While state-of-the-art neural network models continue to achieve lower perplexity scores on language modeling benchmarks, it remains unknown whether optimizing for broad-coverage predictive performance leads to human-like syntactic knowledge. Furthermore, existing work has not provided a clear picture about the model properties required to produce proper syntactic generalizations. We present a systematic evaluation of the syntactic knowledge of neural language models, testing 20 combinations of model types and data sizes on a set of 34 English-language syntactic test suites. We find substantial differences in syntactic generalization performance by model architecture, with sequential models underperforming other architectures. Factorially manipulating model architecture and training dataset size (1M-40M words), we find that variability in syntactic generalization performance is substantially greater by architecture than by dataset size for the corpora tested in our experiments. Our results also reveal a dissociation between perplexity and syntactic generalization performance.
Targeted syntactic evaluations have yielded insights into the generalizations learned by neural network language models. However, this line of research requires an uncommon confluence of skills: both the theoretical knowledge needed to design controlled psycholinguistic experiments, and the technical proficiency needed to train and deploy large-scale language models. We present SyntaxGym, an online platform designed to make targeted evaluations accessible to both experts in NLP and linguistics, reproducible across computing environments, and standardized following the norms of psycholinguistic experimental design. This paper releases two tools of independent value for the computational linguistics community: 1. A website, syntaxgym.org, which centralizes the process of targeted syntactic evaluation and provides easy tools for analysis and visualization; 2. Two command-line tools, ‘syntaxgym‘ and ‘lm-zoo‘, which allow any user to reproduce targeted syntactic evaluations and general language model inference on their own machine.
What information from an act of sentence understanding is robustly represented in the human brain? We investigate this question by comparing sentence encoding models on a brain decoding task, where the sentence that an experimental participant has seen must be predicted from the fMRI signal evoked by the sentence. We take a pre-trained BERT architecture as a baseline sentence encoding model and fine-tune it on a variety of natural language understanding (NLU) tasks, asking which lead to improvements in brain-decoding performance. We find that none of the sentence encoding tasks tested yield significant increases in brain decoding performance. Through further task ablations and representational analyses, we find that tasks which produce syntax-light representations yield significant improvements in brain decoding performance. Our results constrain the space of NLU models that could best account for human neural representations of language, but also suggest limits on the possibility of decoding fine-grained syntactic information from fMRI human neuroimaging.
Distributional word representation methods exploit word co-occurrences to build compact vector encodings of words. While these representations enjoy widespread use in modern natural language processing, it is unclear whether they accurately encode all necessary facets of conceptual meaning. In this paper, we evaluate how well these representations can predict perceptual and conceptual features of concrete concepts, drawing on two semantic norm datasets sourced from human participants. We find that several standard word representations fail to encode many salient perceptual features of concepts, and show that these deficits correlate with word-word similarity prediction errors. Our analyses provide motivation for grounded and embodied language learning approaches, which may help to remedy these deficits.