A Systematic Analysis of Subwords and Cross-Lingual Transfer in Multilingual Translation

29 Mar 2024  ·  Francois Meyer, Jan Buys ·

Multilingual modelling can improve machine translation for low-resource languages, partly through shared subword representations. This paper studies the role of subword segmentation in cross-lingual transfer. We systematically compare the efficacy of several subword methods in promoting synergy and preventing interference across different linguistic typologies. Our findings show that subword regularisation boosts synergy in multilingual modelling, whereas BPE more effectively facilitates transfer during cross-lingual fine-tuning. Notably, our results suggest that differences in orthographic word boundary conventions (the morphological granularity of written words) may impede cross-lingual transfer more significantly than linguistic unrelatedness. Our study confirms that decisions around subword modelling can be key to optimising the benefits of multilingual modelling.

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