Allyson Ettinger



I am indeed recruiting PhD students! Students can apply to work with me through the Dept. of Linguistics or the Dept. of Computer Science.


I am a computational linguist, addressing research problems on language in humans and machines. I have training in linguistics, natural language processing (NLP), and cognitive neuroscience of language, which I use to bridge research in these domains.

In my research I do a combination of NLP and computational psycholinguistic modeling. My cross-disciplinary training allows me to bring theoretical and analytical insights from linguistics and cognitive neuroscience to the development of NLP systems, and to bring computational tools and methods from NLP to the modeling of human language processing.

I am committed to building closer connections between linguistics, NLP, and cognitive neuroscience of language so that advances in each can benefit the others. To this end, I collaborate broadly across these domains, teach interdisciplinary courses for students in these fields, and have an active organizational role in interdisciplinary communities such as the Society for Computation in Linguistics and the Workshop on Building Linguistically Generalizable NLP Systems that bring together linguists and computer scientists.


I am an Assistant Professor in the University of Chicago Department of Linguistics. Previously, I spent a year as a Research Assistant Professor at the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago, and I have a courtesy affiliation with TTIC at present.

I did my PhD work at the University of Maryland with Colin Phillips and Philip Resnik, in addition to collaborations with numerous faculty and students across the linguistics and computer science departments. I was an active member of the Maryland Language Science Center.

Starting with a background in linguistics and cognitive neuroscience, I undertook a rapid computational conversion when I became fascinated by the problem of language processing in machines, and how this enterprise can connect with research on language in humans.

Before joining the community at the University of Maryland, I spent two years conducting neurolinguistic MEG research with Alec Marantz in the Neuroscience of Language Lab at NYU.

I have lived in China twice, and am fluent in Mandarin. My second time in China consisted of a year of graduate-level study in Mandarin.

I graduated from Brandeis University in 2010 with bachelor's degrees in linguistics and psychology.


March 2022. Gave an invited presentation at the Mini-workshop on Linguistic Ambiguity and Deep Learning.

February 2022. Gave a talk at the CMU brAIn Seminar.

February 2022. Gave a talk for the Stanford NLP Seminar.

November 2021. Three paper presentations coming up at EMNLP 2021: 1) Lalchand on testing robustness of meaning representations in pre-trained LMs in the main conference, 2) Lalchand and Yan on pragmatic competence in pre-trained LMs at CoNLL, and 3) Qinxuan on encoding of syntactic anomaly information in pre-trained sentence embeddings at BlackBoxNLP.

September 2021. Gave a talk for the OSU Department of Linguistics Colloquium.

September 2021. Gave a talk for the van Schijndel research group at Cornell.

August 2021. Paper presentation by Lang on impact of fine-tuning on semantic compostion in transformers, in Findings of ACL and presented at Rep4NLP workshop.

July 2021. Paper presentation by Kanishka on whether language models learn typicality, presented at CogSci 2021.

May 2021. Gave a talk for the UChicago MACSS Computational Social Science Workshop.

May 2021. Gave an interview with the TWIML podcast.

May 2021. Served as a panelist for the ICLR Brain2AI workshop panel, "How can findings about the brain improve AI systems?".

April 2021. Gave a talk for the NYU NLP/Text-as-Data speaker series.

April 2021. PhD student Lang Yu has successfully defended his dissertation, Analyzing and Improving Compositionality in Neural Language Models!

February 2021. SCiL 2021 (Meeting of the Society for Computation in Linguistics) was a success! Thank you to my fellow organizers, and to PC members, authors, and the many who attended the virtual conference!

February 2021. Gave a talk for the English Literature and Language Department of Dongguk University.

November 2020. Three papers at EMNLP 2020 (Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing): 1) assessing phrase representation and composition in transformers, 2) applying semantic priming to examine lexical sensitivity in BERT (Findings/BlackBoxNLP), and 3) long document coreference resolution.

October 2020. Gave a talk at the MIT CompLang discussion group.

September 2020. Gave a talk at the MIT Computational Psycholinguistics Lab.

September 2020. Gave a talk for the Georgia Tech Workshop on Language, Technology, & Society. A recording of the talk can be found here.

July 2020. Three papers at ACL 2020 (Association for Computational Linguistics annual meeting): 1) probing contextual embeddings, 2) diagnostics for BERT (TACL paper), and 3) tracking entities with memory-augmented neural networks.

May 2020. Gave a talk in the Northwestern University Linguistics Department colloquium series.

January 2020. Paper now out in TACL (Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics): What BERT is Not: Lessons from a New Suite of Psycholinguistic Diagnostics for Language Models.

November 2019. Gave a talk at the Johns Hopkins CLSP seminar series. Slides for the talk available here.

October 2019. Gave an interview with the Data Skeptic podcast about my paper "What BERT is Not".

September 2019. Kevin Gimpel and I have been awarded an NSF EAGER grant, titled World Modeling for Natural Language Understanding.

July 2019. I have officially begun my position as Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Department of Linguistics!

June 2019. Spoke on an interdsiciplinary panel to talk about the state of NLP at RepEval 2019.

May 2019. We hosted Midwest Speech and Language Days at TTIC, to spotlight NLP, speech and linguistics research in the Midwest area.

January 2019. Gave a talk on SCiL 2019 invited panel "What should linguists know about NLP", as well as a tutorial on vector space models.

October 2018. I have accepted a position as Assistant Professor in the UChicago Linguistics Department!

August 2018 Talk at COLING - Assessing Composition in Sentence Vector Representations.

June 2018. Successful dissertation defense!

May 2018 Accepted position of Research Assistant Professor at TTIC.

Dec 2017 Gave an interview with the NLP Highlights podcast about our Workshop on Building Linguistically Generalizable NLP Systems.