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EVALITA Evaluation of NLP and Speech Tools for Italian - December 17th, 2020

Valerio Basile
Danilo Croce
Maria Maro
et al.

ATE_ABSITA: Aspect Term Extraction and Aspect-Based Sentiment Analysis

SentNA @ ATE_ABSITA: Sentiment Analysis of Customer Reviews Using Boosted Trees with Lexical and Lexicon-based Features

Francesco Mele, Antonio Sorgente et Giuseppe Vettigli


This paper describes our submission to the tasks on Sentiment Analysis of ATE_ABSITA (Aspect Term Extraction and Aspect-Based Sentiment Analysis). In particular, we focused on Task 3 using an approach based on combining frequency of words with lexicon-based polarities and uses Boosted Trees to predict the sentiment score. This approach achieved a competitive error and, thanks to the interpretability of the building blocks, allows us to show the what elements are considered when making the prediction. We also joined Task 1 proposing a hybrid model that joins rule-based and machine learning methodologies in order to combine the advantages of both. The model proposed for Task 1 is only preliminary.

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

1User feedback has become essential for companies to improve their services and products. Nowadays, we can find user feedback in textual form as online reviews, posts on social media and so on. These resources can express overall opinions but also opinions about some specific details (aspects) of the subject. In this scenario, the tools provided by Sentiment Analysis are crucial to process user feedbacks, the ongoing research in this field is focused on creating models that are more and more accurate and that can also extract fine grained information for the data. As part of this research, the ATE_ABSITA tasks (Mattei et al. 2020)1, part of the EVALITA campaign (Basile et al. 2020), challenge the participants in extracting the aspects (Task 1), predict the sentiment towards each expect (Task 2) and also predict the overall sentiment expressed (Task 3) for a dataset containing reviews of items from an online shop.

2It’s important to notice that the dataset released for the task is one of the few resources for the Italian language that has annotated aspects and sentiment at the same time. Others Italian resources that take into account sentiment with respect to aspects are (Sorgente, Vettigli, and Mele 2014) and (Croce et al. 2013). The first contains reviews of movies with 8 domain specific aspects and 5 different polarity values while the second contains opinions about wines considering 5 aspects and 3 possible polarity values.

3This paper describes our approaches in solving task 1 and task 3. The approach for task 1 is still preliminary.

4In the last decade top performing approaches to Sentiment Analysis have shifted from using classifiers on hand-crafted features, often based on lexicons (Zhu, Kiritchenko, and Mohammad 2014), to complex models based on deep Neural Networks and advanced word embeddings (Liu et al. 2020). While the latest models require special hardware and significant work to be trained, older approaches are built on top of well understood classification techniques that can be trained on commodity hardware which makes them easy to adapt for new applications. The approach proposed for Task 3 revisits the old fashioned style of doing Sentiment Analysis to see how it performs against more modern methodologies that are used in the competition.

5Regarding Task 1 we follow the latest trend of exploiting linguistic patterns (Poria, Cambria, and Gelbukh 2016; Liu et al. 2015; Poria et al. 2014; Rana and Cheah 2019). What distinguishes our approach from others is that we use automatically generated patterns based on POS-Tags (Part of Speech-Tags) following the assumption that they are more robust to bad grammar compared to linguistic dependencies.

6In Section 2 we will describe our approach for Task 3 and in Section 2.4 we will discuss the results. In Section 3 we will briefly discuss the preliminary model we build for Task 1 and its results.

2. Our approach for Task 3

7The idea behind our approach is to achieve competitive results using well known tools that can be used on commodity hardware. We build the features representing the text using n-grams and adding a set of characteristic annotated in SenticNet (Cambria et al. 2010). Given the large amount of features, we decided to use Boosted Trees as regression model given its ability to sub-sample the features dynamically. For textual preprocessing the libraries Spacy (Honnibal and Montani 2017) and Scikit-Learn (Pedregosa et al. 2011) were used. We chose XGboost (Chen and Guestrin 2016) as implementation of Boosted Trees for regression.

2.1 Lexical features

8Before extracting the lexical features we remove stop words (apart from words that can be used as negative adverbs) and lemmatized each word. Finally, we extract a set of n-grams from each review. We consider uni-grams, bi-grams and tri-grams at the same time.

2.2 Lexicon-based features

  • 2 In English: #sadness, #anger, #happiness

9To build the polarity features of our model, we have adopted SenticNet, a resource used for concept-level sentiment analysis. It contains a collection of concepts, including common-sense concepts, provided with values for polarity, attention, pleasantness and sensitivity. These are numerical features that are available for a subset of the words in each review. We take in account the average, the minimum and the maximum of all the values available in each review. We also consider the mood tags provided by SenticNet. They are sets of tags as #tristezza, #rabbia, #felicità2 attached to each word, we consider them as binary features.

2.3 Regressor

10Our final regressor is composed of 800 Decision Trees with a maximum depth of 4 layers. The model was trained using Gradient Boosting with a learning rate of 0.3. The final prediction is computed averaging the output of each tree. The rationale behind our choice is that we have a high number of features that are easy to use with tree based methods for specific cases, hence ensembling allows us to learn a set of shallow trees and each of them can work well for specific cases.

2.4 Results and discussion

11To build our model we initially focused on the training set using cross-validation to optimize the parameters achieving a root mean square error of 0.852 (the prediction target is on a scale from 1 to 5), we then tested the optimized model on the development set reaching an error of 0.805. We finally achieved an error of 0.795 on the final test set. The difference in the error across the different stages of validation suggests that the model is well trained as the error doesn’t increase when new data is presented. However, it also suggest that the estimation of the error has a wide confidence interval, the standard deviation estimated during cross validation is 0.049.

Figure 1: Scatter plot that shows the annotated score against the predicted score on the development set

Figure 1: Scatter plot that shows the annotated score against the predicted score on the development set

12In Figure 1 we compare the scores predicted and the annotated score on the development set. The chart shows that the model has a tendency to over estimate the error, especially in cases annotated with a low score.

13We will now examine two reviews for which our regressor has the highest error. This is the text of the first review:

  • 3 In English: It turns off on its own when you need to use it with the remote control. (The original (...)

“si autospenge proprio quando si necessita di usarla contelecomando”3.

14This review was annotated with a score of 2, but the score assigned by our system is 4.75. This highlights a tendency of the system to give higher scores in uncertain cases. In this specific case we have no adjectives and two typing mistakes that result in no information from the lexicon and most of the words being disregarded as rare by our preprocessing pipeline. This suggests that a special treatment is needed for these specific cases where the classifier has fewer elements to take a decision.

15The text of the second review is:

  • 4 In English: There’s a better choice for the same price.. I returned it.The accessories are great.

“Per questo prezzo c’è di meglio.. restituita.Gli accessori sono ottimi.”4.

16This sentence was annotated with a score of 2, but the score assigned by our system is 3.36. We have again a case of over estimation of the score. This time the review has two contrasting sentences. A very negative one where the user states of having returned the item and a very positive one regarding the accessories. This ambivalence makes the review a borderline case for our model.

17We attribute this tendency to overestimate the target to the fact that the model is optimized to minimize the root-mean-square error, this makes the model predict values closer to the average annotated score. While this is acceptable in an academic competition, it’s less than ideal in an industrial setting. One way to solve the overestimation problem, without changing the formulation of the error to minimize, would be to balance the data so to have a similar number of occurrences for each score. Sub-sampling the data is unpractical as it would reduce the sample size too drastically. This leaves open only the option to add more samples.

Table 1: Important terms highlighted by the model. The column importance reports the importance score of the term while coverage is the cumulative sum of the importance scores



coverage %










non consigliare



purtroppo essere


















non funzionare






non riconoscere









18In Table 1 we see the 15 terms most influential on the model. Here we note that most of the terms have a negative connotation. Interestingly, all the bi-grams in the list contain the word non (not). Taking in account that the terms reported in the table add up to 37% of the importance of all the features, this highlights the fact that the regressor puts particular attention in the prediction of reviews with a low score even if they are a minority.

3. Preliminary results on Task 1

19Task 1 asks to identify terms and phrases that contain an aspect of the customer review when it co-occurs with opinion words that bring information about the sentiment polarity.5

20For this task we have designed a hybrid model that joins a rule-based approach with machine learning. The main idea is to identify a set of plausible aspects via some pre-defined rules, then use a classifier to filter out the wrong candidates. The rules are defined on POS-Tagging patterns. For example the review

“Ottimo rasoio dal semplice utilizzo.”

with annotated as aspect “semplice” matches the rule defined by the following pattern


21The bold tag indicates the position of the plausible aspect. We have defined a set of about 3000 rules. The rules have been discovered picking the most common POS-Tagging patterns that match the annotated aspects. In particular we have found the position of the aspects in the sentence and selected the POS of close words (three on each side) taking in account the punctuation.

22Each aspect found can match one or more rules. The activation of each rule is used as binary feature for the final classifier. The final classifier is implemented using Logistic Regression (Hastie, Tibshirani, and Friedman 2001), its target is to predict if each candidate found by the rules is an actual candidate or a false positive.

23This preliminary effort achieves a F1-score of 0.340, which is above the baseline (0.255) but below the average score of the submissions (0.504).

4. Conclusions

24The submission confirmed the effectiveness of using a simple approach to predict the sentiment score of customer reviews in Italian (Task 3). The approach consists in combining simple word embedding, specifically tri-grams, and a lexicon as SenticNet to build features for Boosted Trees. Our system achieved a competitive error which is lower than the baseline by 0.209 points and higher than the best model by 0.131 points. The error achieved above the average official score by 0.067 points (the estimates includes baseline models).

25The submission also highlights that we were able to beat the baseline for Task 1 with a rudimentary approach. We will build upon this approach in our future work.


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2 In English: #sadness, #anger, #happiness

3 In English: It turns off on its own when you need to use it with the remote control. (The original sentence contains a two typos.)

4 In English: There’s a better choice for the same price.. I returned it.The accessories are great.

5 Detailed description of the task at

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Scatter plot that shows the annotated score against the predicted score on the development set
Fichier image/jpeg, 108k


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