Tovah Irwin


BERT Shows Garden Path Effects
Tovah Irwin | Kyra Wilson | Alec Marantz
Proceedings of the 17th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics

Garden path sentences (i.e. “the horse raced past the barn fell”) are sentences that readers initially incorrectly parse, requiring partial or total re-analysis of the sentence structure. Given human difficulty in parsing garden paths, we aim to compare transformer language models’ performance on these sentences. We assess a selection of models from the BERT family which have been fine-tuned on the question-answering task, and evaluate each model’s performance on comprehension questions based on garden path and control sentences. We then further investigate the semantic roles assigned to arguments of verbs in garden path and control sentences by utilizing a probe task to directly assess which semantic role(s) the model assigns. We find that the models have relatively low performance in certain instances of question answering based on garden path contexts, and the model incorrectly assigns semantic roles, aligning for the most part with human performance.