Incorporating pronoun function into statistical machine translation
Guillou, Liane Kirsten
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Pronouns are used frequently in language, and perform a range of functions. Some pronouns are used to express coreference, and others are not. Languages and genres differ in how and when they use pronouns and this poses a problem for Statistical Machine Translation (SMT) systems (Le Nagard and Koehn, 2010; Hardmeier and Federico, 2010; Novák, 2011; Guillou, 2012; Weiner, 2014; Hardmeier, 2014). Attention to date has focussed on coreferential (anaphoric) pronouns with NP antecedents, which when translated from English into a language with grammatical gender, must agree with the translation of the head of the antecedent. Despite growing attention to this problem, little progress has been made, and little attention has been given to other pronouns. The central claim of this thesis is that pronouns performing different functions in text should be handled differently by SMT systems and when evaluating pronoun translation. This motivates the introduction of a new framework to categorise pronouns according to their function: Anaphoric/cataphoric reference, event reference, extra-textual reference, pleonastic, addressee reference, speaker reference, generic reference, or other function. Labelling pronouns according to their function also helps to resolve instances of functional ambiguity arising from the same pronoun in the source language having multiple functions, each with different translation requirements in the target language. The categorisation framework is used in corpus annotation, corpus analysis, SMT system development and evaluation. I have directed the annotation and conducted analyses of a parallel corpus of English-German texts called ParCor (Guillou et al., 2014), in which pronouns are manually annotated according to their function. This provides a first step toward understanding the problems that SMT systems face when translating pronouns. In the thesis, I show how analysis of manual translation can prove useful in identifying and understanding systematic differences in pronoun use between two languages and can help inform the design of SMT systems. In particular, the analysis revealed that the German translations in ParCor contain more anaphoric and pleonastic pronouns than their English originals, reflecting differences in pronoun use. This raises a particular problem for the evaluation of pronoun translation. Automatic evaluation methods that rely on reference translations to assess pronoun translation, will not be able to provide an adequate evaluation when the reference translation departs from the original source-language text. I also show how analysis of the output of state-of-the-art SMT systems can reveal how well current systems perform in translating different types of pronouns and indicate where future efforts would be best directed. The analysis revealed that biases in the training data, for example arising from the use of “it” and “es” as both anaphoric and pleonastic pronouns in both English and German, is a problem that SMT systems must overcome. SMT systems also need to disambiguate the function of those pronouns with ambiguous surface forms so that each pronoun may be translated in an appropriate way. To demonstrate the value of this work, I have developed an automated post-editing system in which automated tools are used to construct ParCor-style annotations over the source-language pronouns. The annotations are then used to resolve functional ambiguity for the pronoun “it” with separate rules applied to the output of a baseline SMT system for anaphoric vs. non-anaphoric instances. The system was submitted to the DiscoMT 2015 shared task on pronoun translation for English-French. As with all other participating systems, the automatic post-editing system failed to beat a simple phrase-based baseline. A detailed analysis, including an oracle experiment in which manual annotation replaces the automated tools, was conducted to discover the causes of poor system performance. The analysis revealed that the design of the rules and their strict application to the SMT output are the biggest factors in the failure of the system. The lack of automatic evaluation metrics for pronoun translation is a limiting factor in SMT system development. To alleviate this problem, Christian Hardmeier and I have developed a testing regimen called PROTEST comprising (1) a hand-selected set of pronoun tokens categorised according to the different problems that SMT systems face and (2) an automated evaluation script. Pronoun translations can then be automatically compared against a reference translation, with mismatches referred for manual evaluation. The automatic evaluation was applied to the output of systems submitted to the DiscoMT 2015 shared task on pronoun translation. This again highlighted the weakness of the post-editing system, which performs poorly due to its focus on producing gendered pronoun translations, and its inability to distinguish between pleonastic and event reference pronouns.