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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre
Areas of Interest: 
Computational semantics
Formal semantics
Machine learning
Philosophy of language
NLP for low-resource languages


I began my undergraduate studies as a mathematician at Trinity College, Cambridge, before switching to a masters in computer science, focusing on computational linguistics.  I then spent one year studying at Saarland University and working at DFKI (the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence), before returning to Cambridge to pursue a PhD under the supervision of Ann Copestake, which I completed in 2018.  I am currently a Research Fellow at Gonville & Caius College, a Departmental Early-Career Academic Fellow at the Department of Computer Science and Technology, and an Executive Director of Cambridge Language Sciences.

I was born in Singapore and grew up in London.  I speak English (native), German (fluent), French (fluent), Hokkien (intermediate), Mandarin (intermediate), and bits and pieces of others, including Greek, Georgian, Swedish, Dutch, and Rhine-Franconian.


The main focus of my research is on semantics.  How should meaning be represented, and how can those representations be learnt?  I approach this with a foot in two worlds: the logical world of formal semantics, and the data-driven world of distributional semantics.  The aim of formal semantics is to develop mathematical models of meaning, with a particular focus on semantic composition and logical inference.  The aim of distributional semantics is to develop computational models of meaning, using algorithms that can be run on a corpus of text.  Combining the two opens up new opportunities.  From the computational perspective, formal semantic structure enables a model to learn and generalise more effectively.  From the formal perspective, a computational model allows us to tackle research questions that would be impossible to handle with pen and paper.

I have more general research interests beyond semantics, including: machine learning (how can models work with structure?), philosophy of language (what does it mean to know a language?), morphosyntax (what are the components of language?), and NLP for low-resource languages (how can we make sure NLP works for everyone?).


Key publications: 

Guy Emerson. 2018. "Functional Distributional Semantics: Learning Linguistically Informed Representations from a Precisely Annotated Corpus". PhD Thesis, University of Cambridge.

Honourable Mention (top 3) for the 2019 E.W. Beth Dissertation Prize.
Highly Commended (top 3) for the 2019 CPHC/BCS Distinguished Dissertation Award.

Three subsequent papers build on the thesis:

Guy Emerson. 2020. "Autoencoding Pixies: Amortised Variational Inference with Graph Convolutions for Functional Distributional Semantics". In Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL). (This paper is summarised in this poster, presented at the June 2020 Language Sciences Symposium.)

Guy Emerson. 2020. "What are the Goals of Distributional Semantics?". In Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL).

Guy Emerson. 2020. "Linguists Who Use Probabilistic Models Love Them: Quantification in Functional Distributional Semantics". In Proceedings of the Probability and Meaning Conference (PaM2020).

Other publications: 

James Hargreaves, Andreas Vlachos, and Guy Emerson. 2021 "Incremental Beam Manipulation for Natural Language Generation". In Proceedings of the 16th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (EACL).

Jun-Yen Leung, Guy Emerson, and Ryan Cotterell. 2020. "Investigating Cross-Linguistic Adjective Ordering Tendencies with a Latent-Variable Model". In Proceedings of the 25th Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP).

Olga Zamaraeva and Guy Emerson. 2020. "Multiple Question Fronting without Relational Constraints: An Analysis of Russian as a Basis for Cross-Linguistic Modeling". In Proceedings of the 27th International Conference on Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG).

Sebastian Borgeaud and Guy Emerson. 2020. "Leveraging sentence similarity in natural language generation: Improving beam search using range voting". In Proceedings of the 4th Workshop on Neural Generation and Translation (WNGT).

Emily M. Bender and Guy Emerson. 2020. "Computational linguistics and grammar engineering". In Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar: The handbook, chapter 28. Language Science Press.

Jeroen Van Hautte, Guy Emerson, and Marek Rei. 2019. "Bad Form: Comparing Context-Based and Form-Based Few-Shot Learning in Distributional Semantic Models". In Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Deep Learning for Low-Resource NLP.

Paula Czarnowska, Guy Emerson, and Ann Copestake. 2019. "Words are Vectors, Dependencies are Matrices: Learning Word Embeddings from Dependency Graphs". In Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Computational Semantics (IWCS).

Guy Emerson and Ann Copestake. 2017. "Semantic Composition via Probabilistic Model Theory". In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Computational Semantics (IWCS).

Guy Emerson and Ann Copestake. 2017. "Variational Inference for Logical Inference". In Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Logic and Machine Learning for Natural Language (LaML).

Guy Emerson and Ann Copestake. 2016. "Functional Distributional Semantics". In Proceedings of the ACL 2016 Workshop on Representation Learning for NLP (RepL4NLP). (see the poster here)

Ann Copestake, Guy Emerson, Michael Wayne Goodman, Matic Horvat, Alexander Kuhnle, and Ewa Muszyńska. 2016. "Resources for Building Applications with Dependency Minimal Recursion Semantics". In Proceedings of 10th International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC).

Guy Emerson and Ann Copestake. 2015. "Lacking Integrity: HPSG as a Morphosyntactic Theory". In Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG).

Guy Emerson and Ann Copestake. 2015. "Leveraging a Semantically Annotated Corpus to Disambiguate Prepositional Phrase Attachment". In Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Computational Semantics (IWCS). (watch the presentation here)

Guy Emerson and Thierry Declerck. 2014. "SentiMerge: Combining Sentiment Lexicons in a Bayesian Framework". In Proceedings of the 2014 COLING Workshop on Lexical and Grammatical Resources for Language Processing.

Guy Emerson, Liling Tan, Susanne Fertmann, Alexis Palmer, and Michaela Regneri. 2014. "SeedLing: Building and using a seed corpus for the Human Language Project". In Proceedings of the 2014 Workshop on the Use of Computational Methods in the Study of Endangered Languages.

Guy Emerson. 2013. "Using Distributional Semantics to Improve Parse Ranking". Master's Thesis, University of Cambridge.

Teaching and Supervisions


I have supervised or lectured the following courses:

  • Machine Learning and Real-World Data (Part IA Computer Science)
  • Formal Models of Language (Part IB Computer Science)
  • Natural Language Processing (Part II Computer Science)
  • Data Science: Principles and Practice (Part II Computer Science)
  • Machine Learning for Language Processing (MPhil / Part III Computer Science)
  • Computational Linguistics (Part II Linguistics)
  • Automata and Formal Languages (Part II Mathematics)
Research supervision: 

For current Cambridge students: I supervise MPhil / Part III dissertations and also Part II dissertations.  See here for previous project suggestions, but feel free to get in touch to discuss any ideas that broadly fit with my research interests.

For prospective PhD students: I am looking for students to work with me on Functional Distributional Semantics (see publications).  I would also be interested in supervising topics where there is a clear linguistic research question, and computational modelling is important for answering that question.  Feel free to get in touch to discuss your ideas.

Other Professional Activities

Member of DELPH-IN.

Co-organiser of SemEval.

Committee member for the Beth Dissertation Prize.

Executive Director, Cambridge Language Sciences
Research Fellow, Gonville & Caius College
Departmental Early-Career Academic Fellow, Department of Computer Science and Technology
Departments and institutes: 
Dr Guy Edward Toh Emerson

Contact Details

Email address: 


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