model (Fusion) merges the decoder of an encoder-attention-decoder dialogue model with a language model trained on stand-alone polite utterances. Our label-finetuning (LFT) model prepends to each source sequence a politeness-score scaled label (predicted by our state-of-the-art politeness classifier) during training, and at test time is able to generate polite, neutral, and rude responses by simply scaling the label embedding by the corresponding score. Our reinforcement learning model (Polite-RL) encourages politeness generation by assigning rewards proportional to the politeness classifier score of the sampled response. We also present two retrievalbased, polite dialogue model baselines. Human evaluation validates that while the Fusion and the retrieval-based models achieve politeness with poorer context-relevance, the LFT and Polite-RL models can produce significantly more polite responses without sacrificing dialogue quality.

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Adversarial Over-Sensitivity and Over-Stability Strategies for Dialogue Models
Tong Niu | Mohit Bansal
Proceedings of the 22nd Conference on Computational Natural Language Learning

We present two categories of model-agnostic adversarial strategies that reveal the weaknesses of several generative, task-oriented dialogue models: Should-Not-Change strategies that evaluate over-sensitivity to small and semantics-preserving edits, as well as Should-Change strategies that test if a model is over-stable against subtle yet semantics-changing modifications. We next perform adversarial training with each strategy, employing a max-margin approach for negative generative examples. This not only makes the target dialogue model more robust to the adversarial inputs, but also helps it perform significantly better on the original inputs. Moreover, training on all strategies combined achieves further improvements, achieving a new state-of-the-art performance on the original task (also verified via human evaluation). In addition to adversarial training, we also address the robustness task at the model-level, by feeding it subword units as both inputs and outputs, and show that the resulting model is equally competitive, requires only 1/4 of the original vocabulary size, and is robust to one of the adversarial strategies (to which the original model is vulnerable) even without adversarial training.

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Detecting Linguistic Characteristics of Alzheimer’s Dementia by Interpreting Neural Models
Sweta Karlekar | Tong Niu | Mohit Bansal
Proceedings of the 2018 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, Volume 2 (Short Papers)

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an irreversible and progressive brain disease that can be stopped or slowed down with medical treatment. Language changes serve as a sign that a patient’s cognitive functions have been impacted, potentially leading to early diagnosis. In this work, we use NLP techniques to classify and analyze the linguistic characteristics of AD patients using the DementiaBank dataset. We apply three neural models based on CNNs, LSTM-RNNs, and their combination, to distinguish between language samples from AD and control patients. We achieve a new independent benchmark accuracy for the AD classification task. More importantly, we next interpret what these neural models have learned about the linguistic characteristics of AD patients, via analysis based on activation clustering and first-derivative saliency techniques. We then perform novel automatic pattern discovery inside activation clusters, and consolidate AD patients’ distinctive grammar patterns. Additionally, we show that first derivative saliency can not only rediscover previous language patterns of AD patients, but also shed light on the limitations of neural models. Lastly, we also include analysis of gender-separated AD data.