Language Model Tokenizers Introduce Unfairness Between Languages


Recent language models have shown impressive multilingual performance, even when not explicitly trained for it. Despite this, concerns have been raised about the quality of their outputs across different languages. In this paper, we show how disparity in the treatment of different languages arises at the tokenization stage, well before a model is even invoked. The same text translated into different languages can have drastically different tokenization lengths, with differences up to 15 times in some cases. These disparities persist across the 17 tokenizers we evaluate, even if they are intentionally trained for multilingual support. Character-level and byte-level models also exhibit over 4 times the difference in the encoding length for some language pairs. This induces unfair treatment for some language communities in regard to the cost of accessing commercial language services, the processing time and latency, as well as the amount of content that can be provided as context to the models. Therefore, we make the case that we should train future language models using multilingually fair tokenizers.

Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS23)
Adel Bibi
Adel Bibi
Senior Researcher

My research interests include machine learning, computer vision, and optimization.