Author Archives: Joe Pater

First meeting of the Computational Humanities Initiative with Laure Thompson

The first meeting of the Computational Humanities Initiative was held Friday November 18th in N400 of the Linguistics Department. Laure Thompson of the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences presented “Computational Humanities and Human-Centered Machine Learning” to an audience that included UMass faculty and students from the departments of Classics, Philosophy, Economics, and Linguistics as well as from CICS, Nursing and SPHSS, and from Amherst and Mount Holyoke Colleges. The event was sponsored by the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the Computational Social Science Institute. The Computational Humanities Initiative is being organized by faculty in CHFA and CICS interested in building new connections between our colleges in research and teaching. To find out about future events, join the Computational Humanities mailing list by emailing Joe Pater (

A recording of the talk is available to those with a UMass account, and an abstract and bio are below.

Brendan O’Connor of CICS/CSSI, and Laure Thompson

The meeting participants introducing themselves.

Thompson talk abstract: Machine learning (ML) is typically used to replicate some human activity. Given a set of inputs, a system is built to produce the same outputs as a human would; thus reducing human interaction through automation. In contrast to this standard use, the computational humanities typically use ML as a tool to enable human interaction in the form of human interpretation. This alternative use centers iterative, expert human use to study humanities collections in order to gain meaningful insights from and recognize the true complexities of cultural phenomena. In this talk, I will argue that these two uses are fundamentally different paradigms of user intention. I will illustrate the characteristics of these two paradigms using two case studies drawn from the computational humanities: a Dadaist “reading” of Dada and a largescale study of the themes in science fiction.

Bio: Laure Thompson is an assistant professor in the Manning College of Information & Computer Sciences at UMass Amherst, whose research bridges machine learning and natural language processing with humanistic scholarship. Centered on humanities applications, her research focuses on understanding what computational models actually learn and how we can intentionally change what they learn. Given this humanities focus, she works with a wide range of cultural heritage corpora: from texts of science fiction novels and medieval manuscripts to images of avant-garde journals and magical gems from the ancient Mediterranean. She completed her PhD in Computer Science at Cornell University in 2020.

Alice Harris celebration

A celebration of Alice Harris and her career was held Saturday November 12th in the Amherst Room of the Campus Center. The picture below is of Alice and her husband Jim Staros (UMass Provost emeritus). It is one of many pictures that Rajesh Bhatt took and shared with us. There were a number of wonderful tributes to Alice, delivered in person by our faculty John McCarthy, Barbara Partee, Tom Roeper and Rajesh Bhatt, and over Zoom by Farrell Ackerman (UCSD), Arthur Samuel (SUNY Stonybrook) and Claire Bowern (Yale). Written tributes from John Baugh (President of the LSA) and Masha Polinsky (Maryland) were read, and a video from Allyson Reed (former Executive Director of the LSA) was played. Congratulations Alice on such a fantastic career — we are so lucky to have you as part of our community!

Jules Chametzky tribute Friday October 7th

The Legacy of Jules Chametzky: “Honoring the Intellect, Fostering Justice and Equality” will be held Friday, Oct. 7, 2022 from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m in the Old Chapel on the UMass campus. Chametzky has some special connections to our department, as Barbara Partee notes:

Esther Terry, mother of our Mike Terry and the Head of the Afro-Am Studies Department at the time it got its PhD program approved, was Jules Chametzky’s PhD student in the English department. (Our Mike Terry is actually Jules Michael Terry, named after Jules Chametzky and Michael Thelwell (a prominent Afro-Am scholar here).

Mike Terry (PhD 2004, now at UNC Chapel Hill) will be amongst the presenters in the afternoon symposium. The full schedule is in the image beneath the following summary of the day from the above-linked announcement.

A day-long celebration of the life and work of Jules Chametzky, founding editor of the Massachusetts Review, early president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors, first director of UMass’s Interdisciplinary Studies Institute, and co-signatory at the founding of the national Community of Literary Magazines and Presses. In the morning, friends and family will offer their memories; an afternoon symposium will include an assortment of well-known writers and scholars, among them poet Doug Anderson, writer, artist, and astrophysicist Nia Imara, poet Hilene Flanzbaum, translator and scholar Jacqueline Loss, novelist Robin McLean, and linguist J. Michael Terry. In the morning, a discussion of reparations will also be held, via Zoom, with Duke economist William A. Darity, Jr., and, in the afternoon, renowned American Studies scholar Werner Sollors will speak on “Chametzkyan Studies and Its Future.”

Max Nelson successfully defends his dissertation!

Max Nelson successfully defended his dissertation “Phonotactic learning with distributional representations” on Friday June 3. He is starting a position in Seattle with Amazon as a research engineer. Pictured from left to right with the defense fish are Joe Pater, Max Nelson, and Gaja Jarosz. Committee member Cameron Musco (CICS) participated remotely. Congratulations Max!

Andrew Lamont successfully defends his dissertation!

Andrew Lamont successfully defended his dissertation “Directional Harmonic Serialism” on Tuesday May 31, and is soon on his way to the UK to take up a position at the University College London. Pictured from left to right with the defense fish are Gaja Jarosz, Joe Pater, Andrew Lamont, Neil Immerman (CICS) and Michael Becker. Congratulations Andrew!


Welcome back John!

Now that John McCarthy has completed his 5-year term as Provost, doing great work in a very demanding position, he will be returning to the Department of Linguistics. In the 2022-23 academic year, he will be on sabbatical. Over the summer, he will be moving into N404. We’re all looking forward to seeing more of you John – welcome back!

Speaking of John, you might like to check out this oral history interview with him that was done in 2014 by the UMass libraries (thanks to Jeremy Smith for bringing it to our attention). Its summary includes “came to UMass as a linguist in 1985 after PhD at MIT and work at the University of Texas Austin; duties of a graduate school dean; online teaching; regional dialects in Massachusetts”.

Laura Walsh Dickey profiled in article on Amazon’s Pittsburgh engineering team

Laura Walsh Dickey (PhD 1997) was profiled in a GeekWire article on the engineering team that she leads in Amazon’s Pittsburgh office.

Dickey has deep roots in Pittsburgh. Her dad, Bob Walsh, was a longtime director and producer of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the iconic public TV show that originated in Pittsburgh. Dickey appeared on some episodes as a kid. 

A University of Massachusetts, Amherst, graduate with a doctorate in linguistics, she worked previously at Google’s engineering office in Pittsburgh. Google established that office in 2006, starting a trend that in which many other companies have followed suit.


Andries Coetzee in the Washington Post

Andries Coetzee (PhD 2004, now Professor at the University of Michigan) is quoted at length in a Washington Post article on a Ryanair travel requirement that requires South African passengers to demonstrate proficiency in Afrikaans as a citizenship test. The full text of the section citing and quoting Coetzee is below.



Andries W. Coetzee, a professor of linguistics and the director of the African Studies Center at the University of Michigan, said Afrikaans has strong ties to South Africa’s colonial history and an apartheid regime that institutionalized white supremacy.

Coetzee said the majority of South Africans do not speak Afrikaans, “so, it makes absolutely no sense to use that as a measurement of whether you are South African or not.” In 2011 census data shared by Statistics South Africa, 13.5 percent of the population said Afrikaans was their first language, trailing IsiZulu (22.7 percent) and IsiXhosa (16 percent) in that year’s data.

In 1925, the South African government made Afrikaans an official language, Coetzee said, and it became the language of politics to a large extent, a status that was reinforced after apartheid became the “official political system of the country” in 1948. While the language was at one time required in schools, he said, the majority of students who take the language now are those who speak it at home or those of European descent who speak English at home.

“If you are a Black citizen of South Africa who came of age and went to school after 1994, chances are that you don’t know Afrikaans because you don’t have to know Afrikaans,” Coetzee said. He called Ryanair’s policy “colonial, discriminatory and just unjustified.”

Coetzee noted that there are two socioethnic varieties of Afrikaans and that about half of the Afrikaans-speaking population are non-White.

“It would be inaccurate to say only White people speak the language,” he said. “But what would be accurate is to say 80 percent of the population do not speak Afrikaans, and that 80 percent are basically all non-White.”