Team, Visitors, External Collaborators
Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: New Results

Neural language modelling

Participants : Benoît Sagot, Djamé Seddah, Éric Villemonte de La Clergerie, Laurent Romary, Louis Martin, Benjamin Muller, Pedro Ortiz Suárez, Yoann Dupont, Ganesh Jawahar.

Pretrained language models are now ubiquitous in Natural Language Processing. Despite their success, most available models have either been trained on English data or on the concatenation of data in multiple languages. This makes practical use of such models—in all languages except English—very limited. In 2019, one of the most visible achievements of the ALMAnaCH team was the training and release of CamemBERT, a BERT-like [75] (rather, RoBERTa-like) neural language model for French trained on the French section of our large-scale web-based OSCAR corpus, together with CamemBERT variants [60]. Our goal was to investigate the feasibility of training monolingual Transformer-based language models for other languages, taking French as an example and evaluating our language models on part-of-speech tagging, dependency parsing, named entity recognition and natural language inference tasks. We have shown that the use of web-crawled data such as found in OSCAR to train such language models is preferable to the use of Wikipedia data, because of the homogeneity of Wikipedia data. More surprisingly, we have also shown that a relatively small web crawled dataset (4GB randomly extracted from the French section of OSCAR) leads to results that are as good as those obtained using larger datasets (130+GB, i.e. the whole French section of OSCAR). CamemBERT allowed us to reach or improve the state of the art in all four downstream tasks.

Beyond training neural language models, we have reinforced the exploration of an active question, that of their interpretability. With the emergence of contextual vector representations of words, such as the ELMo [89] and BERT language models and word embeddings, the interpretability of neural models becomes a key research topic. It is a way to understand what such neural networks actually learn in an unsupervised way from (huge amounts of) textual data, and in which circumstances they manage to do so. The work carried out in the team this year to identify where morphological vs. syntactic vs. semantic information is stored in a BERT language model [26] was part of a more general trend (see for example [78]). And our work on training ELMo models for five mid-resourced languages has shown that such LSTM-based models, when trained on large scale although non edited dataset such as our web-based corpora OSCAR, can lead to outperforming state-of-the-art performance on an number of downstream tasks such as part-of-speech tagging and parsing. Finally, we have carried out comparative evaluations of the performance of CamemBERT and of ELMo models trained on the same French section of OSCAR on a number of downstream task, with an emphasis on named-entity recognition—a work that led us to publish a new version of the named-entity-annotated version of the French TreeBank [67] that we published in 2012 [99].

We have also investigated how word embeddings can capture the evolution of word usage and meaning over time, at a fine-grained scale. As part of the ANR SoSweet and the PHC Maimonide projects (in collaboration with Bar Ilan University for the latter), ALMAnaCH has invested a lot of efforts since 2018 into studying language variation within user-generated content (UGC), taking into account two main interrelated dimensions: how language variation is related to socio-demographic and dynamic network variables, and how UGC language evolves over time. Taking advantage of the SoSweet corpus (600 millions tweet) and of the Bar Ilan Hebrew Tweets (180M tweets) both collected over the last 5 years, we have been addressing the problem of studying semantic changes via the use of dynamic word embeddings, that is embeddings evolving over time. We devised a novel attention model, based on Bernouilli word embeddings, that are conditioned on contextual extra-linguistic features such as network, spatial and socio-economic variables, which can be inferred from Twitter users metadata, as well as topic-based features. We posit that these social features provide an inductive bias that is susceptible to helping our model to overcome the narrow time-span regime problem. Our extensive experiments reveal that, as a result of being less biased towards frequency cues, our proposed model was able to capture subtle semantic shifts and therefore benefits from the inclusion of a reduced set of contextual features. Our model thus fit the data better than current state-of-the-art dynamic word embedding models and therefore is a promising tool to study diachronic semantic changes over small time periods. We published these ideas and results in [41].

A deep understanding of what is learned, and, beyond that, of how it is learned by neural language models, both synchronic and diachronic, will be a crucial step towards the improvement of such architectures (e.g. targeting low-resource languages or scenarios) and the design and deployment of new generations of neural networks for NLP. Particularly important is to assess the role of the training corpus size and heterogeneity, as well as the impact of the properties of the language at hand (e.g. morphological richness, token-type ratio, etc.). This line of research will also have an impact on our understanding of language variation and on our ability to improve the robustness of neural-network-based NLP tools to such variation.