ANNOTATED. episode 02: T. R. Williamson
ANNOTATED. episode 02: T. R. Williamson

ANNOTATED. episode 02: T. R. Williamson


00:00 - 28:20



    Listen to JoULAB Editor Lydia Wiernik speak with T.R. Williamson, author of Volume 1, Issue 1's The Graded Co-Salience Hypothesis for Polysemous Ambiguity. You can read Tom's paper at Stay up to date with Tom on Twitter @tomrwilliamson or on his website, Keep in touch with JoULAB, too: Twitter/Instagram: @ULAB_Journal Email: [email protected] Background music by Sergii Pavkin/SergePavkinMusic on Pixabay.



    language science




    Lydia Wiernik: Welcome to Annotated, the podcast of the Undergraduate Linguistics Association of Britain. I'm Lydia Wiernik, editor of JoULAB, and today I'll be speaking with T.R. Williamson, whose paper The Graded Co-Salience Hypothesis for Polysemous Ambiguity was published in Volume 1, Issue 1 of the Journal. Our mission at JoULAB is to provide these same publishing opportunities for many more students to come. We hope that the behind-the-scenes insight from our authors helps demystify the process and encourages listeners to get their work out there. Thanks so much for being here. It's a pleasure to feature you on Annotated. So, if you could first introduce yourself, past and present, so where you were when you had your paper published and where you are now. T. R. Williamson: My name's Tom. When I had the paper published in JoULAB, I was at, well no, when I wrote it, I was at Lancaster. I was in the final year of my BA in Linguistics and Philosophy, and when it was published, I was in the midst of my Master's at Cambridge in Linguistics. And where I am now, I guess, well, it's a couple of things. I'm currently a PhD student in Linguistics between the University of the West of England and Southmead Hospital, which is in Bristol, on a project combining, in a really cool way, linguistics and neurosurgery, which is really exciting. I am also a research assistant at labs in the University of Oxford and the University of Southern California, which is, you know, very exciting. And I also work for an English language proficiency testing company as a consultant. LW: What kind of work are you doing at the labs in the States? TW: Good question. I work in a lab called the Centre for the Neuroscience of Embodied Cognition. It's led by a really incredible researcher called Lisa Aziz-Zadeh, and we're working on a project investigating the processing of colour metaphors in colourblind and colour-seeing people to see if there's any difference and to work out what we can understand about how people form their semantic concepts of things, including the semantic concepts of colour, but also the concepts that we just sort of experience in day-to-day life that may have nothing to do with colour, and then specifically what we might be able to grasp from people's ascriptions of colour to things that aren't ordinarily colourful. And we're getting some really interesting results across these two specific participant groups, but I won't spoil the results. LW: Will there be a paper published that we can follow up with then? TW: Yes, yes, there is. We've been working on this for, I think, like 15, 16 months now, and we're at the latter stages of this particularly exploratory stage, and we're hoping to start writing the manuscript soon. LW: So you've got quite a niche interest in linguistics. How did you come to this work? Were you inspired by ULAB or JoULAB in any capacity? TW: No, not really influenced by ULAB or JoULAB. I am fascinated by the brain, and I'm fascinated by meaning, and I want to study those two things from as many different points of view as possible. LW: So meaning seems to kind of underlie a lot of your work, including your undergraduate work. So this is quite a good dovetail into the paper itself for JoULAB. Tell us a bit about that paper. What was it initially written for? TW: Well, it wasn't really written for anything beyond the manuscript or publication. It represents a line of analysis, or maybe one specific idea that came from my undergraduate dissertation. The data I got in this experiment presented this extension of an existing theory in psycholinguistics about lexical access. Basically, the paper's called, which is a very fancy title, makes me sound a bit pretentious for sure, The Graded Co-Salience Hypothesis for Polysemous Ambiguity. I mean, that doesn't sound like it means anything, or it doesn't sound very clear. So I guess what I basically tried to do was, in my dissertation, analyse instances of words that have quite a few similar meanings. They're called polysemes. This is the adjective which is polysemous, or the noun being polysemy. And when I did this, I came across a number of unique features of the words that were really highly polysemous, and really not polysemous at all. And I ended up trying to look at the individual features based on the corpus data that I was going from, and found that there was a really striking diametrical position between the features of the ones that are really polysemous and the ones that really weren't. And so that's what I was trying to do. I was trying to characterise polysemous words based on corpus frequencies. LW: So what stages did your paper go through before publication? You said that it was a line of thought from your dissertation. So did you take a chapter from that diss, or did you start just writing something completely new? TW: A lot of the start was more new writing, because the data I already had, and the analysis that you find in the later discussion and conclusion sections, I already had. But to create a compelling narrative, you have to frame your research in a particular way. You have to describe what came before it, and what contribution you're trying to make. In this particular instance, I was trying to add a section to the theory that's called the graded salience hypothesis, which is why mine is the graded co-salience hypothesis, because we're talking about specifically polysemous words that have co-salient senses. Once I had that, I basically had the manuscript. LW: It sounds like you had a really clear idea of what you wanted to do and where you wanted this to go. And I'm sure it was helpful to have the data that you had from your dissertation. Have you used that data for further work since then, or have you moved on from that experiment and the data set? TW: Yeah, that's a good question. I never thought to do it again. But I actually feel like I want to look at it again more. This is basically a theoretical paper using data from corpora that makes claims about the psychological reality of the mental lexicon with respect to the polysemous entries within that lexicon. And I guess I should have just actually tried to test the experiment there. I didn't think to. LW: So we've talked a bit about what you've written, but I'd like to know a bit more about how you write. So in terms of your writing process, do you always have the same process, or do you tackle different types of papers or ideas different ways? TW: That's a good question. I think the start of any writing process is not writing at all, it's just reading. And I have a very specific reading process. I have a spreadsheet that has a number of specific column headings that I copy information from each paper I read into. In a way that means I can sort of have my memory outside of my brain on my computer sort of thing. You know, this is the very famous extended mind hypothesis from the philosophy of mind. Clark and Chalmers, I think that is. I definitely subscribe to this idea. The idea is basically that the things outside your skull that benefit your cognition are part of your mind. So like your diaries, your phone, in this case this spreadsheet, I'm happy to subscribe to that philosophy. And in the same way, I use that as part of my writing process. Once I have all of the things that I read that I want to include, I will then do bullet points basically, and then continuously flesh out bullet points into paragraphs, and then into like longer pieces. But the other side of it is often, you know, sometimes in papers I've written, I'll just start writing, and then stop and come back to it, and then come back and re-edit, and then no academic will want to admit this, but you know, it is definitely the case that people, aside after making a claim, you know, that people definitely will be like, ah, I want to make this argument, and I have no idea who said this, but I'm going to find it. LW: Let's talk a bit about your involvement with ULAB and JoULAB. Not only were you published in the Journal, you were its first editor when it launched, so you got a really unique experience with both sides of the Journal, the inner workings and the finished product. So to start, how did you become involved with ULAB and JoULAB? TW: Oh, that's a long story. I got involved with ULAB over four years ago now. I was the institutional representative for Lancaster University, and during that time I really enjoyed it, and I tried to get involved as much as I could. And then in 2020, during the unfortunate pandemic years, I became the archivist after Jamie Bailey, who was the first one. And as the archivist, I was sort of more ambitious than I should have been, perhaps, and said, I know what I want to do. I want to start an academic journal and a magazine at the same time. And so thus, with the help of many other people like Cliodhna Hughes and Bran Papineau, with respect to the Journal specifically, I started JoULAB, and with others, I started the magazine, the U-Lingua magazine. And that led me down a whole different path that I never thought I'd go down because these were incredibly rewarding projects. And having those experiences has definitely helped me grow as a person in terms of the experience I've gotten and the analytical skills that I've gained and the the difference I'm able to illustrate that I've made. You know, these projects, being able to say that I did them, they helped get me jobs, right? This is something I would always stress to any undergraduate considering involvement with any organisation is that as long as you can prove you made a good impact, it's going to benefit you and your career in the future. So in terms of how these experiences have affected my understanding of things like reviewing, for example, after having been both an author and effectively a reviewer, I can say that, you know, when actually reviewing papers, I would be a lot kinder, I'd be a lot more sympathetic to the person that I am aware is behind the writing that I'm reading. People in linguistics will know that linguistics is a field that likes to attack itself and each other. And this is something that I think we as reviewers and we as undergraduate linguists, if we're going to be postgraduate and then career linguists, we can make active strides to change by just changing our practices, just realising that actually we can just disagree with someone agreeably. LW: For sure. So you've had a ton of roles across ULAB and JoULAB in various different capacities doing very different things. Do you have a favourite role of those? I know that might be a bit difficult to break down. TW: I have to say I think co-founding JoULAB was a massive privilege. We achieved so much, not only in terms of how many papers we processed and published, but more importantly, how widely we've been able to spread the message about the journal, I think. And, you know, it feels really great to be a part of something that's just trying to do good. You know, in this instance, we're just trying to provide opportunities to undergraduate students in linguistics to have their exceptional research published. And I'm not saying that it's just exceptional research published. I'm saying that undergraduates are doing exceptional research and that you should be proud of that. And we want to show that off. LW: Absolutely. I feel the same way. So we're going to take a minute now to shift gears slightly. Prior to the interview, you mentioned to me that you wanted to speak a bit about autism in academia. So I'll hand over to you now to have some time and space to speak about this. TW: Yeah, sure. I think this is important because there is a quite pervading stigma about being autistic in wider society. And I have experienced this myself without really realising. And I think it's borne out best with an article that was published last year in a journal called Disability and Society by a group of researchers led by someone called Sosa. And this review essentially looked at disability and specifically autism research. And demonstrated how humanising it is portrayed, you know, autism is portrayed as in even academic circles. So there are a couple of quotes I think might really resonate. So in one paper, autistic people were described as an economic burden. Another described autistic people as being subhuman and needing rebuilding as proper humans. There was one paper published in 2016, recently, right, this is in the 70s or 80s, that said, quote, they exhibit less marked domestic traits at the morphological, physiological and behavioural levels, less domesticated. And there are, of course, older papers that support the use of eugenics programmes unless autistic people are sort of economically productive or neurotypical-seeming. And, you know, this is in modern research, this is what autistic people are fighting against. You know, there are people, very famous researchers who are quoted in this review article, like Stephen Pinker and Sir Simon Baron-Cohen. These are household names. There's a complete lack of awareness of the scale and nature of the individual disabilities that autism can come with. To bring this round in a more relevant way, I think being autistic can help. It can help you structure ambiguities because people with autism don't like things being unstructured and ambiguous. It can help you with intense periods of concentration because people on the spectrum in general are in hyper-focus. But on the other hand, there are many ways that being autistic holds you back. And we can treat it as a disability. I don't necessarily think that the term autistic and disability are linked in people's minds because they see geniuses who have autism and think, ah, they're not disabled, but no. One thing for certain with me, at least, is I never really understand what a given type of assignment or application to a job or what specific role requires from me until I've seen explicitly and exactly how to do it best. Otherwise, I guess I kind of flounder without that clarity. You know, I spend a while working out exactly how to do something. And then once I'm at that stage, I can do it really well. But it's not the same for a lot of other people who are perhaps neurotypical, who can intuit these things, you know. And I've also had to learn very explicit details, rules of interaction or different acceptabilities of jokes or different expectations of minimum effort, different levels of politeness, which can vary by geographical region. They can vary by profession. They can vary by age. They can vary by the register with which you expect to speak to somebody. And, you know, when you multiply all that together, that's a lot of rules to learn, you know. And I never even realised until I was diagnosed with autism that people don't have to do that. That just comes naturally. And I guess it would be a story about how to thrive and flourish with autism that would tell about how one has to learn these individual rules. Because once you have them, you can thrive and flourish. But without them, it's very complicated to navigate different social and professional groups without being abrasive. And I've always really wanted to be able to not be abrasive. So I've always desperately tried to learn these individual rules and mannerisms and whatever. But I guess the stigma that comes with a lot of people that have autism is a consequence of how they don't do that. And that's not in any way a criticism at all. I'm just saying that the reality of being autistic is experiencing being abrasive. And it's horrible and it makes progressing in academia really difficult. And why does it make it so difficult? Because I guess like many professions, to be fair, academia is based so much on who you know and what the right thing to be doing is. It relies so much on having a mentor early on trust you and like you and push you in the ways that they know will help you be successful. And it relies so much on doing the right research, answering the specific questions that people who will eventually perhaps end up hiring you or giving you opportunities want to ask and answer themselves. It's not just a question of merit and connections themselves will take you so much further than the merit alone. And as someone who's autistic, you would never realise that until you've seen it. And that is where I am, I guess, in my journey through academia as someone with autism is that sort of nugget of information that if you want to get through academia or any real tough profession to navigate, you have to learn these sort of specific facts. And, you know, it's taken a long time for me, it feels, to get to a point where I understand how that sort of side of things works. I think sharing the story of and tips about empowering someone who's autistic to thrive in professional life in general, not just in academia, is so important because people like me need to know the rules about how this shit works. It's really tough when you have no idea about how to navigate these situations. I remember spending hours writing emails, sitting in my chair, closing my eyes really tight and just trying to imagine the other person's perspective, the person I was with. That's not easy. It's like I would sit here and go, how do I write an email in a way that they would like to receive one? Or I remember prepping for hours before supervisor meetings, thinking every possible thing they might say to me because I had no idea how things go and what they would expect from me. And I'm sure that's the same for neurotypical people as well, because as an undergraduate, any meeting with a supervisor or an academic is nerve-wracking and intimidating and foreign. The difference is that when you're autistic, you can't pick up on the social cues before or during about how to modulate your behaviour in a way that would be the most felicitous. LW: Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives and thoughts on this. I think talking about being neurodiverse in academia helps reduce the stigma that is still so pervasive and can help everyone, neurodivergent and neurotypical alike, to better understand ourselves and each other. Like you say, you need to know the rules for things and so do many others. So supporting each other by sharing these experiences can only be beneficial. So this just about brings us to the end of the interview. So I have one concluding question for you. Drawing on all your experiences in writing and publishing and academia in general, if you could give undergraduate just one piece of advice, what would be that one most important thing you'd want them to know? TW: Yeah, one thing immediately comes to mind and it is essentially a difference maker for being a good or even an average and then a great PhD student. And it's nothing to do with being a good researcher or getting good grades. It's about understanding how to project manage. I think there are lots of PhD students who don't enter the world of work outside of academia before doing a PhD. And there's a clear bias that supervisors often show towards people who have done a job and then want to do a PhD. And the reason is that when you leave academia, even for a little bit, you get a "real job". You learn so much about operating within the corporate environment that will help you succeed a lot. One specific thing is managing up, understanding how to get your managers or academia supervisors for a doctoral project to help you in the way that you know is best for you. Or managing a project, understanding what the steps are that need to happen for something to succeed and understanding the levers you can pull within a particular organisation or institution, if it's perhaps a university, to get you certain resources that you need to succeed. If I can give one piece of advice to undergraduates or masters students, or even PhD students who are listening to this, who want to become better, or in the future, perhaps be better PhD students, I would say, learn how to project manage. It's going to be the difference between having a nightmare time as a PhD student where you scramble through uncertainty and change your project three times and spend countless sleepless nights working out how to do something and being able to treat your PhD like a 9 to 5 where you have a very clear plan and a very clear question that you want to ask and very clear methods that you want to use to answer that question. That's my one bit of advice. LW: Thank you so much. It's been such a pleasure to speak with you today and hear your insight on publishing and academia and everything in between. Where can we keep in touch with you? Do you have a website or anything else you'd like to promote? TW: Yeah, you can follow me on Twitter, if you like. Sometimes I get a bit angry about politics, but it's @tomrwilliamson, all lowercase with no breaks. I have a website which is if you want to check me out, but I don't know if you'd get any benefit from that. But yeah, that's me. LW: Thank you so much. ANNOTATED. is the podcast of the Undergraduate Linguistics Association of Britain. This series focuses on JoULAB, our journal, and its authors. JoULAB is the world's only journal publishing solely undergraduate research in all areas of linguistics. We accept everything from squibs to write-ups to dissertations, as long as the bulk of the work was completed when you were an undergrad. We also have a website where you can find all the articles and articles that was completed when you were an undergrad. You can still submit work you've done during your degree if you've graduated, as long as no more than three years have passed since you were an undergraduate. We're always looking for new submissions from undergraduates and PhD students to review that work. Interested? Find out more on our website, or you can find us on Twitter and Instagram at ulab underscore journal. If you have any questions or want to get in touch, you can dm us or email us at [email protected].