Computational Linguistics, Volume 47, Issue 1 - March 2021

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Cambridge, MA
MIT Press
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Kathy McKeown Interviews Bonnie Webber
Bonnie Webber

Because the 2020 ACL Lifetime Achievement Award presentation could not be done in person, we replaced the usual LTA talk with an interview between Professor Kathy McKeown (Columbia University) and the recipient, Bonnie Webber. The following is an edited version of the interview, with added citations.

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Formal Basis of a Language Universal
Miloš Stanojević | Mark Steedman

Steedman (2020) proposes as a formal universal of natural language grammar that grammatical permutations of the kind that have given rise to transformational rules are limited to a class known to mathematicians and computer scientists as the “separable” permutations. This class of permutations is exactly the class that can be expressed in combinatory categorial grammars (CCGs). The excluded non-separable permutations do in fact seem to be absent in a number of studies of crosslinguistic variation in word order in nominal and verbal constructions. The number of permutations that are separable grows in the number n of lexical elements in the construction as the Large Schröder Number Sn−1. Because that number grows much more slowly than the n! number of all permutations, this generalization is also of considerable practical interest for computational applications such as parsing and machine translation. The present article examines the mathematical and computational origins of this restriction, and the reason it is exactly captured in CCG without the imposition of any further constraints.

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Comparing Knowledge-Intensive and Data-Intensive Models for English Resource Semantic Parsing
Junjie Cao | Zi Lin | Weiwei Sun | Xiaojun Wan

In this work, we present a phenomenon-oriented comparative analysis of the two dominant approaches in English Resource Semantic (ERS) parsing: classic, knowledge-intensive and neural, data-intensive models. To reflect state-of-the-art neural NLP technologies, a factorization-based parser is introduced that can produce Elementary Dependency Structures much more accurately than previous data-driven parsers. We conduct a suite of tests for different linguistic phenomena to analyze the grammatical competence of different parsers, where we show that, despite comparable performance overall, knowledge- and data-intensive models produce different types of errors, in a way that can be explained by their theoretical properties. This analysis is beneficial to in-depth evaluation of several representative parsing techniques and leads to new directions for parser development.

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Semantic Data Set Construction from Human Clustering and Spatial Arrangement
Olga Majewska | Diana McCarthy | Jasper J. F. van den Bosch | Nikolaus Kriegeskorte | Ivan Vulić | Anna Korhonen

Research into representation learning models of lexical semantics usually utilizes some form of intrinsic evaluation to ensure that the learned representations reflect human semantic judgments. Lexical semantic similarity estimation is a widely used evaluation method, but efforts have typically focused on pairwise judgments of words in isolation, or are limited to specific contexts and lexical stimuli. There are limitations with these approaches that either do not provide any context for judgments, and thereby ignore ambiguity, or provide very specific sentential contexts that cannot then be used to generate a larger lexical resource. Furthermore, similarity between more than two items is not considered. We provide a full description and analysis of our recently proposed methodology for large-scale data set construction that produces a semantic classification of a large sample of verbs in the first phase, as well as multi-way similarity judgments made within the resultant semantic classes in the second phase. The methodology uses a spatial multi-arrangement approach proposed in the field of cognitive neuroscience for capturing multi-way similarity judgments of visual stimuli. We have adapted this method to handle polysemous linguistic stimuli and much larger samples than previous work. We specifically target verbs, but the method can equally be applied to other parts of speech. We perform cluster analysis on the data from the first phase and demonstrate how this might be useful in the construction of a comprehensive verb resource. We also analyze the semantic information captured by the second phase and discuss the potential of the spatially induced similarity judgments to better reflect human notions of word similarity. We demonstrate how the resultant data set can be used for fine-grained analyses and evaluation of representation learning models on the intrinsic tasks of semantic clustering and semantic similarity. In particular, we find that stronger static word embedding methods still outperform lexical representations emerging from more recent pre-training methods, both on word-level similarity and clustering. Moreover, thanks to the data set’s vast coverage, we are able to compare the benefits of specializing vector representations for a particular type of external knowledge by evaluating FrameNet- and VerbNet-retrofitted models on specific semantic domains such as “Heat” or “Motion.”

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Interpretability Analysis for Named Entity Recognition to Understand System Predictions and How They Can Improve
Oshin Agarwal | Yinfei Yang | Byron C. Wallace | Ani Nenkova

Named entity recognition systems achieve remarkable performance on domains such as English news. It is natural to ask: What are these models actually learning to achieve this? Are they merely memorizing the names themselves? Or are they capable of interpreting the text and inferring the correct entity type from the linguistic context? We examine these questions by contrasting the performance of several variants of architectures for named entity recognition, with some provided only representations of the context as features. We experiment with GloVe-based BiLSTM-CRF as well as BERT. We find that context does influence predictions, but the main factor driving high performance is learning the named tokens themselves. Furthermore, we find that BERT is not always better at recognizing predictive contexts compared to a BiLSTM-CRF model. We enlist human annotators to evaluate the feasibility of inferring entity types from context alone and find that humans are also mostly unable to infer entity types for the majority of examples on which the context-only system made errors. However, there is room for improvement: A system should be able to recognize any named entity in a predictive context correctly and our experiments indicate that current systems may be improved by such capability. Our human study also revealed that systems and humans do not always learn the same contextual clues, and context-only systems are sometimes correct even when humans fail to recognize the entity type from the context. Finally, we find that one issue contributing to model errors is the use of “entangled” representations that encode both contextual and local token information into a single vector, which can obscure clues. Our results suggest that designing models that explicitly operate over representations of local inputs and context, respectively, may in some cases improve performance. In light of these and related findings, we highlight directions for future work.

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Supervised and Unsupervised Neural Approaches to Text Readability
Matej Martinc | Senja Pollak | Marko Robnik-Šikonja

We present a set of novel neural supervised and unsupervised approaches for determining the readability of documents. In the unsupervised setting, we leverage neural language models, whereas in the supervised setting, three different neural classification architectures are tested. We show that the proposed neural unsupervised approach is robust, transferable across languages, and allows adaptation to a specific readability task and data set. By systematic comparison of several neural architectures on a number of benchmark and new labeled readability data sets in two languages, this study also offers a comprehensive analysis of different neural approaches to readability classification. We expose their strengths and weaknesses, compare their performance to current state-of-the-art classification approaches to readability, which in most cases still rely on extensive feature engineering, and propose possibilities for improvements.

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Depth-Bounded Statistical PCFG Induction as a Model of Human Grammar Acquisition
Lifeng Jin | Lane Schwartz | Finale Doshi-Velez | Timothy Miller | William Schuler

This article describes a simple PCFG induction model with a fixed category domain that predicts a large majority of attested constituent boundaries, and predicts labels consistent with nearly half of attested constituent labels on a standard evaluation data set of child-directed speech. The article then explores the idea that the difference between simple grammars exhibited by child learners and fully recursive grammars exhibited by adult learners may be an effect of increasing working memory capacity, where the shallow grammars are constrained images of the recursive grammars. An implementation of these memory bounds as limits on center embedding in a depth-specific transform of a recursive grammar yields a significant improvement over an equivalent but unbounded baseline, suggesting that this arrangement may indeed confer a learning advantage.

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Python for Linguists
Benjamin Roth | Michael Wiegand