Probing Natural Language Inference Models through Semantic Fragments


  • Kyle Richardson Allen Institute for AI
  • Hai Hu Indiana University
  • Lawrence Moss Indiana University
  • Ashish Sabharwal Allen Institute for AI



Do state-of-the-art models for language understanding already have, or can they easily learn, abilities such as boolean coordination, quantification, conditionals, comparatives, and monotonicity reasoning (i.e., reasoning about word substitutions in sentential contexts)? While such phenomena are involved in natural language inference (NLI) and go beyond basic linguistic understanding, it is unclear the extent to which they are captured in existing NLI benchmarks and effectively learned by models. To investigate this, we propose the use of semantic fragments—systematically generated datasets that each target a different semantic phenomenon—for probing, and efficiently improving, such capabilities of linguistic models. This approach to creating challenge datasets allows direct control over the semantic diversity and complexity of the targeted linguistic phenomena, and results in a more precise characterization of a model's linguistic behavior. Our experiments, using a library of 8 such semantic fragments, reveal two remarkable findings: (a) State-of-the-art models, including BERT, that are pre-trained on existing NLI benchmark datasets perform poorly on these new fragments, even though the phenomena probed here are central to the NLI task; (b) On the other hand, with only a few minutes of additional fine-tuning—with a carefully selected learning rate and a novel variation of “inoculation”—a BERT-based model can master all of these logic and monotonicity fragments while retaining its performance on established NLI benchmarks.




How to Cite

Richardson, K., Hu, H., Moss, L., & Sabharwal, A. (2020). Probing Natural Language Inference Models through Semantic Fragments. Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 34(05), 8713-8721.



AAAI Technical Track: Natural Language Processing