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Or, a silly pun and word embeddings tutorial

What are word embeddings?

Word embeddings are a way to represent the "meanings" of words learned by different distributional semantics methods. Words are defined not by their conceptual features but instead by how they are talked about in large corpora. Historically these have included things like Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA), Hyperspace Analogue to Language (HAL), topic models (e.g. Latent Dirichlet Allocation, or LDA), and more recent models such as GloVe, pointwise mutual information (PMI) matrix factorization, word2vec (skip-gram or continuous bag-of-words/CBOW), ELMo, and BeRT. These models are usually estimated on massive text corpora, such as recent snapshots of Wikipedia.

Why might I want them?

Word embeddings have proven useful for modeling cognitive language processing tasks (Landauer & Dumais, 1997; Lund & Burgess, 1996), especially for the match between a word and its semantic context or for creating semantically appropriate stimuli in behavioral experiments. These methods have been used to approximate lexical knowledge and word meaning because resources such as WordNet (Miller, 1995) are noisy and lack some distinctions (e.g. are two words related etymologically or not). Other resources such as feature norms (McRae, Cree, Seidenberg, & McNorgan, 2005) are necessarily incomplete. Plus, words or concepts might not have features, depending on your theory. Other sources of information are generally sparse.

For predicting both human behavior and for use in natural language processing tasks, embeddings-based methods tend to lead to improvements. Even basic methods like word2vec can lead to huge improvements on classification. Likewise, LSA has been used in cognitive science and psycholinguistic research since it was introduced nearly 20 years ago. But, these are all models that require training, so it is important to understand what mathematical assumptions and transformations go into it. Always keep in your back pocket some skepticism about whether these models are cognitively plausible or not.

How can I get them?

Follow this tutorial! Each model featured here is discussed in its own folder and has an associated Jupyter notebook to go along with it. All you need is a corpus and some basic tools to get started. Just try the code below.

How do I use this repository?

  1. First, download the repository (as a zip file, using git clone, etc.)

    • If you downloaded the repository as a zip file, unzip it (wherever you unzip your files)
    • Wherever you saved this unzipped folder or cloned the repo into, you will want to cd into. i.e.:
    cd path/to/distribu_ted
  2. Once you have cd'd into that folder, you will want to install all the basic dependencies. For that, you will need to use pip from within the distribu_ted folder all by itself. We will do a local install that will take the folder in this repository and include all the necessary dependencies. These dependencies include UMAP, numpy, pandas, gensim, scikit-learn, nltk, and plotnine.

    pip install -e .
  3. If you have also installed jupyter, then the notebooks (the .ipynb files) are all easily opened. Simply call jupyter notebook from within the main directory and navigate to the notebook you would like to use.

  4. If not, then there are two python scripts of interest in the folders ./word2vec/ and ./lsa/ These files will go through all the necessary steps for learning embeddings using the TED talk corpus in the top level directory (./ted_en-20160408_full.txt).

    • To use these scripts, cd into the subdirectory (e.g. ./lsa/ or ./word2vec/).
    • If you are already very comfortable learning and training your own embeddings, you can work with the slightly more complex project in the ./tags/ folder, which visualizes the tags used in different TED talks in a 2-D space using the pre-trained embeddings that we will learn using the skip-gram model (Mikolov et al., 2013).



  • LSA: Landauer, T. K., & Dumais, S. T. (1997). A solution to Plato's problem: The latent semantic analysis theory of acquisition, induction, and representation of knowledge. Psychological Review, 104, 211-240.
  • HAL: Lund, K., & Burgess, C. (1996). Producing high-dimensional semantic spaces from lexical co-occurrence. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 28, 203-208.
  • LDA: Blei, D. M., Ng, A. Y., & Jordan, M. I. (2003). Latent dirichlet allocation. Journal of Machine Learning Research, 3, 993-1022.
  • word2vec (skip-gram and CBOW): Mikolov, T., Sutskever, I., Chen, K., Corrado, G. S., & Dean, J. (2013). Distributed representations of words and phrases and their compositionality. In Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems (pp. 3111-3119).
  • GloVe: Pennington, J., Socher, R., & Manning, C. (2014). Glove: Global vectors for word representation. In Proceedings of the 2014 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP) (pp. 1532-1543).
  • PMI: Church, K. W., & Hanks, P. (1990). Word association norms, mutual information, and lexicography. Computational linguistics, 16, 22-29.
  • ELMo: Peters, M., Neumann, M., Iyyer, M., Gardner, M., Clark, C., Lee, K., & Zettlemoyer, L. (2018). Deep Contextualized Word Representations. In Proceedings of the 2018 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies (Vol. 1, pp. 2227-2237).
  • BERT: Devlin, J., Chang, M. W., Lee, K., & Toutanova, K. (2018). BERT: Pre-training of deep bidirectional transformers for language understanding. arXiv preprint. arXiv:1810.04805.


  • Miller, G. A. (1995). WordNet: a lexical database for English. Communications of the ACM, 38, 39-41.
  • McRae, K., Cree, G. S., Seidenberg, M. S., & McNorgan, C. (2005). Semantic feature production norms for a large set of living and nonliving things. Behavior Research Methods, 37, 547-559.


Learning latent representations of words from TED talks



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