Neural Polysynthetic Language Modelling

Research in natural language processing commonly assumes that approaches that work well for English and and other widely-used languages are "language agnostic". In high-resource languages, especially those that are analytic, a common approach is to treat morphologically-distinct variants of a common root as completely independent word types. This assumes, that there are limited morphological inflections per root, and that the majority will appear in a large enough corpus, so that the model can adequately learn statistics about each form. Approaches like stemming, lemmatization, or subword segmentation are often used when either of those assumptions do not hold, particularly in the case of synthetic languages like Spanish or Russian that have more inflection than English. In the literature, languages like Finnish or Turkish are held up as extreme examples of complexity that challenge common modelling assumptions. Yet, when considering all of the world's languages, Finnish and Turkish are closer to the average case. When we consider polysynthetic languages (those at the extreme of morphological complexity), approaches like stemming, lemmatization, or subword modelling may not suffice. These languages have very high numbers of hapax legomena, showing the need for appropriate morphological handling of words, without which it is not possible for a model to capture enough word statistics. We examine the current state-of-the-art in language modelling, machine translation, and text prediction for four polysynthetic languages: Guaran\'i, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Central Alaskan Yupik, and Inuktitut. We then propose a novel framework for language modelling that combines knowledge representations from finite-state morphological analyzers with Tensor Product Representations in order to enable neural language models capable of handling the full range of typologically variant languages.

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