Structural Supervision Improves Learning of Non-Local Grammatical Dependencies

Natural Language Processing


  • Ethan Wilcox
  • Peng Qian
  • Richard Futrell
  • Miguel Ballesteros
  • Roger Levy

Published on


State-of-the-art LSTM language models trained on large corpora learn sequential contingencies in impressive detail and have been shown to acquire a number of non-local grammatical dependencies with some success. Here we investigate whether supervision with hierarchical structure enhances learning of a range of grammatical dependencies, a question that has previously been addressed only for subject-verb agreement. Using controlled experimental methods from psycholinguistics, we compare the performance of word-based LSTM models versus two models that represent hierarchical structure and deploy it in left-to-right processing: Recurrent Neural Network Grammars (RNNGs) (Dyer et al., 2016) and a incrementalized version of the Parsing-as-Language-Modeling configuration from Chariak et al., (2016). Models are tested on a diverse range of configurations for two classes of non-local grammatical dependencies in English—Negative Polarity licensing and Filler–Gap Dependencies. Using the same training data across models, we find that structurally-supervised models outperform the LSTM, with the RNNG demonstrating best results on both types of grammatical dependencies and even learning many of the Island Constraints on the filler–gap dependency. Structural supervision thus provides data efficiency advantages over purely string-based training of neural language models in acquiring human-like generalizations about non-local grammatical dependencies.

Please cite our work using the BibTeX below.

  author    = {Ethan Wilcox and
               Peng Qian and
               Richard Futrell and
               Miguel Ballesteros and
               Roger Levy},
  title     = {Structural Supervision Improves Learning of Non-Local Grammatical
  journal   = {CoRR},
  volume    = {abs/1903.00943},
  year      = {2019},
  url       = {},
  archivePrefix = {arXiv},
  eprint    = {1903.00943},
  timestamp = {Sat, 30 Mar 2019 19:27:21 +0100},
  biburl    = {},
  bibsource = {dblp computer science bibliography,}
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