From Balustrades to Pierre Vinken: Looking for Syntax in Transformer Self-Attentions

David Mareček, Rudolf Rosa

We inspect the multi-head self-attention in Transformer NMT encoders for three source languages, looking for patterns that could have a syntactic interpretation. In many of the attention heads, we frequently find sequences of consecutive states attending to the same position, which resemble syntactic phrases. We propose a transparent deterministic method of quantifying the amount of syntactic information present in the self-attentions, based on automatically building and evaluating phrase-structure trees from the phrase-like sequences. We compare the resulting trees to existing constituency treebanks, both manually and by computing precision and recall.

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