Understanding Data Augmentation in Neural Machine Translation: Two Perspectives towards Generalization

Many Data Augmentation (DA) methods have been proposed for neural machine translation. Existing works measure the superiority of DA methods in terms of their performance on a specific test set, but we find that some DA methods do not exhibit consistent improvements across translation tasks. Based on the observation, this paper makes an initial attempt to answer a fundamental question: what benefits, which are consistent across different methods and tasks, does DA in general obtain? Inspired by recent theoretic advances in deep learning, the paper understands DA from two perspectives towards the generalization ability of a model: input sensitivity and prediction margin, which are defined independent of specific test set thereby may lead to findings with relatively low variance. Extensive experiments show that relatively consistent benefits across five DA methods and four translation tasks are achieved regarding both perspectives.

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