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MCQLL Meetings this Term

The Montreal Computational and Quantitative Linguistics Lab (MCQLL) will hold lab meetings this semester on alternating Tuesdays from 15h00 – 16h00, starting this Tuesday, September 6.

In our first meeting, current lab members will present 5-minute lightning talks on their research. All are welcome to attend!

Meetings will be hybrid in-person and on Zoom. We’ll be meeting in person in room 117 of the McGill Linguistics department at 1085 Dr Penfield. If you’d like to attend virtually, Zoom meetings will be held here.

MCQLL Summer News

Former MCQLL MA student (2021), Emily Goodwin traveled to ACL 2022 in Dublin, Ireland to present her paper Compositional Generalization in Dependency Parsing, which is joint work with Siva Reddy, Tim O’Donnell and Dima Bahdanau.

MCQLL PhD student Michaela Socolof traveled to ACL 2022 in Dublin, Ireland to present her paper Characterizing idioms: Conventionality and contingency, which is joint work with Jackie Cheung, Michael Wagner, and Tim O’Donnell. She also had a paper accepted at COLING 2022: “Measuring morphological fusion using partial information decomposition,” which is joint work with Jacob Hoover, Richard Futrell, Alessandro Sordoni, and Tim O’Donnell.

MCQLL PhD student Jacob Louis Hoover’s work with Morgan Sonderegger, Steve Piantadosi (of UC Berkeley), and Tim O’Donnell was accepted to the Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing conference (AMLaP 28), which will take place in York UK. The work is titled With Better Language Models, Processing Time is Superlinear in Surprisal.

MCQLL PhD student Amanda Doucette presented their project Identity, similarity, and the OCP: A model of co-occurrence in 107 languages which was joint work with Tim O’Donnell, Heather Goad, and Morgan Sonderegger.

MCQLL co-director Tim O’Donnell appeared as senior author on the paper Synthesizing theories of human language with Bayesian program induction, which appeared in Nature Communications on the 30th of August. The paper was joint work with first author Kevin Ellis (Cornell, CS) who led the project, Adam Albright (MIT, Linguistics), Josh Tenenbaum (MIT, BCS), and Armando Solar-Lezama (MIT, EECS).

MCQLL, 04/05 – Michaela Socolof

At this week’s MCQLL meeting on Tuesday, April 5 at 3:00-4:00, Michaela Socolof will give a talk titled ‘Characterizing morphological systems using partial information decomposition.’ If you’d like to attend, please register for the Zoom meeting here if you haven’t already.

Morphological systems across languages vary when it comes to the relation between form and meaning. In some languages, a single unit of meaning corresponds to a single morpheme, whereas in other languages, multiple units of meaning are bundled together into one morpheme. These two types of languages have been called agglutinative and fusional, respectively, but this distinction does not capture the continuous nature of the phenomenon. We provide a mathematically precise way of characterizing morphological systems using partial information decomposition, which is a framework for decomposing mutual information into three components: unique, redundant, and synergistic information. We show that highly fusional languages are characterized by high levels of synergy.

MCQLL, 01/25 – Jacob Louis Hoover

At this week’s MCQLL meeting on Tuesday, January 25 at 3:00-4:00, Jacob Louis Hoover will give a talk titled ‘Processing time is a superlinear function of surprisal.’ If you’d like to attend, please register for the Zoom meeting here if you haven’t already
The incremental processing difficulty of a linguistic item is related to its predictability. Surprisal theory (Hale, 2001; Levy, 2008) posits that the processing cost of a word in context is a linear function of its surprisal. This prediction has received considerable attention and broad support from empirical studies using a variety of language models to estimate surprisal. However, no algorithmic theory of processing has been proposed which scales linearly in surprisal. Additionally, recent empirical work has also begun raise questions about the assumption of linearity.  We present a study specifically aimed at discerning the general shape of the linking function, using a collection of modern pretrained language models (LMs) to estimate surprisal. We find evidence of a superlinear effect on reading time. We also find that the better a language model’s predictions are on average, the more clearly the relationship is between surprisal and processing is superlinear. These results suggest revising the linearity hypothesis of surprisal theory, and can provide support for algorithmic theories of human language processing which scale faster than linearly in surprisal.

MCQLL Meeting, 11/23 – Vikash Mansinghka

At this week’s MCQLL meeting on Tuesday, November 23 at 4:00 PM, Vikash Mansinghka will give a talk titled “Scaling towards human-like AI via probabilistic programming.” An abstract and speaker bio follows.
This week we’ll be meeting an hour later, at 4:00, rather than 3:00. This time change only applies to this meeting.

If you haven’t already registered for the Zoom meeting, you can do so here.
A great deal of enthusiasm has been focused on building increasingly large neural models. We believe it is now possible to pursue an alternate scaling roadmap based on probabilistic programming, to build AI systems that actually see, learn and think like people, with more human-like flexibility, data efficiency, robustness, and generalizability. The probabilistic source code for these AI systems is partly written by AI engineers and partly learned from data. This approach integrates the best of large-scale generative modeling and deep learning with probabilistic inference and symbolic programming. Unlike neural networks, probabilistic programs can report what they know and what they don’t; they model the world in terms of explainable, human-editable representations; they can be modularly trained & tested; and they can learn new symbolic code rapidly and accurately from sparse data.
This talk will introduce basic concepts in probabilistic programming, and survey AI applications where probabilistic programming has recently outperformed machine learning:
(i) 3D object & scene perception from cluttered indoor video, improving accuracy and robustness over deep learning
(ii) common-sense deduplication, linkage, and cleaning of databases with millions of records
(iii) automated model discovery for multivariate data streams
It will also briefly review larger MIT efforts to apply probabilistic programming to reverse-engineer human common sense, to engineer data-driven expert systems, and to scale to low-power, biologically plausible hardware implementations of probabilistic programming, via massively parallel circuits of stochastic spiking neurons.
Speaker Bio

Vikash Mansinghka is a Principal Research Scientist at MIT, where he leads the MIT Probabilistic Computing Project. Vikash holds S.B. degrees in Mathematics and in Computer Science from MIT, as well as an M.Eng. in Computer Science and a PhD in Computation from the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences. He also held graduate fellowships from the National Science Foundation and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. His PhD dissertation on natively probabilistic computation won the MIT George M. Sprowls dissertation award in computer science, and his research on the Picture probabilistic programming language won an award at CVPR. He co-founded three VC-backed startups: Prior Knowledge (acquired by Salesforce in 2012) and Empirical Systems (acquired by Tableau in 2018), and Common Sense Machines (founded in 2020). He has also advised DeepMind and Intel on AI research, and helped leading companies in banking, insurance, IT, pharma, and healthcare apply open-source software implementing his lab’s research. He served on DARPA’s Information Science and Technology advisory board from 2010-2012, currently serves as an action editor for the Journal of Machine Learning Research, and co-founded the International Conference on Probabilistic Programming.

MCQLL Meeting, 10/26 — Tom McCoy

At this week’s MCQLL meeting on October 26 at 3:00 PM, Tom McCoy will give a talk titled “Discovering implicit compositional representations in neural networks.” An abstract of the talk follows.
If you haven’t already registered for the Zoom meeting, you can do so here.

Neural networks excel at processing language, yet their inner workings are poorly understood. One particular puzzle is how these models can represent compositional structures (e.g., sequences or trees) within the continuous vectors that they use as their representations. We introduce an analysis technique called DISCOVER and use it to show that, when neural networks are trained to perform symbolic tasks, their vector representations can be closely approximated using a simple, interpretable type of symbolic structure. That is, even though these models have no explicit compositional representations, they still implicitly implement compositional structure. We verify the causal importance of the discovered symbolic structure by showing that, when we alter a model’s internal representations in ways motivated by our analysis, the model’s output changes accordingly.

MCQLL Lightning Talks, 9/14

MCQLL will be meeting this Tuesday, September 14 at 3:00 PM on Zoom.

This week’s meeting will be a series of lightning talks by MCQLL lab members, giving brief introductions to their research. All are welcome to come learn more about current work being done in the lab.

If you haven’t already, please register here to get the meeting link.

MCQLL Meeting, 4/8 — Michaela Socolof

This week’s MCQLL meeting on Thursday, April 8 at 1:30-2:30pm, will feature a talk from Michaela Socolof, a third year PhD student in the Linguistics department at McGill.

Abstract: I will be presenting an overview of issues relating to the syntax of relative clause constructions across languages. The purpose of this talk is to explore possibilities for computational projects in this area.

If you would like to attend the talk but have not yet signed up for the MCQLL meetings this semester, please send an email to mcqllmeetings@gmail.com.

MCQLL Meeting, 4/1 — Maya Watt

This week’s MCQLL meeting Thursday, April 1, 1:30-2:30pm, will feature a talk from Maya Watt. Bio and talk abstract are below.

If you would like to attend the talk but have not yet signed up for the MCQLL meetings this semester, please send an email to mcqllmeetings@gmail.com.

Bio: Maya Watt is a U3 undergraduate student in Honours Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.

Abstract: Theories of inflectional morphology differ in terms of how they treat semi-productive inflection types, that is, inflections  that apply to multiple words but are not completely productive (e.g. grow-grew, know-knew, but not clow-clowed). How such semi-regular classes generalize may help distinguish theories, but little work has explored this question due to the difficulty of finding overgeneralized uses of these inflectional classes  in naturalistic corpora. We address this issue by conducting a prompted lexical decision study on English past tenses. Participants were shown a regular or irregular verb in the infinitive form (to snow, to grow) and then presented with either a correct inflection (snowed, grew) or an overgeneralization (snew, growed) and asked to indicate whether it is the correct past tense form. We compare how various overgeneralized  types (snow-snew, sneeze-snoze) differ in terms of reaction times and accuracy rates finding differences between classes which may inform future theoretical comparisons.

MCQLL Meeting, 3/25 — Emily Goodwin

This week’s MCQLL meeting Thursday, March 25, 1:30-2:30pm, will feature a talk from Emily Goodwin. Talk abstract is below.

If you would like to attend the talk but have not yet signed up for the MCQLL meetings this semester, please send an email to mcqllmeetings@gmail.com.

Abstract: Recent attention in neural natural language understanding models has focused on generalization that is compositional (the meanings of larger expressions are a function of the meanings of smaller expressions) and systematic (individual words mean the same thing when put in novel combinations). Datasets for compositional and systematic generalization often focus on testing classes of syntactic constructions (testing only on strings of a certain length or longer, or novel combinations of particular predicates). In contrast, the compositional freebase queries (CFQ) training and test sets are automatically sampled. To measure the compositional challenge of a test set relative to its training set, they measure the divergence between the distribution of syntactic compounds in test and train. Training and test splits with maximum compound divergence (MCD) are highly challenging for semantic parsers, but (unlike other datasets designed to test compositional generalization) the splits do not specifically hold-out human-recognizable classes of syntactic constructions from the training set.In this talk I will present preliminary results of a syntactic analyses of the MCD splits released in the CFQ dataset, and explore whether model failures on MCD splits can be explained in terms of phenomena familiar to syntactic theory.

MCQLL Lab Meeting, 3/14 — Ben LeBrun

This week’s MCQLL meeting Thursday, March 18, 1:30-2:30pm, will feature a talk from Ben LeBrun. Talk abstract is below.

If you would like to attend the talk but have not yet signed up for the MCQLL meetings this semester, please send an email to mcqllmeetings@gmail.com.

Abstract: The use of pre-trained Transformer language models (TLMs) has led to significant advances in the field of natural language processing. This success has typically been measured by quantifying model performance on down-stream tasks, or through their ability to predict words in large samples of text. However, these benchmarks are biased in favour of frequent natural language constructions, measuring performance on common, recurring patterns in the data. The behaviour of TLMs on the large set of complex and infrequent linguistic constructions is in comparison understudied. In this talk, I will present preliminary results exploring GPT2’s ability to reproduce this long-tail of syntactic constructions, and how this ability is modulated by fine-tuning.

MCQLL Lab Meeting, 3/11 — Eva Portelance

This week’s MCQLL meeting (Thursday, March 11th, 1:30-2:30pm), will feature a talk from Eva Portelance. Abstract and bio are below.

If you would like to join the meeting but have not yet registered for this semester’s MCQLL meetings, please send an email to mcqllmeetings@gmail.com.

Bio: Eva is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University in Linguistics, working with Mike Frank and Dan Jurafsky. She completed a B.A. Honours in Linguistics and Computer Science at McGill University in 2017. She is interested in linguistic structure and language learning both in humans and machines. This work was started during an internship at Microsoft Research Montreal.

Abstract: Learning Strategies for the Emergence of Language in Iterated Learning

In emergent communication studies, agents play communication games in order to develop a set of linguistic conventions referred to as the emergent language. Here, we compare the effects of a variety of learning functions and play phases on the efficiency and effectiveness of emergent language learning. We do so both within a single generation of agents and across generations in an iterated learning setting. We find that allowing agents to engage in forms of selfplay ultimately leads to more effective communication. In the iterated learning setting we compare different approaches to intergenerational learning. We find that selfplay used jointly with imitation can also lead to effective communication in this setting. Additionally, we find that encouraging agents to successfully communicate with previous generations rather than to successfully imitate them can lead to both effective language and efficient learning. Finally, we introduce a new dataset and a new agent architecture with split visual perception and representation modules in order to conduct our experiments.

MCQLL Meeting, 2/25 — Richard Futrell

This week’s MCQLL meeting, taking place Thursday, Feb 25th, 1:30-2:30pm will feature a talk entitled “Information-theoretic models of natural language” by Professor Richard Futrell. Abstract and bio are below. If you would like to join the meeting and have not yet registered for this semester’s MCQLL meetings, please send an email to mcqllmeetings@gmail.com requesting the link.

Abstract: I claim that human languages can be modeled as information-theoretic codes, that is, systems that maximize information transfer under certain constraints. I argue that the relevant constraints for human language are those involving the cognitive resources used during language production and comprehension. Viewing human language in this way, it is possible to derive and test new quantitative predictions about the statistical, syntactic, and morphemic structure of human languages.

I start by reviewing some of the many ways that natural languages differ from optimal codes as studied in information theory. I argue that one distinguishing characteristic of human languages, as opposed to other natural and artificial codes, is a property I call “information locality”: information about particular aspects of meaning is localized in time within a linguistic utterance. I give evidence for information locality at multiple levels of linguistic structure, including the structure of words and the order of words in sentences.

Next, I state a theorem showing that information locality is a property of any communication system where the encoder and/or decoder are operating incrementally under memory constraints. The theorem yields a new, fully formal, and quantifiable definition of information locality, which leads to new predictions about word order and the structure of words across languages. I test these predictions in broad corpus studies of word order in over 50 languages, and in case studies of the order of morphemes within words in two languages.

Bio: Richard Futrell is an Assistant Professor of Language Science at the University of California, Irvine. His research applies information theory to better understand human language and how humans and machines can learn and process it.

MCQLL Meeting, 1/28 — Dzmitry Bahdanau

This week’s MCQLL meeting, on Thursday, Jan 28th at 1:30-2:30pm, will feature a talk from Dzmitry (Dima) Bahdanau, a research scientist at Element AI, a research group at ServiceNow.

Speaker Bio: I am a research scientist at Element AI that has just been acquired by ServiceNow. I am also a Core Industry Member of Mila and Adjunct Professor at McGill University. The current goal of my research is to further the adoption of language user interfaces. To this end I am interested in semantic parsing and task-oriented dialogue methods, in particular their systematic (compositional) generalization and sample efficiency. My prior research interests include grounding language in vision and action, question answering, speech recognition, machine translation and structured prediction in general. I have recently completed my PhD at Mila working under supervision of Yoshua Bengio.

Abstract: I will talk about the task of translating natural language queries into Structured Query Language (SQL). I will first discuss the broad relevance and importance of this task. I will make connections between SQL and meaning representations that are more conventional in linguistics, namely lambda-calculus. I will talk about type-based heuristics for query completion and how they sometimes allow models to infer correct queries without much syntactic understanding. I will describe how state-of-the-art models work, focusing on the recent DuoRAT model produced by our group. Lastly, I will talk about the on-going few-shot cross-domain text2sql project that we are currently working on at Element AI.

If you would like to attend this talk but have not yet registered for this semester’s MCQLL meetings, please send an email to mcqllmeetings@gmail.com so that we can get you the link.

MCQLL Meeting, 1/21 — Koustuv Sinha

This week’s MCQLL meeting on Thursday, Jan 21, 1:30-2:30pm will feature a talk from Koustuv Sinha. Koustuv is a third year PhD candidate at McGill University / Mila / Facebook AI Research, and is supervised by Joelle Pineau and Will Hamilton. His primary research interest lies in understanding systematic reasoning and generalization in discrete modalities, encompassing language understanding and graph-based reasoning.

If you are not already on the MCQLL mailing list and would like to attend this meeting and/or join the mailing list, please send an email to mcqllmeetings@gmail.com ASAP so we can make sure to get you the link to the meeting in time.

MCQLL Meeting, 11/11 — Bing’er Jiang

At this week’s MCQLL meeting (1:30-2:30pm Wednesday, November 11), Bing’er Jiang, a sixth year PhD student at the McGill Linguistics Department, will present her work on the perceptual tonal space in Mandarin Chinese continuous speech. Talk abstract is below.

If you would like to join the meeting and have not already registered for the MCQLL mailing list, please do so ASAP using this form.

Abstract: This study examines the perceptual tonal space in Mandarin Chinese continuous speech and how various acoustic properties signalling the tonal contrast are represented in this space. Previous studies on Mandarin tones mainly focus on words produced in isolation, but there is little understanding on the perception of tones in continuous speech, which are realized with more variability. We first evaluate the importance of three acoustic correlates (pitch, intensity, and duration) for the tonal contrast by using a set of tone classification models trained on broadcast news. Instead of model ablation, we use a novel method of data ablation inspired from conventional perceptual experiments to restrict the acoustic information the model can access. We further force the model to learn a low-dimensional representation, which can be seen as the model’s perceptual representation for tones. We find that the information for tonal distinction can be compressed in a two-dimensional space, and the structure of the space corresponds to the findings on human’s perception of isolated tones in the literature.

MCQLL Meeting, 11/4 — Emi Baylor

At this week’s MCQLL meeting (Wednesday, November 4th, 1:30-2:30pm), Emi Baylor, masters student at McGill School of Computer Science and Mila, will be presenting on her work with morphological productivity. Bio and talk abstract are below.

If you would like to attend the talk but are not already on the MCQLL listserv, please sign up at this link as soon as possible, as there is still a registration step that needs to be completed after that.

Bio: Emi Baylor is a masters student at McGill Computer Science and Mila. She is interested in computational morphology, multilingual NLP, and low resource languages, as well as the combination of all three.

Abstract: This work investigates and empirically tests theories of linguistic productivity. Language users are able to make infinite use of finite means, meaning that a finite number of words and morphemes can be used to create an infinite number of utterances. This is largely due to linguistic productivity, which allows language users to create and understand novel expressions through stored, reusable units. One example of a productive process across language is plural morphology, which generalizes the use of plural morphemes in a language to novel words. This work investigates and empirically tests theories of how this generalization of forms is learned and carried out, through data from the complex German plural noun system.

MCQLL Meeting, 10/28 — Michaela Socolof

At this week’s MCQLL meeting (Wednesday, October 8th, 1:30-2:30pm), Michaela Socolof, PhD student in the McGill Linguistics department, will be presenting on her work with idioms and compositionality. Bio and talk abstract are below.

If you would like to attend the talk but are not already on the MCQLL listserv, please sign up at this link as soon as possible, as there is still a registration step that needs to be completed after that.

Bio: Michaela Socolof is a PhD student at McGill Linguistics. She is interested in syntax and semantics, with a focus on using computational tools to explore questions in these domains.

Talk: This work addresses the question of how idioms should be characterized. Unlike most phrases in language, whose meanings are largely predictable based on the meanings of their individual words, idioms have idiosyncratic meanings that do not come from straightforwardly combining their parts. This observation has led to the commonly repeated notion that idioms are an exception to compositionality that require special machinery in the linguistic system. We show that it is possible to characterize idioms based on the interaction of two simple properties of language: the extent to which the word meanings are dependent on context and the extent to which the phrase is stored as a unit. We present computational approximations of these two properties, and we show that our measures successfully distinguish between idiomatic and non-idiomatic phrases.

MCQLL Meeting, 10/21 — Jacob Hoover

At this week’s MCQLL meeting (Wednesday, October 21st, 1:30-2:30pm), Jacob Louis Hoover, a PhD student at McGill and Mila, will present on the connection between grammatical structure and the statistics of word occurrences in language use. Abstract and bio are below.

If you would like to attend and have not already signed up for the MCQLL mailing list, please fill out this google form ASAP to do so.

Bio: Jacob is a PhD student at McGill Linguistics / Mila. He is broadly interested in logic, mathematical linguistics, and the generative / expressive capacity of formal systems, as well as information theory, and examining what both human and machine learning might be able to tell us about the underlying structure of language.

Talk: There is an intuitive connection between grammatical structure and the statistics of word occurrences observed in language use. This intuitive connection is reflected in cognitive models and also in NLP, in the assumption that the patterns of predictability correlate with linguistic structure. We call this the “dependency-dependence” hypothesis. This hypothesis is implicit in the use of language modelling objectives for training modern neural models, and has been made explicitly in some approaches to unsupervised dependency parsing. The strongest version of this hypothesis is to say that compositional structure is in fact entirely reducible to cooccurrence statistics (a hypothesis made explicit in Futrell et al. 2019). Investigating the mutual information of pairs of words using pretrained contextualized embedding models, we show that the optimal structure for prediction is in fact not very closely correlated to the compositional structure. We propose that contextualized mutual information scores of this kind may be useful as a way to understand the structure of predictability, as a system distinct from compositional structure, but also integral to language use.

MCQLL, 10/7 — Mika Braginsky

At this week’s MCQLL meeting (Wednesday, October 7th, 1:30-2:30pm), Mika Braginsky, a graduate student in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, will discuss their work investigating linguistic productivity and child language acquisition. Talk abstract is below.
If you would like to attend and have not already signed up for the MCQLL mailing list, please fill out this google form to do so.
Talk: In learning morphology, do children generalize from their vocabularies on an item-by-item basis, or do they form global rules on a developmental timetable? We use large-scale parent-report data to address this question by investigating relations among morphological development, vocabulary growth, and age. For three languages, we examine irregular verbs (e.g. go) and predict children’s correct inflection (went) and overregularization (goed/wented). Morphology knowledge relates strongly to vocabulary, more so than to age. Further, this relation is modulated by age: for two children with the same vocabulary size, the older is more likely to correctly inflect and overregularize, and the effect of vocabulary on morphology decreases with age. Lastly, correct inflection and overregularization rates rise in tandem over age, and vocabulary effects on them are correlated across items. Our findings support that morphology learning is strongly coupled to lexical learning and that correct inflection and overregularization are related, verb-specific, processes.
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