To Augment or Not to Augment? A Comparative Study on Text Augmentation Techniques for Low-Resource NLP

Data-hungry deep neural networks have established themselves as the standard for many NLP tasks including the traditional sequence tagging ones. Despite their state-of-the-art performance on high-resource languages, they still fall behind of their statistical counter-parts in low-resource scenarios. One methodology to counter attack this problem is text augmentation, i.e., generating new synthetic training data points from existing data. Although NLP has recently witnessed a load of textual augmentation techniques, the field still lacks a systematic performance analysis on a diverse set of languages and sequence tagging tasks. To fill this gap, we investigate three categories of text augmentation methodologies which perform changes on the syntax (e.g., cropping sub-sentences), token (e.g., random word insertion) and character (e.g., character swapping) levels. We systematically compare them on part-of-speech tagging, dependency parsing and semantic role labeling for a diverse set of language families using various models including the architectures that rely on pretrained multilingual contextualized language models such as mBERT. Augmentation most significantly improves dependency parsing, followed by part-of-speech tagging and semantic role labeling. We find the experimented techniques to be effective on morphologically rich languages in general rather than analytic languages such as Vietnamese. Our results suggest that the augmentation techniques can further improve over strong baselines based on mBERT. We identify the character-level methods as the most consistent performers, while synonym replacement and syntactic augmenters provide inconsistent improvements. Finally, we discuss that the results most heavily depend on the task, language pair, and the model type.

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