Summer Spotlights: Linguists at Work

Have you ever wondered about how to use linguistic skills and concepts to make a difference in the world? Have you ever thought about what might come next after getting your degree? Three GU Linguists, Cally Alessi, Anne Butler, and Stacy Petersen sit down and tell us about how they exchanged books for briefcases and took linguistics to work this summer (and are still working!).

Cally Alessi, Nielsen Company 

cally newsletter

I’m a second year MLC student interested in identity, intertextuality, discourse analysis, gender, and digital media. I describe myself as the embodiment of all things nerdy, spending my time outside of linguistics reading comic books, playing video games, and hanging out with Lillian, the cat (who is also my daughter).

After networking with fellow MLC alum, Casey Tesfaye, at an MLC speaker series, I saw Nielsen as a place where I could contribute my skills as a linguist. Shortly after, I found myself with an interview. To land the job, I introduced myself professionally as a qualitative researcher, and offered concrete examples about things like audience design and explaining it in palatable terms. It just so happened that audience design aligned with Nielson’s broader initiative: achieving a friendly, non-corporate voice! At the end of summer, I was invited to stay at Nielsen, but this time as an analyst, rather than an intern!

My typical day is spent attending meetings, working with data in Excel, and analyzing qualitative data from telephone, online, and Google consumer surveys. After coding the data, I identify insights and problems in order to help Nielsen streamline and address them for the big goal: combining two participant recruitment websites into one. This is where audience design comes in! I use this linguistic theory to help Nielsen to talk to two different audiences at the same time, but with one unified voice. The job has also taken me to New York City to help conduct usability testing in a lab, but my favorite project so far was participating in a branding study that surprisingly allowed me to use one of my favorite linguistic concepts: positioning!  

Reflecting back on my time at Nielsen so far, my advice for any linguist hoping to make linguistics ‘work’ outside academia is to convince yourself that you are an asset first and carve out your own space. Do some projects that are less thrilling to put yourself in positions to participate in the awesome ones, and don’t be afraid to say, “I can do that,” even if you’re an intern. Finally, for anyone who might be nervous about the potential closed-mindedness of corporate America, don’t count it out. I’m continually pleasantly surprised and heartened by Nielsen’s openness to localization, representation, and inter-discipline approaches to best serve their diverse customer base.

Anne Butler, Ascension 

Anne Butler Newsletter

As a second year MLC student, my research interests center around institutional discourse and cross-cultural communication. My goal is to find really practical ways of putting linguistics to work in large organizations, especially those that have stakeholders with diverse needs.

Starting last semester and continuing over the summer and into this semester, I began interning at Ascension, the country’s largest nonprofit healthcare organization. As a member of Ascension’s communications and marketing research team, I help design and conduct qualitative research projects. My research team’s primary responsibility is to figure out how Ascension, as a large national organization with hundreds of local subsidiaries, can best communicate with its internal (doctor/nurse) and external (patient) audiences. Most of our research happens through focus groups and one-on-one interviews, though we also do some survey work. Since my team’s goal is always to discover the best way to talk about X (whether X is how to meet patient expectations, or roll out a rebranding plan), linguistics is immensely useful.  Within a single day, I might find myself analyzing a focus group conversation, writing survey questions for an internal poll, and interviewing a nurse in Oklahoma about the communicative strategies she uses when giving discharge instructions to her patients. The underlying purpose of all this research is to help Ascension, which is a relatively new organization, build a nationally recognizable brand.

We all know lots of interesting things as Georgetown linguists: that language is never a neutral conduit of information; that how you say what you say matters; that conversational style influences the ways people interact, just as cultural expectations shape the way conversations unfold and meaning is made. It’s all so real, and I’m finding that an understanding of how these things work on an analytical level is very useful in the market research world.

Before moving to D.C. last year, I lived in Buffalo, NY, where I spent three years managing an English teaching program for a multinational nonprofit, working with non-native English speakers in several South Asian and South American countries. Most of the people I worked with at this nonprofit were linguists—it was here, actually, that I started thinking about doing a master’s in linguistics.  Before that job, I got my bachelor’s from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, where I majored in English and violin performance.  Outside of school and work, I like to spend my time exploring D.C.’s fantastic restaurant scene with my husband, Brad, traveling, and playing my violin.

Stacy Petersen, Mitre Corporation

stacy petersen newsletter

I’m a sixth year Ph.D. student in the Theoretical Linguistics department. I’m here from my home state of California, where I studied French and Linguistics as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. The vigorous linguistics program at Cal is what led me to pursue a linguistics graduate degree, as it married my love of all languages and science/technology! Within theoretical linguistics, I’m most interested in phonetics, phonology, and phonological acquisition (L1). Outside the classroom, I am (along with some other linguists here) an avid crafter/quilter/painter, and also enjoy cooking and baking. Other free time is devoted to my awesome cat, Watson. On a completely unrelated note, I just got back from my dissertation field work trip where I spent two weeks in the Faroe Islands and it was so amazing! I recommend travelling/fieldwork to everyone, it’s totally worth the work and effort and money.

I’ve been working at the Mitre Corporation since the beginning of last summer (May 2015). I began as an intern for the summer, contributing to a natural language processing project. When the summer was over, I stayed on in the department as a part-time contractor. A few weeks ago, I was offered a full position in the natural language processing/human language technologies department. At Mitre, there is a lot of freedom for me to explore my interests in linguistics and programming. I spent the first few weeks teaching myself Java in order to contribute to the project. Now, I work with a team of people who make technology solutions for the federal judiciary centers (courts, probation services, etc.). A typical day will involve coordination with team members, code writing, data analysis, document annotation, and many other things. There are many linguists at Mitre, so it’s nice to know that people know what linguists do and we get the recognition we deserve.

The initial internship job opening was circulated on the gu-linguist email list, and fortunately I have a friend at Mitre (another GU linguistics alum!) who helped me get the job by circulating my resume. I was attracted to the job because of how technical it was and how great of a company I know Mitre is. To get the job, I talked a lot about my theoretical background knowledge of the NLP algorithms that were being put to use in the project and expressed my desire to know how they work in an actual project. When getting the job, they’re always especially interested in things you have built yourself or projects that you have done (which could be for classes), which shows your ability to get work done and your interest in the field.

At GU we’ve had a lot of training in all areas of linguistics, and I’ve found that I’ve made use of my knowledge in almost every area! For instance, I used syntax to write code that found objects in Spec IP position. I use phonetics in a speech recognition project. I use NLP for most of my code writing/data extraction work. I find that the more breadth the better, because then you can contribute to more parts of a project. Linguists think both in terms of the minute and the big picture, which is very helpful. Other things that make linguists good workers: we’re scientists, so we go about things in a certain way; we’re good communicators; we’re amazing writers.

Most of my coworkers are familiar with linguistics! If not, you can generally say, “I work in language AI (artificial intelligence),” and they’re very impressed! Most people are generally interested in what a linguist does, even if they don’t know. In these cases, I might say something like, “we help computers understand and use human language, and to do it efficiently.”

Being a working linguist, I’ve learned that balancing working life and academic life can be really hard. There will be times when you get NO academic work done, or vice-versa, and you just have to make it work; people are generally very understanding. It’s also really satisfying to be able to apply your skills to a project and have it work!

To those who are thinking of pursuing career options outside of academia: have confidence in your experience at GU and feel proud of the hard work you’ve put in over all these years, it definitely counts out there in the non-academic world. Basically don’t sell yourself short. Also, it helps to have something you’ve done/written/made that you can show to potential employers so they can see your level of work. Also, if you’re interested in getting an NLP job but have no experience or can’t program, etc., start building your skill set now! Begin to apply it to your final research projects…having a goal to work toward is so much more motivating to learn it. There are a bunch of resources at GU and outside GU to help you with these skills. My favorites were the GU women who code group, Codecademy, and Lynda courses (free for GU students! seriously, check this out!).

When looking for jobs, don’t feel like you have to turn your back completely on academia. A lot of jobs still will allow you do to academic-type research and to publish, too!. Mitre offers perks ($$$) for every paper that you publish, so there’s often even more incentive other than the fun of it. You can also try to find some part-time teaching gigs at universities if you miss that. Don’t be afraid to ask future employers about these types of opportunities.

Please click “Older posts” below for Advice from a Seasoned GU Linguist!

Advice from a Seasoned GU Linguist

For those just getting starting in their GU Linguistics program, or returning students looking for some advice on how to make the most of this year, look no further. These seasoned GU Linguists from the MLC, M.S., M.A., and PhD tracks have some advice for you.



“Make sure you take time for yourself and don’t get so caught upwith school work that you let everything else go.”

-Megan Phillips, MLC 



Sarah Lee Newsletter


“Try to go to every Friday Speaker Events. They are FREE!”

-Sarah Wenxin Lee, Sociolinguistics MS



XueMa September Newsletter“While you specialize in your major, remember to branch out and try new things! From programming to a new language, you may discover something unexpected and relevant that you’d never get a chance to explore after you graduate.”

-Xue Ma, Applied Linguistics, MA


Minnie Newsletter


“Make sure to find data that speaks to you and an advisor that speaks up for you!”

-Minnie Quartey Annan, Sociolinguistics PhD


dan_simonson september


“For incoming computational linguists: know both vi and emacs.”

-Dan Simonson, Computational Linguistics PhD



*Phew! You made it to the end. That’s all for this month’s issue, but don’t fret: you’ll have more GU Linguists in your inbox next month.

Thanks again for reading,

[hoijə sæksə]

The May Issue

Letter from the Editor_DSF3246

Welcome to the May 2016 Linguistics Department Newsletter! This month’s issue includes a special graduation section with the names of our new graduates and pictures from the ceremony and department reception, profiles of two featured graduates, and much more. Be sure to click through each section so you don’t miss anything!

One final note: As one of this year’s graduates, this is my last issue as your newsletter editor. I’ve really enjoyed showcasing our remarkably accomplished department – thank you all for reading and contributing!


Below you’ll find:

Want to let the department know what you’ve been up to? Circulate an announcement? Congratulate a classmate/friend/student/professor on their research or conference presentation? All of the above? Let’s make it happen! Please fill out this form.

Your outgoing editor,

Kat Starcevic

MLC ‘16

Continue to next section: Graduation 2016

Graduation 2016




This past weekend, our department released a new batch of newly-minted linguistics graduates into the world. Below you’ll find the names of our new grads and pictures from graduation weekend, including the Linguistics Department graduation reception.

Congratulations to all our graduates!

Undergraduate Linguistics majors:

Will Banse Jocelyn Hlawaty Kaley Palanjian
Ethan Beaman Inji Hwang Kimberly Portes
Marie Beasley Michelle Klein Julia Rayhill
Brittany Berlin Nia Lazarus Camille Reisfield
Joslyn Burchett Vanessa Lieu Raquel Rosenbloom
Nicholas Cortina Katerina Maylock Lena Rothfarb
Nicole Fusi Shelby McGowan Sarah Santana
Elizabeth Gentry Allison Muth Sarah Smith
Emily Grau Nicholas Norberg Nicole Steinberg
Jenna Grove Connor O’Dwyer Kerry Synan
Kenzie Offley

M.S. in Linguistics:

Mohammed Al Shakhori Edwin Ko
Rebecca Childress Gabriela Rubin
Randi Dermo Kathryn Thornborough
Elianna Greenberg


M.A. in Language & Communication:

Amy-Gabrielle Bartolac Katarina Starcevic
Kate Lucey Xiaopei Wu


M.A. in Teaching:

Samantha Harris

M.S. in passing:

Yuka Akiyama Goeun Chae Sean Simpson Brett Sutton
Lara Bryfonski Joshua Kraut Young-A Son

Ph.D. in Linguistics:

Fathiya Al Rashdi Luke Amoroso Amelia Tseng
Yoonsang Song Daniel Ginsberg Tracy Canfield
Yanyan Cui Haein Park Marta Baffy
Laura West Shoko Sasayama Sarah Young


Linguistics Department Graduation Reception

The food was plenty and the champagne was flowing in Poulton Hall as graduates stopped by to celebrate with classmates and professors at the annual graduation reception.




Continue to next section: Department Announcements & Events

Department Announcements & Events

Dr. Ortega Receives Faculty Mentoring Award

Our department’s Dr. Lourdes Ortega was awarded the Gerald M. Mara Faculty Mentoring Award! This campus-wide award recognizes a faculty member who exemplifies the spirit of cura personalis in aiding the academic and professional development of graduate students. Congratulations to Dr. Ortega on the very well-deserved recognition!

Georgetown Linguistics Alumni Meetup

There’s a new group for Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctorate linguistics alumni who are interested in catching up with or meeting other alumni and building their personal and professional networks outside of academia in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area. If you are interested in learning more about this group and future events, please fill out this form. Addition to the group list does not imply any commitment to participate in any events, but it is a good way to stay up-to-date.

The first meetup will take place at Kramerbooks & Afterwords in Dupont Circle at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.


We look forward to seeing you there!

  • Organized by Glenn Abastillas (MLC ’15) and Emily Pace (MS ’15)

Working Groups

The Georgetown Modality Working Group hosted a workshop “New Work on Modality” on May 9th. Invited speakers were Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford), Valentine Hacquard (UMD) and Aynat Rubinstein (Hebrew University of Jerusalem).  From Georgetown, Elena Herburger (Spanish and Portuguese) presented her work on conditionals and the Georgetown GME group (Hillary Harner, Grace Sullivan, Laura Ryals, Graham Katz, Aynat Rubinstein and Paul Portner) unveiled their new annotated corpus of modal expressions.  


M.S. Theses

This year,  three intrepid graduate students submitted M.S. theses – Rebecca Childress, Gabriela Rubin, and Edwin Ko. Read on for titles and click the links for brief descriptions of their fascinating research!

(For a full list of our undergraduate thesis writers and titles, you can check out the April issue.)

Dissertation Defenses

Please join me in recognizing our Ph.D. students who have recently defended their dissertations (or will very soon)! Congrats all!

Click on the links to find out more about our defenders, their dissertations, and next steps.

  • Tracy Canfield: Metathesis is real, and it is a regular relation (November 2015)
    Advisor: Elizabeth Zsiga
    Committee Members: Youngah Do, Christo Kirov
  • Luke Amoroso: I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I hear it: ACTFL OPI proficiency ratings (November 2015)
    Advisor: Jeff Connor-Linton
    Committee Members: John Norris, Steven Ross (UMD)
  • Haein Park: Language and cognition in monolinguals and bilinguals: A study of spontaneous and caused motion events in Korean and English (October 2015)
    Advisor: Lourdes Ortega
    Committee Members: Andrea Tyler, Cristina Sanz, Scott Jarvis
  • Daniel Ginsberg: Multimodal semiotics of mathematics teaching and learning (October 2015)
    Advisor: Mark Sicoli
    Committee Members: Frederick Erickson, Heidi Hamilton, James Sandefur
  • Shoko Sasayama: Validating the assumed relationship between task design, cognitive complexity, and second language task performance (December 2015)
    Advisor: John Norris
    Committee Members: Darlene Howard, Yoshiko Mori, and Peter Skehan
  • Amelia Tseng: Vowel variation, style, and identity construction in the English of Latinos in Washington, D.C.
    Advisor: Natalie Schilling
    Committee Members: Anna De Fina, Otto Santa Ana (UCLA)
  • Yanyan Cui: Modals in the scope of attitudes: A corpus study of attitude-modal combinations in Mandarin (May 2015)
    Advisor: Paul Portner
    Committee Members: Elena Herburger, Aynat Rubinstein, and Fei Ren
  • Laura West: Facebook 2.0: A sociolinguistic study of Like, coherence, and epistemic stancetaking in Facebook discourse (June 2015)
    Advisor: Heidi Hamilton
    Committee Members: Anna Marie Trester, Deborah Tannen
  • Fathiya Al Rashdi: Forms and functions of Emojis in Whatsapp interaction among Omanis (June 2015)
    Advisor: Deborah Tannen
    Committee Members: Heidi Hamilton, Jennifer Sclafani
  • Yoonsang Song: Second language processing of derivational and inflectional morphology in English: Does L2 fundamentally differ from L1? (May 2015)
    Advisor: Donna Lardiere
    Committee Members: Nan Jiang, Elissa Newport
  • Sinae Lee: Phonetic variation in Washington, DC: Race, neighborhood, and gender (April 2016)
    Advisor: Natalie Schilling
    Committee Members: Heidi Hamilton, Jennifer Nycz, Robert Podesva
  • Marta Baffy: The academic discourse socialization of international lawyers at a U.S. law school (March 2016)
    Advisor: Heidi Hamilton
    Committee Members: Anna De Fina, Craig Hoffman
  • Hillary Harner: Focus and the semantics of desire predicates and directive verbs (March 2016)
    Advisor: Paul Portner
    Committee Members: Steve Kuhn, Elena Herburger
  • Sarah Young: Reframing metalinguistic awareness for low-literate L2 learners: Four case studies (March 2016)
    Advisor: Lourdes Ortega
    Committee members: John Norris, Martha Bigelow
Sarah Young and her advisor, Lourdes Ortega
  • Bokyung Mun: The interaction of modality and tense in Korean (May 2016)
    Advisor: Paul Portner
    Committee Members: Elena Herburger, Miok Pak
  • Edvan Brito: Postvocalic /s/ sociolinguistic variation and stancetaking in Rio de Janeiro Portuguese (May 2016)
    Advisor: Natalie Schilling
    Committee Members: Mark Sicoli, Michael Ferreira
  • Sylvia Sierra: Media references in everyday friend interaction: An interactional sociolinguistic model of intertextuality, epistemics, and identity [Working Title] (June 2016)
    Advisor: Heidi Hamilton
    Committee Members: Cynthia Gordon, Deborah Tannen

Editor’s Note: If you have any corrections, please let me know (

Continue to next section: Updates from GULS & GLSA