The translation of ambiguous text presents a challenge for translation systems, as it requires using the surrounding context to disambiguate the intended meaning as much as possible. While prior work has studied ambiguities that result from different grammatical features of the source and target language, we study semantic ambiguities that exist in the source (English in this work) itself. In particular, we focus on idioms that are open to both literal and figurative interpretations (e.g., goose egg), and collect TIDE, a dataset of 512 pairs of English sentences containing idioms with disambiguating context such that one is literal (it laid a goose egg) and another is figurative (they scored a goose egg, as in a score of zero). In experiments, we compare MT-specific models and language models for (i) their preference when given an ambiguous subsentence, (ii) their sensitivity to disambiguating context, and (iii) the performance disparity between figurative and literal source sentences. We find that current MT models consistently translate English idioms literally, even when the context suggests a figurative interpretation. On the other hand, LMs are far more context-aware, although there remain disparities across target languages. Our findings underline the potential of LMs as a strong backbone for context-aware translation.
Language models have graduated from being research prototypes to commercialized products offered as web APIs, and recent works have highlighted the multilingual capabilities of these products. The API vendors charge their users based on usage, more specifically on the number of ``tokens'' processed or generated by the underlying language models. What constitutes a token, however, is training data and model dependent with a large variance in the number of tokens required to convey the same information in different languages. In this work, we analyze the effect of this non-uniformity on the fairness of an API's pricing policy across languages. We conduct a systematic analysis of the cost and utility of OpenAI's language model API on multilingual benchmarks in 22 typologically diverse languages. We show evidence that speakers of a large number of the supported languages are overcharged while obtaining poorer results. These speakers tend to also come from regions where the APIs are less affordable to begin with. Through these analyses, we aim to increase transparency around language model APIs' pricing policies and encourage the vendors to make them more equitable.
African languages have far less in-language content available digitally, making it challenging for question answering systems to satisfy the information needs of users. Cross-lingual open-retrieval question answering (XOR QA) systems -- those that retrieve answer content from other languages while serving people in their native language -- offer a means of filling this gap. To this end, we create AfriQA, the first cross-lingual QA dataset with a focus on African languages. AfriQA includes 12,000+ XOR QA examples across 10 African languages. While previous datasets have focused primarily on languages where cross-lingual QA augments coverage from the target language, AfriQA focuses on languages where cross-lingual answer content is the only high-coverage source of answer content. Because of this, we argue that African languages are one of the most important and realistic use cases for XOR QA. Our experiments demonstrate the poor performance of automatic translation and multilingual retrieval methods. Overall, AfriQA proves challenging for state-of-the-art QA models. We hope that the dataset enables the development of more equitable QA technology.
Multilingual models are often particularly dependent on scaling to generalize to a growing number of languages. Compression techniques are widely relied upon to reconcile the growth in model size with real world resource constraints, but compression can have a disparate effect on model performance for low-resource languages. It is thus crucial to understand the trade-offs between scale, multilingualism, and compression. In this work, we propose an experimental framework to characterize the impact of sparsifying multilingual pre-trained language models during fine-tuning. Applying this framework to mBERT named entity recognition models across 40 languages, we find that compression confers several intriguing and previously unknown generalization properties. In contrast to prior findings, we find that compression may improve model robustness over dense models. We additionally observe that under certain sparsification regimes compression may aid, rather than disproportionately impact the performance of low-resource languages.
In recent years, the natural language processing (NLP) community has given increased attention to the disparity of efforts directed towards high-resource languages over low-resource ones. Efforts to remedy this delta often begin with translations of existing English datasets into other languages. However, this approach ignores that different language communities have different needs. We consider a group of low-resource languages, Creole languages. Creoles are both largely absent from the NLP literature, and also often ignored by society at large due to stigma, despite these languages having sizable and vibrant communities. We demonstrate, through conversations with Creole experts and surveys of Creole-speaking communities, how the things needed from language technology can change dramatically from one language to another, even when the languages are considered to be very similar to each other, as with Creoles. We discuss the prominent themes arising from these conversations, and ultimately demonstrate that useful language technology cannot be built without involving the relevant community.
We investigate the possibility of cross-lingual transfer from a state-of-the-art (SoTA) deep monolingual model (DialoGPT) to 6 African languages and compare with 2 baselines (BlenderBot 90M, another SoTA, and a simple Seq2Seq). The languages are Swahili, Wolof, Hausa, Nigerian Pidgin English, Kinyarwanda & Yor\`ub\'a. Generation of dialogues is known to be a challenging task for many reasons. It becomes more challenging for African languages which are low-resource in terms of data. Therefore, we translate a small portion of the English multi-domain MultiWOZ dataset for each target language. Besides intrinsic evaluation (i.e. perplexity), we conduct human evaluation of single-turn conversations by using majority votes and measure inter-annotator agreement (IAA). The results show that the hypothesis that deep monolingual models learn some abstractions that generalise across languages holds. We observe human-like conversations in 5 out of the 6 languages. It, however, applies to different degrees in different languages, which is expected. The language with the most transferable properties is the Nigerian Pidgin English, with a human-likeness score of 78.1%, of which 34.4% are unanimous. The main contributions of this paper include the representation (through the provision of high-quality dialogue data) of under-represented African languages and demonstrating the cross-lingual transferability hypothesis for dialogue systems. We also provide the datasets and host the model checkpoints/demos on the HuggingFace hub for public access.
A "bigger is better" explosion in the number of parameters in deep neural networks has made it increasingly challenging to make state-of-the-art networks accessible in compute-restricted environments. Compression techniques have taken on renewed importance as a way to bridge the gap. However, evaluation of the trade-offs incurred by popular compression techniques has been centered on high-resource datasets. In this work, we instead consider the impact of compression in a data-limited regime. We introduce the term low-resource double bind to refer to the co-occurrence of data limitations and compute resource constraints. This is a common setting for NLP for low-resource languages, yet the trade-offs in performance are poorly studied. Our work offers surprising insights into the relationship between capacity and generalization in data-limited regimes for the task of machine translation. Our experiments on magnitude pruning for translations from English into Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and German show that in low-resource regimes, sparsity preserves performance on frequent sentences but has a disparate impact on infrequent ones. However, it improves robustness to out-of-distribution shifts, especially for datasets that are very distinct from the training distribution. Our findings suggest that sparsity can play a beneficial role at curbing memorization of low frequency attributes, and therefore offers a promising solution to the low-resource double bind.
With the success of large-scale pre-training and multilingual modeling in Natural Language Processing (NLP), recent years have seen a proliferation of large, web-mined text datasets covering hundreds of languages. However, to date there has been no systematic analysis of the quality of these publicly available datasets, or whether the datasets actually contain content in the languages they claim to represent. In this work, we manually audit the quality of 205 language-specific corpora released with five major public datasets (CCAligned, ParaCrawl, WikiMatrix, OSCAR, mC4), and audit the correctness of language codes in a sixth (JW300). We find that lower-resource corpora have systematic issues: at least 15 corpora are completely erroneous, and a significant fraction contains less than 50% sentences of acceptable quality. Similarly, we find 82 corpora that are mislabeled or use nonstandard/ambiguous language codes. We demonstrate that these issues are easy to detect even for non-speakers of the languages in question, and supplement the human judgements with automatic analyses. Inspired by our analysis, we recommend techniques to evaluate and improve multilingual corpora and discuss the risks that come with low-quality data releases.
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.