Zhewei Sun


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Tracing Semantic Variation in Slang
Zhewei Sun | Yang Xu
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

The meaning of a slang term can vary in different communities. However, slang semantic variation is not well understood and under-explored in the natural language processing of slang. One existing view argues that slang semantic variation is driven by culture-dependent communicative needs. An alternative view focuses on slang’s social functions suggesting that the desire to foster semantic distinction may have led to the historical emergence of community-specific slang senses. We explore these theories using computational models and test them against historical slang dictionary entries, with a focus on characterizing regularity in the geographical variation of slang usages attested in the US and the UK over the past two centuries. We show that our models are able to predict the regional identity of emerging slang word meanings from historical slang records. We offer empirical evidence that both communicative need and semantic distinction play a role in the variation of slang meaning yet their relative importance fluctuates over the course of history. Our work offers an opportunity for incorporating historical cultural elements into the natural language processing of slang.

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Semantically Informed Slang Interpretation
Zhewei Sun | Richard Zemel | Yang Xu
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

Slang is a predominant form of informal language making flexible and extended use of words that is notoriously hard for natural language processing systems to interpret. Existing approaches to slang interpretation tend to rely on context but ignore semantic extensions common in slang word usage. We propose a semantically informed slang interpretation (SSI) framework that considers jointly the contextual and semantic appropriateness of a candidate interpretation for a query slang. We perform rigorous evaluation on two large-scale online slang dictionaries and show that our approach not only achieves state-of-the-art accuracy for slang interpretation in English, but also does so in zero-shot and few-shot scenarios where training data is sparse. Furthermore, we show how the same framework can be applied to enhancing machine translation of slang from English to other languages. Our work creates opportunities for the automated interpretation and translation of informal language.


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A Computational Framework for Slang Generation
Zhewei Sun | Richard Zemel | Yang Xu
Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Volume 9

Slang is a common type of informal language, but its flexible nature and paucity of data resources present challenges for existing natural language systems. We take an initial step toward machine generation of slang by developing a framework that models the speaker’s word choice in slang context. Our framework encodes novel slang meaning by relating the conventional and slang senses of a word while incorporating syntactic and contextual knowledge in slang usage. We construct the framework using a combination of probabilistic inference and neural contrastive learning. We perform rigorous evaluations on three slang dictionaries and show that our approach not only outperforms state-of-the-art language models, but also better predicts the historical emergence of slang word usages from 1960s to 2000s. We interpret the proposed models and find that the contrastively learned semantic space is sensitive to the similarities between slang and conventional senses of words. Our work creates opportunities for the automated generation and interpretation of informal language.


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Slang Detection and Identification
Zhengqi Pei | Zhewei Sun | Yang Xu
Proceedings of the 23rd Conference on Computational Natural Language Learning (CoNLL)

The prevalence of informal language such as slang presents challenges for natural language systems, particularly in the automatic discovery of flexible word usages. Previous work has explored slang in terms of dictionary construction, sentiment analysis, word formation, and interpretation, but scarce research has attempted the basic problem of slang detection and identification. We examine the extent to which deep learning methods support automatic detection and identification of slang from natural sentences using a combination of bidirectional recurrent neural networks, conditional random field, and multilayer perceptron. We test these models based on a comprehensive set of linguistic features in sentence-level detection and token-level identification of slang. We found that a prominent feature of slang is the surprising use of words across syntactic categories or syntactic shift (e.g., verb-noun). Our best models detect the presence of slang at the sentence level with an F1-score of 0.80 and identify its exact position at the token level with an F1-Score of 0.50.