Text style transfer is an important research topic in natural language generation since specific styles of text are preferred in different cases[Sennrich et al.2016a, Rabinovich et al.2017]. Early work of style transfer relies on parallel corpora where paired sentences have the same content but are in different styles. For example, xu2012paraphrasing xu2012paraphrasing studied the task of paraphrasing with a target writing style. Trained on human-annotated sentence-aligned parallel corpora, their model can transfer text into William Shakespeare’s style.
However, the genre and amount of parallel corpora is very limited for text style transfer tasks. Therefore, recent work focuses on eliminating the requirement for parallel corpora [Mueller et al.2017, Hu et al.2017, Shen et al.2017, Fu et al.2018, Li et al.2018, Xu et al.2018, dos Santos et al.2018, Melnyk et al.2017, Tian et al.2018]. A common strategy is to first learn a style-independent representation of the content in the input sentence. The output sentence is then generated based on the content and the desired style. To this end, some approaches [Mueller et al.2017, Hu et al.2017, Shen et al.2017, Fu et al.2018, Melnyk et al.2017]
leverage auto-encoder frameworks, where the encoder generates a hidden representation of the input sentence. Other work including[Xu et al.2018, Li et al.2018, Zhang et al.2018], on the other hand, explicitly deletes those style-related keywords in order to form style-independent sentences.
The key insight of these unsupervised methods for text style transfer is to disentangle style information from content. To achieve this, an adversarial [Fu et al.2018, Shen et al.2017], collaborative classifier [Melnyk et al.2017], or language model [Yang et al.2018] is used to guide the generation process. Some work [Melnyk et al.2017, Xu et al.2018] applies reconstruction losses to ensure that the semantic content of the input sentence can be recovered after style transformation.
We take the insights from these unsupervised methods and propose a novel formality transfer model that is able to incorporate hybrid types of textual annotations. As Figure 1 shows, our approach involves a sequence-to-sequence (seq2seq) encoder-decoder model for style transformation and a style classification model. The proposed seq2seq model simultaneously handles the bidirectional transformation of formality between informal and formal, which not only enhances the model’s data efficiency but also enables various reconstruction losses to help model training; while the classification model fully utilizes the less expensive formality-classified annotation to compute a classifier-guided loss as additional feedback to the seq2seq model. Experiments on multiple benchmark datasets demonstrate that our approach not only achieves the best performance on formality style transfer but also can be easily adapted to other text style transfer tasks with competitive performance.
To summarize, our major contributions include:
We advanced the state-of-art on the formality transfer task, with a novel approach that could be trained on both limited parallel data and larger unpaired data.
We propose a bi-directional text style transfer framework that can transfer formality from formal to informal or from informal to formal with one single encoder-decoder component, enhancing the models’ data efficiency. With jointly optimized against various losses, the models can be better trained and yield a promising result.
Our approach could be easily generalized to unsupervised setting and to other text style transfer tasks like sentiment transfer.
Transferring the formality is an important dimension of style transfer in text [Heylighen and Dewaele1999], whose goal is to change the style of a given content to make it more formal. The formality transfer system would be useful in addition to any writing assistant tool. To illustrate the desired output of a formality transfer system, we show in table 1 the examples of formal rewrites of informal sentences from a recent formality transfer dataset [Rao and Tetreault2018].
|Informal||I’d say it is punk though.|
|Formal||However, I do believe it to be punk.|
|Informal||Gotta see both sides of the story.|
|Formal||You have to consider both sides of the story.|
One typical solution to formality transfer could be the seq2seq encoder-decoder framework [Bahdanau et al.2015], which has been successful for machine translation and other text-to-text tasks. Given an informal sentence and its corresponding formal rewrite sentence in which and are the -th and -th words of sentence and respectively, the seq2seq model learns a probabilistic mapping
from the parallel sentence pairs through maximum likelihood estimation (MLE), which learns model parametersto maximize the following equation:
where denotes the set of the parallel informal-formal sentence pairs.
3 Joint Training with Hybrid Textual Annotation
Notwithstanding the seq2seq model’s effectiveness, it requires large amounts of parallel data for training to update its millions of parameters. Unfortunately, the parallel data for formality style transfer is expensive. As a result, there are only a limited number of informal-formal parallel sentence pairs available for training, which hinders training a good seq2seq model with the conventional training method that largely relies on the parallel data. To address the limitation of the conventional seq2seq training, we propose a novel joint training approach that is able to train a seq2seq model jointly from hybrid textual annotations (i.e., from both parallel annotation and class-labeled annotation).
Assume we have two sets of data: and . is the set of parallel sentence pairs: , where the -th sentence pair contains informal sentence and its corresponding formal re-writing and and are expected to only differ in terms of their formality of expression while their semantic content must be the same. is the classification data: . is a sentence with the formality label where . Specially, we use to represent the known formality label for a given sentence , and to represent to the opposite formality of .
We propose a novel approach to fully exploit and by jointly training a seq2seq style transformation model parameterized by and a classifier parameterized by to minimize the losses described in the sub-sections below.
3.1 Bidirectional Translation Loss
As most text-to-text tasks, the most direct way to train a model is to minimize the translation loss as defined in Eq (1). In contrast to the conventional seq2seq model that transfers style in only one direction, we propose to model bidirectional style transformation (i.e., both from informal to formal and from formal to informal) with one single encoder-decoder component. We will show in the following sections that the bidirectional style transformation modeling can not only make full use of the parallel data but also enable various reconstruction constraints to help the models learn better from massive monolingual data, which enhances the models’ data efficiency. Different from the conventional seq2seq model where only a source sentence is fed into the model, we also tell the model a direction indicator. A special token “to_formal”(or “to_informal”) is appended at the beginning of the input sentence and fed into the encoder in order to specify the direction of the transfer.
For modeling bidirectional style transformation, for each paired sentence , we minimize the negative log likelihood of generating given and the reverse direction.
As shown in Eq (3.1), the translation loss is defined on both directions of a sentence pair in parallel data. With shared parameters for bi-directional translation, the model can be trained from parallel sentence pairs in both directions, making the size of training data twice and accordingly improving the model’s data efficiency.
However, the size of parallel data is still too small to train a well-generalized seq2seq model for formality transfer. To avoid the overfitting problem, we further introduce the following losses.
3.2 Classifier-guided Loss
To assist model training from the limited parallel data, we propose to use the classification data which is much more easily accessible than the parallel data. We first train a classifier to predict the formality of a given sentence. The objective for training the formality classifier is the standard negative log-likelihood loss given in equation 3
After the classifier is learned, we keep its parameters fixed and use it to update the seq2seq model. Given an informal sentence and the desired formality (formal), we let be the transferred sentence given by the seq2seq model(). In other words, we assume we can find
Since in classification data , we do not have the ground truth of , we cannot optimize as in Eq 3.1. Alternatively, we can optimize classification loss given by the trained formality classifier in order to let look like the desired style . The loss is shown in Eq (3.2):
3.2.1 Differentiable Decoding
In order to generate , the decoder samples the output sequence of tokens one element at a time. The process is auto-regressive in the sense that previously generated tokens are fed into the decoder to generate the next token. In its original formulation, the classifier-guided loss (equation 3.2) contains discrete samples generated in such auto-regressive manner, which hinders the gradient propagation. To solve this, we apply a recent technique [Hu et al.2017, Shen et al.2017]
to approximate the discrete decoding process with a differentiable one. Instead of feeding a discretely sampled token to the decoder, we feed the softmax distribution over the vocabulary as the generated soft word. Let the output logit vector at time stepbe . The output for the decoder is , where is the temperature hyper-parameter to control the shape of the softmax function. For the embedding look-up layer of the decoder and the classifier, we simply take “soft” word embedding by averaging over the word embedding matrix. The generated soft embedding is differentiable w.r.t. the parameters in the decoder and encoder, which enables the gradient from the classifier to propagate back and update the formality transfer model.
3.3 Reconstruction Loss
One potential issue of using classifier-guided loss is that the seq2seq model could easily minimize the classification loss defined in Eq (3.2) by simply generating keywords for . In this case will be classified to the target formality class but become independent to input . To overcome this problem, we propose two reconstruction losses that are easily introduced based on our bi-directional transformation modeling framework.
The first loss is the self-reconstruction loss, which encourages the seq2seq model to reconstruct the input itself if the desired formality is the same as the input one. The objective is similar to Eq (3.1) and is defined using the maximum likelihood as in Eq (3.3).
In other words, the self-reconstruction loss makes the seq2seq model leave the input sentence untouched if the desired formality already exists in the input.
The second reconstruction loss requires the seq2seq model’s ability to reconstruct the input sentence after a looped transformation which first transfers the input sentence to the target formality and then transfers the output back to its original formality. Let , the cycled-reconstruction loss is defined in Eq (6):
3.3.1 One-sided Cycle Approximation
The discrete generation also exists in the cycled reconstruction loss in Eq (6). Instead of using the differentiable decoding, we take a simpler approach by only back-propagating the gradient until the generation of . In other words, we take as a pair of pseudo-parallel data. The approximation has the same form of back-translation as used in machine translation [Sennrich et al.2016b]. The difference is that our model works in monolingual data and that we have a formality label to control the direction of transformation, whereas in machine translation the back-translation needs a separate back-translator of the reverse direction.
3.4 Overall Objective
The overall objective of our seq2seq model is the weighted summation of the various losses we defined above, except for the classification loss in Eq (3.4), which is defined on formality classifier and is optimized as a separate step.
4 Model Configuration
In this section, we illustrate the detailed configuration of the seq2seq model and the classification model in our approach as well as our post-processing steps for formality style transfer.
4.1 Formality Transformer Model
For the seq2seq model, we use the recently proposed transformer model [Vaswani et al.2017]. In contrast to conventional RNN seq2seq models, a transformer model applies self-attention to the source sentence, which intuitively benefits disambiguation of word sense in an informal sentence and should accordingly yield a better style transfer result. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to adapt the transformer model on formality transformation.
We implement the transformer model based on open source sequence-to-sequence software Fairseq-py [Gehring et al.2017] For the transformer model, we use the same configuration for both the encoder and decoder. We set the embedding dimension to and the hidden dimension of the feed-forward sub-layer to . The number of layers is set to and the number of heads is set to
. For the remaining hyper-parameters such as the dropout rate and the activation function, we followed the default choice of Fairseq-py in our implementation. For temperature, we anneal it from to as training proceeds.
4.2 Formality Classification Model
For our formality classification model, we use a CNN text classifier [Kim2014]. Given an input sentence , we first embedded each token with word embedding layer. Then convolutional filters of size is applied on the embedded sentence, which acts as
-gram feature extractors on the different position of the input sentence. We then take the maximum of the extracted features over different positions with a max-pooling layer. The final feed-forward layer has softmax activation to produce the probability of a given formality.
For implementation details, we use filter size and filter number for each size. The dropout rate is set to .
4.3.1 Classifier-based Filtering
We filter some of the n-best sentences with our formality classifier. The sentences with the incorrect formality class given by the classifier are removed from the candidate list. And the remaining one with the highest generation score is selected as the final output.
4.3.2 Grammatical Error Correction
Motivated by the fact that a formal sentence should be grammatically correct, we feed the output from our formality transfer system to a grammatical error correction (GEC) model as post-processing to get rid of the grammatical mistakes. Specifically, we used the state-of-the-art GEC system [Ge et al.2018] which is based on a convolutional seq2seq model with special training and inference mechanism to correct grammatical errors in target sentences.
5.1 Experimental Setting
We used Grammarly’s Yahoo Answers Formality Corpus (GYAFC) [Rao and Tetreault2018] as our evaluation dataset. It contains paired informal and formal sentences annotated by humans. The dataset is crawled and annotated from two domains in Yahoo Answers 111https://answers.yahoo.com, namely Entertainment & Music (E&M) and Family & Relationships (F&R) categories. Following the analysis in [Rao and Tetreault2018], we only consider the transformation from informal to formal. The statistics of the training, validation and testing splits of GYAFC dataset is shown in table 2.
All splits in GYAFC are given in the form of parallel data. To obtain the classification data, we apply a simple data extension heuristic. We first train a CNN formality classifier on the training split of the parallel corpora, and then make predictions on the unlabeled corpus of Yahoo Answers. The predictions of either formal or informal with a confidence higher than 99.5% are selected as the classification dataset, which contains about 1100k formal sentences and 350k informal sentences. During training, our model combines the training data from E&M and F&R. The relative weights for various losses are tuned on the validation set.
We compare to the following baseline approaches:
Transformer is the original transformer model [Vaswani et al.2017] that shares the same configurations of our model.
Transformer-Combine is Transformer that combines the training data from E&M and F&R.
SimpleCopy is to simply copy the input sentence as the prediction without any modification.
RuleBased is the rule-based method that uses a set of rules to automatically make an informal sentence more formal.
PBMT is a phrase-based machine translation model trained on parallel training data and outputs from RuleBased.
NMT is the encoder-decoder model with attention mechanism [Bahdanau et al.2015].
NMT-Copy adds the copy mechanism [Gu et al.2016] to NMT.
NMT-PBMT is a semi-supervised method that further incorporates outputs from PBMT with back-translation. Both domain knowledge and additional unlabeled data were used to train this strong baseline.
MultiTask [Niu et al.2018] jointly trains the model on GYAFC and a formality-sensitive machine translation task with additional bilingual supervision. It also uses ensemble decoding, while our model and other baselines all use single model decoding. Therefore the performance is not comparable with other models.
5.1.3 Evaluation Metric
We followed the evaluation metric used in[Rao and Tetreault2018, Li et al.2018] to use BLEU [Papineni et al.2002] to measure the closeness between the system prediction and the human annotation. Moreover, we use GLEU score [Napoles et al.2015] as an alternative to BLEU. GLEU was originally introduced in the task of grammatical error correction (GEC), which is generalized and modified from BLEU to address monolingual text rewriting evaluation and shows better correlation with human evaluations than BLEU.
5.2 Results and Analysis
|Ablt. w/o self-recon||64.53||22.81||70.43||22.92|
|Ablt. w/o cyc-recon||66.39||23.53||71.71||25.50|
|Ablt. w/o class-guided||67.90||24.13||72.00||24.64|
|Ours w/ class-filter||68.71||24.64||73.16||25.73|
|Ours w/ gec||69.63||25.78||74.43||27.35|
The results for formality transfer on GYAFC dataset is shown in table 3. Ours represents our approach’s results without post-processing, while Ours w/ class-filter and Ours w/ gec are the results with the post-processing steps introduced in Section 4.3.
According to Table 3, there are several noteworthy points: Firstly, it is observed that the best single-model performance is Ours w/ gec
, which outperformed all baseline methods in terms of both BLEU and GLEU in E&M and F&R. Compared to the strongest baselines PBMT and NMT-PBMT, both of which incorporate heuristic rules with the training data, our models are end-to-end neural networks without any prior knowledge of the task. The performance of our single model is also competitive with the state-of-art ensemble model(MultiTask), which also utilizes additional supervision.
Secondly, our model Ours outperformed Transformer-Combine by a large margin for both BLEU and GLEU and on both domains. We can conclude that our joint training with hybrid annotation (parallel data and classification data) could significantly improve the performance of the state-of-art seq2seq model on the formality transformation task.
Thirdly, we notice that using classifier-filtered decoding (Ours w/ class-filter) outperformed using beam search (Ours) with regard to GLEU for both domains and with regard to BLEU for F&R. The relative improvement showed that the formality classifier is helpful not only during the training of seq2seq model but also in the testing phase. Also, we verified that the usage of the GEC system as a post-processing step could further improve the performance of the informal to formal transformation.
Lastly, comparing with Transformer and Transformer-Combine, we can see that using the training data from both domains could further improve the performance for both BLEU and GLEU, indicating that with a limited parallel corpus, additional annotation from a different domain could still help with the sequence-to-sequence learning.
5.3 Ablation Study
In table 3, we include the performance of ablated models (Ablt. w/o …) which exclude one specific loss in the overall objective function. From the results of our ablated models, it is clear that all the losses defined on classification data contribute to the improvement. Another observation is that the performance of Ablt. w/o self-recon is even lower than Transformer-Combine, which demonstrates the importance of the self-reconstruction loss to prevent classifier-guided loss from drastically changing the content of the input sentence.
5.4 Case Study
We sampled some outputs of our model (Ours w/ gec) in the test set and qualitatively compare them with the ground truth in the appendix.
5.5 Experiments on Unsupervised Style Transfer
In addition to GYAFC, we also verified our framework on three other style transfer datasets from [Li et al.2018]. The datasets are adapted from sentiment classification and image caption tasks which only contain classification data . The statistics of the three style transfer datasets is shown in the table 5. The goal for Yelp and Amazon is to transfer the sentiment of a online review either from negative to positive or vice-versa, while the goal of ImageCaption is to transfer between romantic and humorous image captions without the image. Note that ImageCaption has only textual testing sentences, which are supposed to contain no style, as testing data. We follow the procedure in [Li et al.2018] and treat them as the source style sentences without any additional post-processing. Due to lack of parallel corpus, our model only has unsupervised objective excluding the translation loss (equation 3.1). We set loss weights as , and for all our models.
5.5.1 Baseline Methods
For the unsupervised sentiment transfer task, we compare our unsupervised method with the baselines outputs from [Li et al.2018].
RetrieveOnly returns a retrieved sentence from the corpus of the target sentiment, using the source sentence as the query.
TemplateBased finds sentiment keywords by the statistics from the classification dataset. It then replaces the keywords in the source sentence with the ones in the RetrieveOnly.
DeleteOnly [Li et al.2018] learns a RNN-based seq2seq model. The objective is to reconstruct the training source sentence with the sentiment keywords being removed.
DeleteAndRetrieve [Li et al.2018] is similar to DeleteOnly but further guides the replacement of the sentiment keywords with the retrieved sentence.
StyleEmbedding [Fu et al.2018] also uses seq2seq model, where the encoder tries to learn a style-independent vector representation of the input sentence, from which an adversarial discriminator cannot tell the style of the input.
MultiDecoder [Fu et al.2018] is similar to StyleEmbedding, except that it uses multiple decoders for different styles.
5.5.2 Evaluation Metric
Following [Li et al.2018], we report the accuracy and BLEU of the transferred sentence in the unsupervised tasks. The accuracy is the percentage of the generated sentences that contains the desired style, which is determined by a pre-trained style classifier. 222We used a separate classifier other than the one used in training. We notice that there is a trade-off between the style accuracy and BLEU point for all three datasets. To evaluate the overall performance, we follow [Xu et al.2018] and use the geometric mean of accuracy and BLEU as an evaluation metric: G-score. Intuitively, methods that make aggressive modifications will achieve higher accuracy but suffer from poor semantic content preserving and thus low BLEU.
The results for sentiment transfer on Yelp and Amazon dataset is shown in table 4.
Our model achieves the highest G-score in Yelp and ImageCaption dataset, and the highest GLEU in Yelp and Amazon dataset. The promising results from various metrics suggest that our methods could effectively modify the style-dependent span of text accordingly while keeping the content unchanged.
In this paper, we present an approach to training formality transfer models from hybrid textual annotations. Based on a bidirectional style transformation seq2seq model, we fully exploit formality style classification data through classification feedback and various reconstruction constraints to assist the model learning. Our approach effectively improved the performance of the base model and achieved new state-of-art results on formality transfer task. Furthermore, our approach can be readily generalized to other unsupervised style transfer tasks and perform consistently well on multiple benchmarks.
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Appendix A Case Study
|Case 1||Fail to recognize named entities|
|source||secondly id pick yellow card then simple plan then bowling for soup and finally red hot chilli peppers .|
|hypothesis||I would pick yellow card , then try bowling for soup and finally red hot chilli peppers .|
|ground truth||I would pick Yellow Card second , then Simple Plan , Bowling for Soup , and finally , Red Hot Chili Peppers .|
|Case 2||Only transfer part of the input|
|source||I think its a bit cheezy to name it though , but maybe I maybe name it Jet|
|hypothesis||I think it is a bit cheezy to name it .|
|ground truth||It ’s a cheesy name but you could name it Jet .|
|Case 3||Fail to transfer informal words and phrases|
|source||Not at all , I really dont think in Spanish either … they rap about stupid stuff|
|hypothesis||Not at all . I do not think in Spanish either . They rap about stupid stuff .|
|ground truth||Not at all . I really do not think it is so in Spanish , either - they rap about ridiculous things .|
|Case 1||Common informal word replacement|
|source||Wat did the beaver say 2 the log .|
|hypothesis||What did the beaver say to the log ?|
|ground truth||What did the beaver say to the log ?|
|source||and how good of a president do u think he would be ?|
|hypothesis||How good of a president do you think he would be ?|
|ground truth||How good of a president do you think he would be ?|
|source||( i know how to read tabs )|
|hypothesis||I know how to read tabs .|
|ground truth||I know how to read tabs .|
The most common error case is the failure to handle named entities. (case 1 in table 6) Our model fails to recognize them and convert them into upper case. This could also explain why the performance of Entertainment & Music is lower than Family & Relationship, since the former domain contains more named entities.
Incomplete transfer (case 2) and neglect of informal words (case 3) are also frequent among failure cases. Similar to the observation in [Rao and Tetreault2018], we notice that our model produced similar errors more often when the input sentence is very informal, not fluent, grammatically incorrect or contains unknown/misspelled tokens.
On the other hand, we also analyzed the most accurate predictions of our model. Some of the most common cases are summarized in table 7. We notice that our model is particularly good at handling common and typical informal words (case 1) such as ”Wat”(What) and ”2”(to). Our model is also able to properly capitalize the first letter of the sentence (case 2) and correctly use the punctuations.