Hadas Kotek is a computational linguist working on Natural Language Understanding at Apple and a research affiliate at MIT. Prior to joining Apple, she taught at Yale University and New York University. She holds a BA in Political Science and Linguistics from Tel-Aviv University and a PhD in Linguistics from MIT. Her main research interests concern syntactic theory and the syntax-semantics interface, broadly construed, focusing more specifically on A-bar constructions, scope-taking, and the architecture of grammar. Kotek is the junior chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in Linguistics (COSWL) and a founding organizer of the Pop-Up Mentoring Program (PUMP).

The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

When did you first join the LSA?

I first became a member in 2009, my first year as a graduate student in the US.

How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined?

My main involvement has been around efforts to promote gender diversity and inclusion in Linguistics. I’ve been an active member of the Committee on the Status of Women in Linguistics (COSWL) for several years, and recently started serving as the junior chair of the committee. Together with five other COSWL members, I helped found the Pop-Up Mentoring Program (PUMP) which organizes ad-hoc mentoring meetings at linguistics conferences, for which we received the LSA Linguistic Service Award in 2019. I’ve also attended every Annual Meeting for the past 10 years, as well as several SALT conferences, and am a member of the editorial board of Semantics & Pragmatics, which is an LSA journal.

What are you currently researching/working on?

I am currently employed at Apple, working on Natural Language Understanding for Siri. In my free time, I still engage in lots of academic projects. I am someone who always has multiple projects in various stages of the publication process, usually in collaboration with others. My main research interest is the syntax-semantics interface, broadly construed, including A-bar constructions, scope-taking, and the architecture of grammar. Right now, I have a project with Bob Frank (Yale) developing various arguments for why syntactic structure-building is better conceived of as a top-down procedure instead of the more common bottom-up process it’s usually assumed to be. I have a project with my student Josh Phillips (Yale) on the semantics of the English discourse-connective otherwise. I have a few ongoing projects with Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (National University of Singapore) on relative clause semantics, pied-piping, and focus intervention effects. And I have a project of my own recasting some focus intervention effects in terms of constraints on how movement and focus interact.

I additionally have two related projects on gender representation in linguistics with two sets of collaborators (Rikker Dockum, Sarah Babinski, and Chris Geissler; and Paola Cépeda, Katharina Pabst, and Kristen Syrett), which document vast gender disparities and tendencies toward stereotypes in linguistics example sentences. These latter projects were inspired by work by COSWL members Colleen Brice and Monica Macauley published in Language over 20 years ago showing the same biases. I hope that this new work can create the push we need to make significant changes for the better, so that when someone comes along 20 years from now and asks what has changed since our work, the answer will this time be a resounding “a lot!”. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today?

Internally, our field is fragmented in various ways. Some subfields are considered “core” and others are “peripheral.” Some theories and approaches are “mainstream” and others are “alternative.” Some voices are heard more loudly than others. And who gets to decide what matters? In many ways, linguistic researchers are not representative of the languages and communities that we study and live in, and we perpetuate our own biases (including implicit) if we are not careful. This is something that the field –– often through activities related to the LSA –– has begun to seriously reflect on in the past few years. I am hopeful for the future based on the conversations and reactions I’ve seen thus far, although I think we still have some work to do here.

Externally, the field of linguistics sometimes struggles to show its relevancy to the broader academic community and, importantly, to the non-academic world. Although it is clear to us linguists how and why language is central to various aspects of human life and to society, we haven’t been doing a good enough job broadcasting that more broadly. We therefore struggle to train students for the variety of (fulfilling, engaging, enriching!) non-academic jobs and careers that a linguistics degree can prepare them for. With the academic job market being what it is, this latter point is key for the success of the field. The good news here, I think, is that the field is becoming increasingly aware of this issue. More and more graduate programs are actively working to provide opportunities for their students to explore these other career options.

What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members? To the field?

For a small field, Linguistics is incredibly diverse in the kinds of questions we ask and in our approaches to answering them. I value the LSA’s big-tent approach, which is clearly on display at the Annual Meetings, in the course offerings at LSA Summer Institutes, and in the articles published in Language. The LSA is also best poised to push forward efforts for equity and inclusion in the field for all individuals, including promoting gender-diverse, queer, and POC researchers, addressing the concerns of early-career linguists and students, and truly listening to, learning from, and supporting the growth of other minoritized communities. 

Is there anything else you'd like to say to the LSA membership as a whole?

Every one of us has the ability to improve our own community, in ways large and small. The LSA has many active committees working to represent and promote diverse aspects of linguistics. Each one of us can act as a mentor in a PUMP event, supporting those who are in earlier career stages than us: senior graduate students can provide invaluable advice to more junior students; early year graduate students can help undergraduates who are considering a PhD; postdocs and lecturers can support students who are planning their first steps into the job market; and professors at various points on the tenure ladder can support those who are following in their footsteps. We can all also reflect on our various choices in our daily life: Who do we choose to cite and who do we leave out? Who do we teach in our classes? Who do we advise and who do we hire as research assistants and colleagues? What content do we choose to represent in example sentences in our classrooms and papers – who are the protagonists, what activities are they involved in? Are they engaging in stereotypes and biases or facilitating an inclusive atmosphere? A little extra thought devoted to these questions can go a long way.