Julia Watson


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Investigating Online Community Engagement through Stancetaking
Jai Aggarwal | Brian Diep | Julia Watson | Suzanne Stevenson
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023

Much work has explored lexical and semantic variation in online communities, and drawn connections to community identity and user engagement patterns. Communities also express identity through the sociolinguistic concept of stancetaking. Large-scale computational work on stancetaking has explored community similarities in their preferences for stance markers – words that serve to indicate aspects of a speaker’s stance – without considering the stance-relevant properties of the contexts in which stance markers are used. We propose representations of stance contexts for 1798 Reddit communities and show how they capture community identity patterns distinct from textual or marker similarity measures. We also relate our stance context representations to broader inter- and intra-community engagement patterns, including cross-community posting patterns and social network properties of communities. Our findings highlight the strengths of using rich properties of stance as a way of revealing community identity and engagement patterns in online multi-community spaces.

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What social attitudes about gender does BERT encode? Leveraging insights from psycholinguistics
Julia Watson | Barend Beekhuizen | Suzanne Stevenson
Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Much research has sought to evaluate the degree to which large language models reflect social biases. We complement such work with an approach to elucidating the connections between language model predictions and people’s social attitudes. We show how word preferences in a large language model reflect social attitudes about gender, using two datasets from human experiments that found differences in gendered or gender neutral word choices by participants with differing views on gender (progressive, moderate, or conservative). We find that the language model BERT takes into account factors that shape human lexical choice of such language, but may not weigh those factors in the same way people do. Moreover, we show that BERT’s predictions most resemble responses from participants with moderate to conservative views on gender. Such findings illuminate how a language model: (1) may differ from people in how it deploys words that signal gender, and (2) may prioritize some social attitudes over others.


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Say Anything: Automatic Semantic Infelicity Detection in L2 English Indefinite Pronouns
Ella Rabinovich | Julia Watson | Barend Beekhuizen | Suzanne Stevenson
Proceedings of the 23rd Conference on Computational Natural Language Learning (CoNLL)

Computational research on error detection in second language speakers has mainly addressed clear grammatical anomalies typical to learners at the beginner-to-intermediate level. We focus instead on acquisition of subtle semantic nuances of English indefinite pronouns by non-native speakers at varying levels of proficiency. We first lay out theoretical, linguistically motivated hypotheses, and supporting empirical evidence, on the nature of the challenges posed by indefinite pronouns to English learners. We then suggest and evaluate an automatic approach for detection of atypical usage patterns, demonstrating that deep learning architectures are promising for this task involving nuanced semantic anomalies.