Google Research

MISGENDERED: Limits of Large Language Models in Understanding Pronouns

ACL (2023)


Gender bias in language technologies has been widely studied, but research has mostly been restricted to a binary paradigm of gender. It is important to also consider non-binary gender identities, as excluding them can cause further harm to an already marginalized group. One way in which English-speaking individuals linguistically encode their gender identity is through third-person personal pronoun declarations. This is often done using two or more pronoun forms, e.g., \textit{xe/xem}, or \textit{xe/xem/xyr}. In this paper, we comprehensively evaluate state-of-the-art language models for their ability to correctly use declared third-person personal pronouns. As far as we are aware, we are the first to do so. We evaluate language models in both zero-shot and few-shot settings. Models are still far from zero-shot gendering non-binary individuals accurately, and most also struggle with correctly using gender-neutral pronouns (singular \textit{they, them, their} etc.). This poor performance may be due to the lack of representation of non-binary pronouns in pre-training corpora, and some memorized associations between pronouns and names. We find an overall improvement in performance for non-binary pronouns when using in-context learning, demonstrating that language models with few-shot capabilities can adapt to using declared pronouns correctly.

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