In this paper, we present MasakhaPOS, the largest part-of-speech (POS) dataset for 20 typologically diverse African languages. We discuss the challenges in annotating POS for these languages using the UD (universal dependencies) guidelines. We conducted extensive POS baseline experiments using conditional random field and several multilingual pre-trained language models. We applied various cross-lingual transfer models trained with data available in UD. Evaluating on the MasakhaPOS dataset, we show that choosing the best transfer language(s) in both single-source and multi-source setups greatly improves the POS tagging performance of the target languages, in particular when combined with cross-lingual parameter-efficient fine-tuning methods. Crucially, transferring knowledge from a language that matches the language family and morphosyntactic properties seems more effective for POS tagging in unseen languages.
Recent advances in the pre-training of language models leverage large-scale datasets to create multilingual models. However, low-resource languages are mostly left out in these datasets. This is primarily because many widely spoken languages are not well represented on the web and therefore excluded from the large-scale crawls used to create datasets. Furthermore, downstream users of these models are restricted to the selection of languages originally chosen for pre-training. This work investigates how to optimally leverage existing pre-trained models to create low-resource translation systems for 16 African languages. We focus on two questions: 1) How can pre-trained models be used for languages not included in the initial pre-training? and 2) How can the resulting translation models effectively transfer to new domains? To answer these questions, we create a new African news corpus covering 16 languages, of which eight languages are not part of any existing evaluation dataset. We demonstrate that the most effective strategy for transferring both to additional languages and to additional domains is to fine-tune large pre-trained models on small quantities of high-quality translation data.
We take a step towards addressing the under-representation of the African continent in NLP research by creating the first large publicly available high-quality dataset for named entity recognition (NER) in ten African languages, bringing together a variety of stakeholders. We detail characteristics of the languages to help researchers understand the challenges that these languages pose for NER. We analyze our datasets and conduct an extensive empirical evaluation of state-of-the-art methods across both supervised and transfer learning settings. We release the data, code, and models in order to inspire future research on African NLP.
Research in NLP lacks geographic diversity, and the question of how NLP can be scaled to low-resourced languages has not yet been adequately solved. "Low-resourced"-ness is a complex problem going beyond data availability and reflects systemic problems in society. In this paper, we focus on the task of Machine Translation (MT), that plays a crucial role for information accessibility and communication worldwide. Despite immense improvements in MT over the past decade, MT is centered around a few high-resourced languages. As MT researchers cannot solve the problem of low-resourcedness alone, we propose participatory research as a means to involve all necessary agents required in the MT development process. We demonstrate the feasibility and scalability of participatory research with a case study on MT for African languages. Its implementation leads to a collection of novel translation datasets, MT benchmarks for over 30 languages, with human evaluations for a third of them, and enables participants without formal training to make a unique scientific contribution. Benchmarks, models, data, code, and evaluation results are released under https://github.com/masakhane-io/masakhane-mt.
Africa has over 2000 languages. Despite this, African languages account for a small portion of available resources and publications in Natural Language Processing (NLP). This is due to multiple factors, including: a lack of focus from government and funding, discoverability, a lack of community, sheer language complexity, difficulty in reproducing papers and no benchmarks to compare techniques. To begin to address the identified problems, MASAKHANE, an open-source, continent-wide, distributed, online research effort for machine translation for African languages, was founded. In this paper, we discuss our methodology for building the community and spurring research from the African continent, as well as outline the success of the community in terms of addressing the identified problems affecting African NLP.