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EVALITA. Evaluation of NLP and Speech Tools for Italian

Pierpaolo Basile
Franco Cutugno
Malvina Nissim
et al.

Part II: EVALITA 2016: Task overviews and participants reports

Context-aware Convolutional Neural Networks for Twitter Sentiment Analysis in Italian

Giuseppe Castellucci, Danilo Croce et Roberto Basili


This paper describes the Unitor system that participated to the SENTIment POLarity Classification task proposed in Evalita 2016. The system implements a classification workflow made of several Convolutional Neural Network classifiers, that generalize the linguistic information observed in the training tweets by considering also their context. Moreover, sentiment specific information is injected in the training process by using Polarity Lexicons automatically acquired through the automatic analysis of unlabeled collection of tweets. Unitor achieved the best results in the Subjectivity Classification sub-task, and it scored 2nd in the Polarity Classification sub-task, among about 25 different submissions.

Questo lavoro descrive il sistema Unitor valutato nel task di SENTIment POLarity Classification proposto all’interno di Evalita 2016. Il sistema è basato su un workflow di classificazione implementato usando Convolutional Neural Network, che generalizzano le evidenze osservabili all’interno dei dati di addestramento analizzando i loro contesti e sfruttando lessici specifici per la analisi del sentimento, generati automaticamente. Il sistema ha ottenuto ottimi risultati, ottenendo la miglior performance nel task di Subjectivity Classification e la seconda nel task di Polarity Classification.

Texte intégral

1 Introduction

1In this paper, the Unitor system participating in the Sentiment Polarity Classification (SENTIPOLC) task (Barbieri et al., 2016) within the Evalita 2016 evaluation campaign is described. The system is based on a cascade of three classifiers based on Deep Learning methods and it has been applied to all the three sub-tasks of SENTIPOLC: Subjectivity Classification, Polarity Classification and the pilot task called Irony Detection. Each classifier is implemented with a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) (LeCun et al., 1998) according the modeling proposed in (Croce et al., 2016). The adopted solution extends the CNN architecture proposed in (Kim, 2014) with (i) sentiment specific information derived from an automatically derived polarity lexicon (Castellucci et al., 2015a), and (ii) with the contextual information associated with each tweet (see (Castellucci et al., 2015b) for more information about the contextual modeling in SA in Twitter). The Unitor system ranked 1st in the Subjectivity Classification task and 2nd in the Polarity Detection task among the unconstrained systems, resulting as one of the best solution in the challenge. It is a remarkable result as the CNNs have been trained without any complex feature engineering but adopting almost the same modeling in each sub-task. The proposed solution allows to achieve state-of-the-art results in Subjectivity Classification and Polarity Classification task by applying unsupervised analysis of unlabeled data that can be easily gathered by Twitter.

2In Section 2 the deep learning architecture adopted in Unitor is presented, while the classification workflow is presented in 3. In Section 4 the experimental results are reported and discussed, while Section 5 derives the conclusions.

2 A Sentiment and Context aware Convolutional Neural Networks

3The Unitor system is based on the Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) architecture for text classification proposed in (Kim, 2014), and further extended in (Croce et al., 2016). This deep network is characterized by 4 layers (see Figure 1).

The first layer represents the input through word embedding: it is a low-dimensional representation of words, which is derived by the unsupervised analysis of large-scale corpora, with approaches similar to (Mikolov et al., 2013). The embedding of a vocabulary V is a look-up table E, where each element is the d dimensional representation of a word. Details about this representation will be discussed in the next sections. Let xi Image 10000000000000210000000F368E4814.jpg be the d-dimensional representation of the i-th word. A sentence of length n is represented through the concatenation of the word vectors composing it, i.e., a matrix I whose dimension is n × d.

The second layer represents the convolutional features that are learned during the training stage. A filter, or feature detector, W Image 10000000000000220000000FFB6321E5.jpg, is applied over the input layer matrix producing the learned representations. In particular, a new feature ci is learned according to: ci = g(W Ii:i+f−1 + b), where g is a non-linear function, such as the rectifier function, b Image 10000000000000210000000F047179E8.jpg is a bias term and Ii:i+f−1 is a portion of the input matrix along the first dimension. In particular, the filter slides over the input matrix producing a feature map c = [c1,. .., cn−h+1]. The filter is applied over the whole input matrix by assuming two key aspects: local invariance and compositionality. The former specifies that the filter should learn to detect patterns in texts without considering their exact position in the input. The latter specifies that each local patch of height f , i.e., a f -gram, of the input should be considered in the learned feature representations. Ideally, a f -gram is composed through W into a higher level representation.

In practice, multiple filters of different heights can be applied resulting in a set of learned representations, which are combined in a third layer through the max-over-time operation, i.e., Image 100000000000000A0000000F6111F8AE.jpg = max c . It is expected to select the most important features, which are the ones with the highest value, for each feature map. The maxover-time pooling operation serves also to make the learned features of a fixed size: it allows to deal with variable sentence lengths and to adopt the learned features in fully connected layers.

This representation is finally used in the fourth layer, that is a fully connected softmax layer. It classifies the example into one of the categories of the task. In particular, this layer is characterized by a parameter matrix S and a bias term bc that is used to classify a message, given the learned representations Image 100000000000000A0000000F6111F8AE.jpg. In particular, the final classification y is obtained through argmaxyY (softmax(S Image 100000000000000A0000000F6111F8AE.jpg+ bc)), where Y is the set of classes of interest.

4In order to reduce the risk of over-fitting, two forms of regularization are applied, as in (Kim, 2014). First, a dropout operation over the penultimate layer (Hinton et al., 2012) is adopted to prevent co-adaptation of hidden units by randomly dropping out, i.e., setting to zero, a portion of the hidden units during forward-backpropagation. The second regularization is obtained by constraining the l2 norm of S and bc.

2.1 Injecting Sentiment Information through Polarity Lexicons

5In (Kim, 2014), the use of word embeddings is advised to generalize lexical information. These word representations can capture paradigmatic relationships between lexical items. They are best suited to help the generalization of learning algorithms in natural language tasks. However, paradigmatic relationships do not always reflect the relative sentiment between words. In Deep Learning, it is a common practice to make the input representations trainable in the final learning stages. This is a valid strategy, but it makes the learning process more complex. In fact, the number of learnable parameters increases significantly, resulting in the need of more annotated examples in order to adequately estimate them.

6We advocate the adoption of a multi-channel input representation, which is typical of CNNs in image processing. A first channel is dedicated to host representations derived from a word embedding. A second channel is introduced to inject sentiment information of words through a largescale polarity lexicon, which is acquired according to the methodology proposed in (Castellucci et al., 2015a). This method leverages on word embedding representations to assign polarity information to words by transferring it from sentences whose polarity is known. The resultant lexicons are called Distributional Polarity Lexicons (DPLs). The process is based on the capability of word embedding to represent both sentences and words in the same space (Landauer and Dumais, 1997). First, sentences (here tweets) are labeled with some polarity classes: in (Castellucci et al., 2015a) this labeling is achieved by applying a Distant Supervision (Go et al., 2009) heuristic. The labeled dataset is projected in the embedding space by applying a simple but effective linear combination of the word vectors composing each sentence. Then, a polarity classifier is trained over these sentences in order to emphasize those dimensions of the space more related to the polarity classes. The DPL is generated by classifying each word (represented in the embedding through a vector) with respect to each targeted class, using the confidence level of the classification to derive a word polarity signature. For example, in a DPL the word ottimo is 0.89 positive, 0.04 negative and 0.07 neutral (see Table 1). For more details, please refer to (Castellucci et al., 2015a).

Table 1: Similar words in the embedding without (2ndcolumn) and with (3rdcolumn) DPL, whose scores (positivity, negativity, neutrality) are in the first column.


w/o DPL

w/ DPL

ottimo (0.89,0.04,0.07)



peggiore (0.17,0.57,0.26)



triste (0.04,0.82,0.14)



7This method has two main advantages: first, it allows deriving a signature for each word in the embedding to be used in the CNN; second, this method allows assigning sentiment information to words by observing their usage. This represents an interesting setting to observe sentiment related phenomena, as often a word does not carry a sentiment if not immersed in a context (i.e., a sentence).

  • 1 We normalize the embedding and the DPL vectors before the juxtaposition.

8As proposed in (Croce et al., 2016), in order to keep limited the computational complexity of the training phase of CNN, we augment each vector from the embedding with the polarity scores derived from the DPL1. In Table 1, a comparison of the most similar words of polarity carriers is compared when the polarity lexicon is not adopted (second column) and when the multichannel schema is adopted (third column). Notice that, the DPL positively affects the vector representations for SA. For example, the word pessimo is no longer in set of the 3-most similar words of the word ottimo. The polarity information captured in the DPL making words that are semantically related and whose polarity agrees nearer in the space.

2.2 Context-aware model for SA in Twitter

9In (Severyn and Moschitti, 2015) a pre-training strategy is suggested for the Sentiment Analysis task. The adoption of heuristically classified tweet messages is advised to initialize the network parameters. The selection of messages is based on the presence of emoticons (Go et al., 2009) that can be related to polarities, e.g. :) and :(. However, selecting messages only with emoticons could potentially introduce many topically unrelated messages that use out-of-domain linguistic expressions and limiting the contribution of the pre-training. We instead suggest to adopt another strategy for the selection of pre-training data. We draw on the work in (Vanzo et al., 2014), where topically related messages of the target domain are selected by considering the reply-to or hashtag contexts of each message. The former (conversational context) is made of the stream of messages belonging to the same conversation in Twitter, while the latter (hashtag context) is composed by tweets preceding a target message and sharing at least one hashtag with it. In (Vanzo et al., 2014), these messages are first classified through a context-unaware SVM classifier. Here, we are going to leverage on contextual information for the selection of pre-training material for the CNN. We select the messages both in the conversation context, and we classify them with a context-unaware classifier to produce the pre-training dataset.

3 The Unitor Classification Workflow

10The SENTIPOLC challenge is made of three subtasks aiming at investigating different aspects of the subjectivity of short messages. The first subtask is the Subjectivity Classification that consists in deciding whether a message expresses subjectivity or it is objective. The second task is the Polarity Classification: given a subjective tweet a system should decide whether a tweet is expressing a neutral, positive, negative or conflict position. Finally, the Irony Detection sub-task aims at finding whether a message is expressing ironic content or not. The Unitor system tackles each sub-task with a different CNN classifier, resulting in a classification workflow that is summarized in the Algorithm 1: a message is first classified with the Subjectivity CNN-based classifier S; in the case the message is classified as subjective (subjective=True), it is also processed with the other two classifiers, the Polarity classifier P and the Irony classifier I. In the case the message is first classified as objective (subjective=False), the remaining classifiers are not invoked.

Image 1000000000000526000002B12E6D4FB7.jpg

11The same CNN architecture is adopted to implement all the three classifiers and tweets are modeled in the same way for the three sub-tasks. Each classifier has been specialized to the corresponding sub-task by adopting different selection policies of the training material and adapting the output layer of the CNN to the sub-task specific classes. In detail, the Subjectivity CNN is trained over the whole training dataset with respect to the classes subjective and objective. The Polarity CNN is trained over the subset of subjective tweets, with respect to the classes neutral, positive, negative and conflict. The Irony CNN is trained over the subset of subjective tweets, with respect to the classes ironic and not-ironic.

  • 2 The following settings are adopted: window 5 and mincount 10 with hierarchical softmax
  • 3 Measures adopting only the Skip-gram vectors have been pursued in the classifier tuning stage; thes (...)

12Each CNN classifier has been trained in the two settings specified in the SENTIPOLC guidelines: constrained and unconstrained. The constrained setting refers to a system that adopted only the provided training data. For example, in the constrained setting it is forbidden the use of a word embedding generated starting from other tweets. The unconstrained systems, instead, can adopt also other tweets in the training stage. In our work, the constrained CNNs are trained without using a pre-computed word embedding in the input layer. In order to provide input data to the neural network, we randomly initialized the word embedding, adding them to the parameters to be estimated in the training process: in the following, we will refer to the constrained classification workflow as Unitor. The unconstrained CNNs are instead initialized with pre-computed word embedding and DPL. Notice that in this setting we do not back-propagate over the input layer. The word embedding is obtained from a corpus downloaded in July 2016 of about 10 millions of tweets. A 250-dimensional embedding is generated according to a Skip-gram model (Mikolov et al., 2013)2. Starting from this corpus and the generated embedding, we acquired the DPL according to the methodology described in Section 2.1. The final embedding is obtained by juxtaposing the Skip-gram vectors and the DPL3, resulting in a 253-dimensional representation for about 290, 000 words, as shown in Figure 1. The resulting classification workflow made of unconstrained classifier is called Unitor-U1. Notice that these word representations represent a richer feature set for the CNN, however the cost of obtaining them is negligible, as no manual activity is needed.

Figure 1: The Convolutional Neural Network architecture adopted for the Unitor system.

Image 1000000000000DC90000049D7C3E07D7.jpg

13As suggested in (Croce et al., 2016), the contextual pre-training (see Section 2.2) is obtained by considering the conversational contexts of the provided training data. This dataset is made of about 2, 200 new messages, that have been classified with the Unitor-U1 system. This set of messages is adopted to initialize the network parameters. In the following, the system adopting the pre-trained CNNs is called Unitor-U2.

14The CNNs have a number of hyper-parameters that should be fine-tuned. The parameters we investigated are: size of filters, i.e., capturing 2/3/4/5-grams. We combined together multiple filter sizes in the same run. The number of filters for each size: we selected this parameter among 50, 100 and 200. The dropout keep probability has been selected among 0.5, 0.8 and 1.0. The final parameters has been determined over a development dataset, made of the 20% of the training material. Other parameters have been kept fixed: batch size (100), learning rate (0.001), number of epochs (15) and L2 regularization (0.0). The CNNs are implemented in Tensorflow4 and they have been optimized with the Adam optimizer.

4 Experimental Results

15In Tables 2, 3 and 4 the performances of the Unitor systems are reported, respectively for the task of Subjectivity Classification, Polarity Classification and Irony Detection. In the first Table (2) the F-0 measure refers to the F1 measure of the objective class, while F-1 refers to the F1 measure of the subjective class. In the Table 3 the F-0 measure refers to the F1 measure of the negative class, while F-1 refers to the F1 measure of the positive class. Notice that in this case, the neutral class is mapped to a “not negative” and “not positive” classification and the conflict class is mapped to a “negative” and “positive” classification. The F-0 and F-1 measures capture also these configurations. In Table 4 the F-0 measure refers to the F1 measure of the not ironic class, while F-1 refers to the F1 measure of the ironic class. Finally, FMean is the mean between these F-0 and F-1 values, and is the score used by the organizers for producing the final ranks.

Table 2: Subjectivity Classification results





















16Notice that our unconstrained system (Unitor-U1) is the best performing system in recognizing when a message is expressing a subjective position or not, with a final F-mean of .7444 (Table 2). Moreover, also the Unitor-U2 system is capable of adequately classify whether a message is subjective or not. The fact that the pre-trained system is not performing as well as Unitor-U1, can be ascribed to the fact that the pre-training material size is actually small. During the classifier tuning phases we adopted also the hashtag contexts (about 20, 000 messages) (Vanzo et al., 2014) to pre-train our networks: the measures over the development set indicated that probably the hashtag contexts were introducing too many unrelated messages. Moreover, the pre-training material has been classified with the Unitor-U1 system. It could be the case that the adoption of such added material was not so effective, as instead demonstrated in (Croce et al., 2016). In fact, in that work the pre-training material was classified with a totally different algorithm (Support Vector Machine) and a totally different representation (kernel-based). In this setting, the different algorithm and representation produced a better and substantially different dataset, in terms of covered linguistic phenomena and their relationships with the target classes. Finally, the constrained version of our system, obtained a remarkable score of .7134, demonstrating that the random initialization of the input vectors can be also adopted for the classification of the subjectivity of a message.

Table 3: Polarity Classification results





















17In Table 3 the Polarity Classification results are reported. Also in this task, the performances of the unconstrained systems are higher with respect to the constrained one (.662 against .6382). It demonstrates the usefulness of acquiring lexical representations and use them as inputs for the CNNs. Notice that the performances of the Unitor classifiers are remarkable, as the two unconstrained systems rank in 2nd and 3rd position. The contribution of the pre-training is not positive, as instead measured in (Croce et al., 2016). Again, we believe that the problem resides in the size and quality of the pre-training dataset.

18In Table 4 the Irony Detection results are reported. Our systems do not perform well, as all the submitted systems reported a very low recall for the ironic class: for example, the Unitor-U2 recall is only .0013, while its precision is .4286. It can be due mainly to two factors. First, the CNN devoted to the classification of the irony of a message has been trained with a dataset very skewed towards the not-ironic class: in the original dataset only 868 over 7409 messages are ironic. Second, a CNN observes local features (bi-grams, tri-grams, . . . ) without ever considering global constraints. Irony, is not a word-level phenomenon but, instead, it is related to sentence or even social aspects. For example, the best performing system in Irony Detection in SENTIPOLC 2014 (Castellucci et al., 2014) adopted a specific feature, which estimates the violation of paradigmatic coherence of a word with respect to the entire sentence, i.e., a global information about a tweet. This is not accounted for in the CNN here discussed, and ironic sub-phrases are likely to be neglected.

Table 4: Irony Detection results





















5 Conclusions

19The results obtained by the Unitor system at SENTIPOLC 2016 are promising, as the system won the Subjectivity Classification sub-task and placed in 2nd position in the Polarity Classification. While in the Irony Detection the results are not satisfactory, the proposed architecture is straightforward as its setup cost is very low. In fact, the human effort in producing data for the CNNs, i.e., the pre-training material and the acquisition of the Distributional Polarity Lexicon is very limited. In fact, the former can be easily acquired with the Twitter Developer API; the latter is realized through an unsupervised process (Castellucci et al., 2015a). In the future, we need to better model the irony detection problem, as probably the CNN here adopted is not best suited for such task. In fact, irony is a more global linguistic phenomenon than the ones captured by the (local) convolutions operated by a CNN.


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1 We normalize the embedding and the DPL vectors before the juxtaposition.

2 The following settings are adopted: window 5 and mincount 10 with hierarchical softmax

3 Measures adopting only the Skip-gram vectors have been pursued in the classifier tuning stage; these have highlighted the positive contribution of the DPL.



Department of Enterprise Engineering University of Roma, Tor Vergata, Via del Politecnico 1, 00133 Roma, Italy -

Department of Enterprise Engineering University of Roma, Tor Vergata, Via del Politecnico 1, 00133 Roma, Italy -

Department of Enterprise Engineering University of Roma, Tor Vergata, Via del Politecnico 1, 00133 Roma, Italy -


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