LSTM language model with CNN over characters
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Character-Aware Neural Language Models

A neural language model (NLM) built on character inputs only. Predictions are still made at the word-level. The model employs a convolutional neural network (CNN) over characters to use as inputs into an long short-term memory (LSTM) recurrent neural network language model (RNN-LM). Also optionally passes the output from the CNN through a Highway Network, which improves performance.

Note: Paper will be posted on arXiv very soon.

Much of the base code is from Andrej Karpathy's excellent character RNN implementation, available at


Code is written in Lua and requires Torch. It also requires the nngraph and optim packages, which can be installed via:

luarocks install nngraph
luarocks install optim

GPU usage will additionally require cutorch and cunn packages:

luarocks install cutorch
luarocks install cunn

cudnn will result in a good (8x-10x) speed-up for convolutions, so it is highly recommended. This will make the training time of a character-level model be somewhat competitive against a word-level model (0.5 secs/batch vs 0.25 secs/batch for the large character/word-level models described below).

git clone
luarocks make cudnn-scm-1.rockspec


Data should be put into the data/ directory, split into train.txt, valid.txt, and test.txt

Each line of the .txt file should be a sentence. The English Penn Treebank (PTB) data (Tomas Mikolov's pre-processed version with vocab size equal to 10K, widely used by the language modeling community) is given as the default.

The paper also runs the models on non-English data (Czech, French, German, Russian, and Spanish), from the ICML 2014 paper Compositional Morphology for Word Representations and Language Modelling by Jan Botha and Phil Blunsom. This can be downloaded from Jan's website. We also run the model on the Reddit comments corpus.

For ease of use, we provide a script to download all the data used in the paper ( The script also saves the downloaded data into the relevant folders.

Note on PTB

The PTB data above does not have end-of-sentence tokens for each sentence, and hence these must be manually appended. This can be done by adding -EOS '+' to the script (obviously you can use other characters than + to represent an end-of-sentence token---we recommend a single unused character).

The Reddit/non-English data already have end-of-sentence tokens for each line so you do not need to add the -EOS command (equivalent to adding -EOS '', which is the default).


Here are some example scripts. Add -gpuid 0 to each line to use a GPU (which is required to get any reasonable speed with the CNN), and -cudnn 1 to use the cudnn package. Scripts to reproduce the results of the paper can be found under

Character-level models

Large character-level model (LSTM-CharCNN-Large in the paper). This is the default: should get ~82 on valid and ~79 on test.

th main.lua -savefile char-large -EOS '+'

Small character-level model (LSTM-CharCNN-Small in the paper). This should get ~96 on valid and ~93 on test.

th main.lua -savefile char-small -rnn_size 300 -highway_layers 1 
-kernels '{1,2,3,4,5,6}' -feature_maps '{25,50,75,100,125,150}' -EOS '+'

Word-level models

Large word-level model (LSTM-Word-Large in the paper). This should get ~89 on valid and ~85 on test.

th main.lua -savefile word-large -word_vec_size 650 -highway_layers 0 
-use_chars 0 -use_words 1 -EOS '+'

Small word-level model (LSTM-Word-Small in the paper). This should get ~101 on valid and ~98 on test.

th main.lua -savefile word-small -word_vec_size 200 -highway_layers 0 
-use_chars 0 -use_words 1 -rnn_size 200 -EOS '+'

Combining both

Note that if -use_chars and -use_words are both set to 1, the model will concatenate the output from the CNN with the word embedding. We've found this model to underperform a purely character-level model, though.


By default main.lua will evaluate the model on test data after training, but this will use the last epoch's model, and also will be slow due to the way the data is set up.

Evaluation on test can be performed via the following script:

th evaluate.lua -model model_file.t7 -data_dir data/ptb -savefile model_results.t7

Where model_file.t7 is the path to the best performing (on validation) model. This will also save some basic statistics (e.g. perplexity by token) in model_results.t7.

Training on Larger Data

If using the model on larger data (e.g. 50M tokens), you can change -batch_size to something like 100 to make it train faster.