Byte Pair Encoding is Suboptimal for Language Model Pretraining

04/07/2020 ∙ by Kaj Bostrom, et al. ∙ 0

The success of pretrained transformer language models in natural language processing has led to a wide range of different pretraining setups. These models employ a variety of subword tokenization methods, most notably byte pair encoding (BPE) (Sennrich et al., 2016; Gage, 1994), the WordPiece method (Schuster and Nakajima, 2012), and unigram language modeling (Kudo, 2018), to segment text. However, to the best of our knowledge, the literature does not contain a direct evaluation of the impact of tokenization on language model pretraining. First, we analyze differences between BPE and unigram LM tokenization, and find that the unigram LM method is able to recover subword units that more strongly align with underlying morphology, in addition to avoiding several shortcomings of BPE stemming from its greedy construction procedure. We then compare the fine-tuned task performance of identical transformer masked language models pretrained with these tokenizations. Across downstream tasks, we find that the unigram LM tokenization method consistently matches or outperforms BPE. We hope that developers of future pretrained language models will consider adopting the unigram LM method over the more common BPE.

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