Go To:

Paper Title Paper Authors Table Of Contents Abstract References
Report a problem with this paper

A Lightweight and High Performance Monolingual Word Aligner



Fast alignment is essential for many natural language tasks. But in the setting of monolingual alignment, previous work has not been able to align more than one sentence pair per second. We describe a discriminatively trained monolingual word aligner that uses a Conditional Random Field to globally decode the best alignment with features drawn from source and target sentences. Using just part-of-speech tags and WordNet as external resources, our aligner gives state-of-the-art result, while being an order-of-magnitude faster than the previous best performing system.

1 Introduction

In statistical machine translation, alignment is typically done as a one-off task during training. However for monolingual tasks, like recognizing textual entailment or question answering, alignment happens repeatedly: once or multiple times per test item. Therefore, the efficiency of the aligner is of utmost importance for monolingual alignment tasks. Monolingual word alignment also has a variety of distinctions than the bilingual case, for example: there is often less training data but more lexical resources available; semantic relatedness may be cued by distributional word similarities; and, both the source and target sentences share the same grammar.

These distinctions suggest a model design that utilizes arbitrary features (to make use of word similarity measure and lexical resources) and exploits deeper sentence structures (especially in the case of major languages where robust parsers are available). In this setting the balance between precision and speed becomes an issue: while we might leverage an extensive NLP pipeline for a * Performed while faculty at Johns Hopkins University. language like English, such pipelines can be computationally expensive. One earlier attempt, the MANLI system , used roughly 5GB of lexical resources and took 2 seconds per alignment, making it hard to be deployed and run in large scale. On the other extreme, a simple non-probabilistic Tree Edit Distance (TED) model (c.f. §4.2) is able to align 10, 000 pairs per second when the sentences are pre-parsed, but with significantly reduced performance. Trying to embrace the merits of both worlds, we introduce a discriminative aligner that is able to align tens to hundreds of sentence pairs per second, and needs access only to a POS tagger and WordNet.

This aligner gives state-of-the-art performance on the MSR RTE2 alignment dataset (Brockett, 2007) , is faster than previous work, and we release it publicly as the first open-source monolingual word aligner: Jacana.Align. 1

2 Related Work

The MANLI aligner was first proposed to align premise and hypothesis sentences for the task of natural language inference. It applies perceptron learning and handles phrase-based alignment of arbitrary phrase lengths. Thadani and McKeown (2011) optimized this model by decoding via Integer Linear Programming (ILP). Benefiting from modern ILP solvers, this led to an order-of-magnitude speedup. With extra syntactic constraints added, the exact alignment match rate for whole sentence pairs was also significantly improved.

Besides the above supervised methods, indirect supervision has also been explored. Among them, Wang and Manning (2010) extended the work of McCallum et al. (2005) and modeled alignment as latent variables. Heilman and Smith (2010) used tree kernels to search for the alignment that yields the lowest tree edit distance. Other tree or graph matching work for alignment includes that of (Punyakanok et al., 2004; Kouylekov and Magnini, 2005; Chambers et al., 2007; Mehdad, 2009; Roth and Frank, 2012) .

Finally, feature and model design in monolingual alignment is often inspired by bilingual work, including distortion modeling, phrasal alignment, syntactic constraints, etc (Och and Ney, 2003; DeNero and Klein, 2007; Bansal et al., 2011) .

3 The Alignment Model

3.1 Model Design

Our work is heavily influenced by the bilingual alignment literature, especially the discriminative model proposed by Blunsom and Cohn (2006) . Given a source sentence s of length M , and a target sentence t of length N , the alignment from s to t is a sequence of target word indices a, where

a m∈[1,M ] ∈ [0, N ].

We specify that when a m = 0, source word s t is aligned to a NULL state, i.e., deleted. This models a many-to-one alignment from source to target. Multiple source words can be aligned to the same target word, but not vice versa. One-to-many alignment can be obtained by running the aligner in the other direction. The probability of alignment sequence a conditioned on both s and t is then:

p(a | s, t) = exp( m,k λ k f k (a m−1 , a m , s, t)) Z(s, t)

This assumes a first-order Conditional Random Field (Lafferty et al., 2001 ). The word alignment task is evaluated over F 1 . Instead of directly optimizing F 1 , we employ softmax-margin training (Gimpel and Smith, 2010) and add a cost function to the normalizing function Z(s, t) in the denominator, which becomes:

â exp( m,k λ k f k (â m−1 ,â m , s, t) + cost(a t ,â))

where a t is the true alignments. cost(a t ,â) can be viewed as special "features" with uniform weights that encourage consistent with true alignments. It is only computed during training in the denominator because cost(a t , a t ) = 0 in the numerator. Hamming cost is used in practice.

One distinction of this alignment model compared to other commonly defined CRFs is that the input is two dimensional: at each position m, the model inspects both the entire sequence of source words (as the observation) and target words (whose offset indices are states). The other distinction is that the size of its state space is not fixed (e.g., unlike POS tagging, where states are for instance 45 Penn Treebank tags), but depends on N , the length of target sentence. Thus we can not "memorize" what features are mostly associated with what states. For instance, in the task of tagging mail addresses, a feature of "5 consecutive digits" is highly indicative of a POSTCODE. However, in the alignment model, it does not make sense to design features based on a hard-coded state, say, a feature of "source word lemma matching target word lemma" fires for state index 6.

To avoid this data sparsity problem, all features are defined implicitly with respect to the state. For instance:

f k (a m−1 , a m , s, t) = 1 lemmas match: s m , t am 0 otherwise

Thus this feature fires for, e.g.: (s 3 = sport, t 5 = sports, a 3 = 5), and: (s 2 = like, t 10 = liked, a 2 = 10).

3.2 Feature Design

String Similarity Features include the following similarity measures: Jaro Winkler, Dice Sorensen, Hamming, Jaccard, Levenshtein, NGram overlapping and common prefix matching. 2 Also, two binary features are added for identical match and identical match ignoring case. POS Tags Features are binary indicators of whether the POS tags of two words match. Also, a "pos src 2pos tgt " feature fires for each word pair, with respect to their POS tags. This would capture, e.g., "vbz2nn", when a verb such as arrests aligns with a noun such as custody. Positional Feature is a real-valued feature for the positional difference of the source and target word (abs( m M − am N )). WordNet Features indicate whether two words are of the following relations of each other: hypernym, hyponym, synonym, derived form, entailing, causing, members of, have member, substances of, have substances, parts of, have part; or whether their lemmas match. 3 Distortion Features measure how far apart the aligned target words of two consecutive source words are: abs(a m + 1 − a m−1 ). This learns a general pattern of whether these two target words aligned with two consecutive source words are usually far away from each other, or very close. We also added special features for corner cases where the current word starts or ends the source sentence, or both the previous and current words are deleted (a transition from NULL to NULL). Contextual Features indicate whether the left or the right neighbor of the source word and aligned target word are identical or similar. This helps especially when aligning functional words, which usually have multiple candidate target functional words to align to and string similarity features cannot help. We also added features for neighboring POS tags matching.

3.3 Symmetrization

To expand from many-to-one alignment to manyto-many, we ran the model in both directions and applied the following symmetrization heuristics (Koehn, 2010)


4.1 Setup

Since no generic off-the-shelf CRF software is designed to handle the special case of dynamic state indices and feature functions (Blunsom and Cohn, 2006) , we implemented this aligner model in the Scala programming language, which is fully interoperable with Java. We used the L2 regularizer and LBFGS for optimization. OpenNLP 4 provided the POS tagger and JWNL 5 interfaced with WordNet (Fellbaum, 1998) .

To make results directly comparable, we closely followed the setup of MacCartney et al. 2008and Thadani and McKeown (2011) . Training and test data (Brockett, 2007) each contains 800 manually aligned premise and hypothesis pairs from RTE2. Note that the premises contain 29 words on average, and the hypotheses only 11 words. We take the premise as the source and hypothesis as the target, and use S2T to indicate the model aligns from source to target and T2S from target to source.

4.2 Simple Baselines

We additionally used two baseline systems for comparison. One was GIZA++, with the IN-TERSECTION tricks post-applied, which worked the best among all other symmetrization heuristics. The other was a Tree Edit Distance (TED) model, popularly used in a series of NLP applications (Punyakanok et al., 2004; Kouylekov and Magnini, 2005; Heilman and Smith, 2010) . We used uniform cost for deletion, insertion and substitutions, and applied a dynamic program algorithm (Zhang and Shasha, 1989) to decode the tree edit sequence with the minimal cost, based on the Stanford dependency tree (De Marneffe and Manning, 2008) . This non-probabilistic approach turned out to be extremely fast, processing about 10,000 sentence pairs per second with preparsed trees, performing quantitatively better than the Stanford RTE aligner (Chambers et al., 2007) .

4.3 Manli Baselines

MANLI was first developed by , and then improved by Thadani and McKeown (2011) with faster and exact decoding via ILP. There are four versions to be compared here:

MANLI the original version. MANLI-approx. re-implemented version by Thadani and McKeown (2011) .

MANLI-exact decoding via ILP solvers. MANLI-constraint MANLI-exact with hard syntactic constraints, mainly on common "light" words (determiners, prepositions, etc.) attachment to boost exact match rate.

4.4 Results

Following Thadani and McKeown (2011) , performance is evaluated by macro-averaged precision, recall, F 1 of aligned token pairs, and exact (perfect) match rate for a whole pair, shown in Table 1. As our baselines, GIZA++ (with alignment intersection of two directions) and TED are on par with previously reported results using the Stanford RTE aligner. The MANLI-family of systems provide stronger baselines, notably MANLIconstraint, which has the best F 1 and exact match rate among themselves.

Table 1: Results on the 800 pairs of test data. E% stands for exact (perfect) match rate. Systems marked with ∗ are reported by MacCartney et al. (2008), with / by Thadani and McKeown (2011).

We ran our aligner in two directions: S2T and T2S, then merged the results with INTERSECTION, UNION and GROW-DIAG-FINAL. Our the weak and strong baselines 6 in all measures except recall. Some patterns are very clearly shown: Higher precision, lower recall is due to the higher-quality and lower-coverage of WordNet, where the MANLI-family systems used additional, automatically derived lexical resources.

Imbalance of exact match rate between S2T and T2S with a difference of 9.4% is due to the manyto-one nature of the aligner. When aligning from source (longer) to target (shorter), multiple source words can align to the same target word. This is not desirable since multiple duplicate "light" words are aligned to the same "light" word in the target, which breaks perfect match. When aligning T2S, this problem goes away: the shorter target sentence contains less duplicate words, and in most cases there is an one-to-one mapping.

MT heuristics help, with INTERSECTION and UNION respectively improving precision and recall. Table 2 shows the runtime comparison. Since the RTE2 corpus is imbalanced, with premise length (words) of 29 and hypothesis length of 11, we also compare on the corpus of FUSION (McKeown et al., 2010) , with both sentences in a pair averaging 27. MANLI-approx. is the slowest, with quadratic growth in the number of edits with sentence length. MANLI-exact is in second place, relying on the ILP solver. This work has a precise O(M N 2 ) decoding time, with M the source sentence length and N the target sentence length. (Cohn et al., 2008) and FUSION (McKeown et al., 2010) . The MANLI-* results are from Thadani and McKeown (2011) , on a Xeon 2.0GHz with 6MB Cache. The runtime for this work takes the longest timing from S2T and T2S, on a Xeon 2.2GHz with 4MB cache (the closest we can find to match their hardware). Horizontally in a realworld application where sentences have similar length, this work is roughly 20x faster (0.096 vs. 2.45). Vertically, the decoding time for our work increases less dramatically when sentence length increases (0.025→0.096 vs. 0.08→2.45).

Table 2: Alignment runtime in seconds per sentence pair on two corpora: RTE2 (Cohn et al., 2008) and FUSION (McKeown et al., 2010). The MANLI-* results are from Thadani and McKeown (2011), on a Xeon 2.0GHz with 6MB Cache. The runtime for this work takes the longest timing from S2T and T2S, on a Xeon 2.2GHz with 4MB cache (the closest we can find to match their hardware). Horizontally in a realworld application where sentences have similar length, this work is roughly 20x faster (0.096 vs. 2.45). Vertically, the decoding time for our work increases less dramatically when sentence length increases (0.025→0.096 vs. 0.08→2.45).

4.5 Runtime Test

features P % R % F1 % E % full ( While MANLI-exact is about twenty-fold faster than MANLI-approx., our aligner is at least another twenty-fold faster than MANLI-exact when the sentences are longer and balanced. We also benefit from shallower pre-processing (no parsing) and can store all resources in main memory. 7

4.6 Ablation Test

Since WordNet and the POS tagger is the only used external resource, we removed them 8 from the feature sets and reported performance in Table 3 . This somehow reflects how the model would perform for a language without a suitable POS tagger, or more commonly, WordNet in that language. At this time, the model falls back to relying on string similarities, distortion, positional and contextual features, which are almost language-independent. A loss of less than 1% in F 1 suggests that the aligner can still run reasonably well without a POS tagger and WordNet.

Table 3: Performance without POS and/or WordNet features.

4.7 Error Analysis

There were three primary categories of error: 9

1. Token-based paraphrases that are not covered by WordNet, such as program and software, business and venture. This calls for broadercoverage paraphrase resources.

2. Words that are semantically related but not exactly paraphrases, such as married and wife, beat and victory. This calls for resources of close distributional similarity.

3. Phrases of the above kinds, such as elected and won a seat, politician and presidential candidate. This calls for further work on phrase-based alignment. 10 There is a trade-off using WordNet vs. larger, noisier resources in exchange of higher precision vs. recall and memory/disk allocation. We think this is an application-specific decision; other resources could be easily incorporated into our model, which we may explore in the future to explore the trade-off in addressing items 1 and 2.

5 Conclusion

We presented a model for monolingual sentence alignment that gives state-of-the-art performance, and is significantly faster than prior work. We release our implementation as the first open-source monolingual aligner, which we hope to be of benefit to other researchers in the rapidly expanding area of natural language inference.


Of these features the trained aligner preferred Dice Sorensen and NGram overlapping.

We found that each word has to be POS tagged to get an accurate relation, otherwise this feature will not help.4 http://opennlp.apache.org/ 5 http://jwordnet.sf.net/

Unfortunately both MacCartney and Thadani no longer have their original output files (personal communication), so we cannot run a significance test against their result.

WordNet (˜30MB) is a smaller footprint than the 5GB of external resources used by MANLI.8 per request of reviewers. Note that WordNet is less precise without a POS tagger. When we removed the POS tagger, we enumerated all POS tags for a word to find its hypernym/synonym/... synsets.