Enlisting the Ghost: Modeling Empty Categories for Machine Translation

Bing Xiang
Xiaoqiang Luo
Bowen Zhou
Proceedings of ACL, ACL(2013), pp. 822-831


Empty categories (EC) are artificial elements in Penn Treebanks motivated by the government-binding (GB) theory to explain certain language phenomena such as pro-drop. ECs are ubiquitous in languages like Chinese, but they are tacitly ignored in most machine translation (MT) work because of their elusive nature. In this paper we present a comprehensive treatment of ECs by first recovering them with a structured MaxEnt model with a rich set of syntactic and lexical features, and then incorporating the predicted ECs into a Chinese-to-English machine translation task through multiple approaches, including the extraction of EC-specific sparse features. We show that the recovered empty categories not only improve the word alignment quality, but also lead to significant improvements in a large-scale state-of-the-art syntactic MT system.