If you want to be on the cutting edge, first of all you have to look at the conference proceedings, because not all NLP papers are published in journals or it takes time to publish them.
Main conferences in the field of Natural Language Processing:
ACL: Association for Computational Linguistics
EMNLP: Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing
NAACL: North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics
EACL: European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics
COLING: International Conference on Computational Linguistics
CoNLL: Conference on Natural Language Learning
Based on your personal focus, it makes sense also to have look at the conferences proceedings in the area of your special interest (Information Retrieval, Data Mining, Machine Translation, AI, etc.), like SIGIR, AAAI, etc.
Journals are another good source of knowledge. Journals’ standards are still high and articles can cover more than conference papers.
Journal of Computational Linguistics – CL Quarterly (March, June, September, December). It is the primary archival forum for research on Computational Linguistics and Natural Language Processing. The journal is sponsored by the Association for Computational Linguistics, published by MIT; Open Access.
Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics – is an ACL-sponsored journal published by MIT Press that publishes papers in all areas of computational linguistics and natural language processing. TACL publishes conference-length papers, but has a journal-style reviewing process.
International Journal of Computational Linguistics (IJCL) – a peer reviewed open access bi-monthly journal providing a scientific forum where computer scientists, experts in artificial intelligence, mathematicians, logicians, cognitive scientists, cognitive psychologists, psycholinguists, anthropologists and neuroscientists can present theoretical research and experimental studies.
Journal of Memory and Language
Journal of Information Retrieval
Journal of Machine Learning
SIGIR: Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval
AAAI: Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence
ICML: International Conference on Machine Learning
ICDM: International Conference on Data Mining
Resources you have to skip / ignore
If you are looking for the reviewed sources of truth, the following resources you should better skip:
- Workshops and papers coming from workshops on application areas. They are mainly for people who work in similar subfields. Workshops on NLP subfields are acceptable.
- Invited talks, keynotes. They are mostly not reviewed.
- Conferences reviewed by abstract only.
- Conferences & journals outside the field – the worst NLP papers are there, it is definitely the source of misleading information.
- Academic papers about deployable systems (unless coming from focused on NLP research teams like in Google, IBM and Microsoft). They are mostly outside NLP skill sets.