Shane Steinert-Threlkeld joined the department in Autumn 2019 as a computational semanticist, with teaching duties in the computational linguistics program. He came to this specialization in a round-about way, double-majoring in Philosophy and Math at Johns Hopkins University with a minor in Computer Science. Although JHU didn’t have a Linguistics Dept, an astute undergraduate advisor there noted his interests in language and suggested advanced study in the philosophy of language, which led to graduate school at Stanford and a PhD in Philosophy and Symbolic Systems. There Shane crafted his own interdisciplinary degree involving psychology, CS, philosophy, and linguistics (semantics and pragmatics) culminating in a 2017 dissertation Communication and Computation: New Questions About Compositionality. After Stanford, Shane spent two years as a post doc at Universiteit van Amsterdam (Institute for Logic, Language and Computation).
Less than two years after settling into UW, Shane has a flourishing research group, the Computation, Language and Meaning Band of Researchers (CLMBR), consisting of both graduate and undergraduate students who share his interdisciplinary interests in computation, cognition and semantics. Shane’s research brings computational methodologies (such as learning simulations of languages) to bear on traditional questions in semantics and pragmatics. He and his collaborators are tackling some of the big questions in the field, such as explaining semantic universals and language evolution, via computational learning experiments involving real vs. contrived languages, modeling (e.g.) the conditions under which human language could evolve. As a bonus, he has found that the methods he has been using for studying the evolution of language can also be used to make progress on unsupervised machine learning