Toucan: Token-Aware Character Level Language Modeling

Published in ArXiv, 2023

Character-level language models obviate the need for separately trained tokenizers, but efficiency suffers from longer sequence lengths. Learning to combine character representations into tokens has made training these models more efficient, but they still require decoding characters individually. We propose Toucan, an augmentation to character-level models to make them “token-aware”. Comparing our method to prior work, we demonstrate significant speed-ups in character generation without a loss in language modeling performance. We then explore differences between our learned dynamic tokenization of character sequences with popular fixed vocabulary solutions such as Byte-Pair Encoding and WordPiece, finding our approach leads to a greater amount of longer sequences tokenized as single items. Our project and code are available at

Recommended citation: William Fleshman, & Benjamin Van Durme. (2023). Toucan: Token-Aware Character Level Language Modeling.