Syllabus for Ling773/CMSC773/INST728C, Spring 2020

Syllabus for Ling773/CMSC773/INST728C, Spring 2020
Computational Linguistics II


What's the course about?

This is an advanced course on computational linguistics that presupposes and also complements Computational Linguistics I. The focus of this course is to round out your foundations in computational linguistics. Computational linguistics has two main areas: how to build technology that does useful things with human language (this area is usually referred to as "natural language processing", NLP, or sometimes "human language technology"), and how to improve our scientific understanding of how language works using computational methods and models. We will be looking at both, with an emphasis on conceptual understanding, looking at data, and understanding the ways in which the computational study of language differs from other areas in which computational approaches are being used.

See the schedule of topics for class-by-class plans. In case of an emergency that closes the University for an extended period of time, see Piazza for announcements. As always, the syllabus is subject to revision.


You are assumed to have taken Computational Linguistics I, and therefore also to have met its prerequisites. If you have not taken that class, you should not be taking this class without the instructor's explicit advance permission. Here are some recommended sources for refreshers on background:

I have also constructed a summary of topics covered in Computational Linguistics 1 (Fall 2019), organized in a way that corresponds to the flow of topics in the first part of this semester.

How will class be structured?

I tend to start each class with an opportunity for questions or discussion related to the previous class or assignment. Then it's typically a lecture format, although I strongly encourage interruptions for questions and I also pause for discussions; if the number of interruptions threatens to throw me off track, trust me, I'll make sure to keep things under control. Although there's no avoiding some detail work at the board in a course like this, I don't particularly like slogging through details at the front of a room -- I believe that detailed working-through is your job, either when you're doing the reading ahead of class (which you should make sure to do!), going through things afterwards (also a good idea!), or both. My job is to make sure you understand the ideas, and that you have what you need to work through those details and understand why you're doing it.

Note that I rarely if ever teach with slides. I expect you to take notes. If you're not in class for some reason, I expect you to get the notes you need from someone else. (I may be recording the class, in which case watching the lecture you missed will also be possible.)

How will the course be graded?

Students will be evaluated on their ability to master the content of the material in the course and to think critically about ideas presented to them. That last part is important. My favorite kind of question on a homework or on an exam is one where you're asked to assess pros and cons or to apply something you've learned to a new situation.

I assign final course grades by sorting everyone's total grades, identifying gaps between groups of students, and assigning students within those gaps the same grade. Creating equivalence classes in this way helps to ensure that students who are only a small fraction apart get the same grade. (For example, if three students have course totals of 86.1%, 89.9%, and 90.1%, I believe that its logical and fair for the middle student to be grouped with the student above rather than the student below.) Although there's no guarantee, allowing for that adjustment, letter grades often tend to work out reasonably close to the usual numeric ranges (90+ A, 80+ B, etc.) with plus and minus grades introduced as needed to permit appropriately finer-grained equivalence classes. Components of the total grade are as follows:

These are graded on a coarse 5-point scale, roughly corresponding to great (you totally nailed it, and probably went above and beyond what's required); good (you did everything that's required really well); pass (you did a solid job on everything that's required, mostly well); low pass (there are some parts of the assignment you really didn't seem to get); and fail (you may have done ok on some component of the assignment, but we don't feel like you demonstrated enough mastery of the material to consider the assignment complete). Typically students earn good or pass, although we love to see assignments that earn great. Some of these are one-week assignments, and others might be a multi-week assignment or project; either way the amount of time given for the assignment is calibrated to the amount of work that should be involved and the amount of credit you'll get for the assignment; for example, a particular homework might be described as a two-week assignment, meaning that you'll have two weeks to do it and you'll receive two homeworks' worth of credit for it. Assignments may involve on-paper exercises (e.g. walking through algorithms or calculations), hands-on programming, or analysis of data. In a typical semester there are five or six assignments, mostly during the first half of the semester. Usually the second half of the semester, after the midterm, is focused on the final exam project.

Because we have a mix of people in this class, it's possible that for some homework assignment, the work already be really familiar to you. One possibility would be for you to just treat it as an easy assignment. However, if you're interested in more of a challenge, I am open to your proposing (after reading the assignment) a more advanced variation connected with the assignment's goals. I won't give you more time or extra credit for it (see below on extra credit policies) but if you want to do something in a more useful/interesting way I'm happy to discuss it.

I am comfortable with students working together on assignments in part or in whole, and in fact I encourage it; if you'd like to do that please talk with me in advance so that we can discuss how to make sure you stay on the right side of the university's policies on academic dishonesty.

25%Midterm exam
This will be a take-home exam, and it will not involve programming. We often have a mixture of students, some of whom are able to work most on weekdays, others who really have most of their time on weekends; therefore I typically will hand out the exam at the end of class on Wednesday, and have it due during the weekend. But this does not mean that you're supposed to spend all that time working on the exam. If you have mastered the content and are able to think critically about what we have covered in class, it shouldn't take any more time than typical take-home exams in other classes. I'm just giving you more wall-clock time for your flexibility.
25%Final exam
This will be structured as a significant, long-term team project that will definitely involve programming. It typically involves an open research problem that I will give you. Grading is based on the writeup, so it is extremely important that you devote significant time and attention to quality when writing up the project; don't leave the writing to the last minute.
5%Class participation
I care enough about participation to make it part of the grade. It may be a small part, but it's definitely been known to tip the balance from a B+ grade to an A-, so please don't neglect it. Participation in class and on Piazza both count. This is necessarily subjective, because I am judging both the quantity and quality of your participation, but the calibration is pretty straightforward. Things that push toward the top of the 5-point scale include very regularly asking relevant questions, volunteering answers (even if they're wrong!), and helping make the class discussion interesting. If you show up to class prepared and contribute to the conversation every couple of classes, you'll typically get 3 out of 5 points. If you are regularly sitting in class but participating rarely or not at all, you might get 1 point for showing up. If you don't show up consistently, you'll get zero.
(4%)Extra credit for attending talks
You can earn 0.25% extra credit, up to a cumulative cap of 4%, for attending a relevant talk and turning in a one-page discussion of the talk within one week by posting it on Piazza. (As a rule of thumb, one page is typically 400-500 words.) Attending the Computational Linguistics Colloquium definitely qualifies, and if there are other talks for which you'd like to do this, e.g. NACS, Linguistics, or iSchool speakers that are relevant for the class, ask me ahead of time and I'm happy to consider it, along with other possibilities if you have a legitimate schedule conflict that prevents your attending the CLIP Colloquium.

Getting credit for talks requires not only showing that you were there and actually listening to the talk, but also discussing what you heard in a thoughtful way, e.g. offering a thoughtful opinion (critiques are encouraged!), identifying pros and cons, relating what you heard to things we covered in class, etc. Specifically, the discussion should contain two clearly identified sections: (A) Summary: what the talk was about, and (B) Comments: your discussion. Writeups that just list what the speaker talked about ("The speaker talked about X. Then she talked about Y.") will receive no credit.

Going to relevant talks is a ridiculously easy way to boost your grade and see what's currently going on in the field, so I really encourage it. Every year I'm surprised by some students ignoring this simple opportunity when they really should have taken advantage of it.

ECExtra credit assignments
There will also probably be some extra credit offered. Typically a couple of assignments include some extra credit to boost your grade by up to 10%, and sometimes there might be a whole extra credit assignment worth 50% or even 100% of a homework. (Given the relatively small number of assignments and the grading policy, note that large extra credit assignments can make a big difference in a final course grade.)

CS MS comps. MS comp grades for all students are the same as their final course grade. You really need to pay attention to this, because for CS there is a huge difference between a B+ and an A-. Did I mention that class participation can be really important, even though it's only a small percentage of the grading formula? And that attending talks and doing extra credit are good ways to boost your grade (not to mention get more out of the class)?

Policy for Incomplete Work

Other important notes

Use of electronic devices in class. I recognize that electronic devices (laptops, tablets) can helpful in the classroom, including for note-taking. You are expected to behave as responsible adults, and limit the use of such devices to class-related activities only. Looking up something we're talking about on the fly, e.g. in order to contribute to the conversation, is related to class. Looking at your email or social media, conversing on Slack, writing code, reading a paper, etc., is not, and in fact it's simply rude. Although electronics are allowed for class-related activities, I'd still like to very strongly encourage you not to use electronics at all, since there's definitely evidence that you will learn better without them. (If you're not sure what's ok and what's not, ask me.)

Academic integrity policy. The Honor Code and Honor Pledge prohibit students from cheating on exams, plagiarizing papers, submitting the same paper for credit in two courses without authorization, buying papers, submitting fraudulent documents, and forging signatures. I expect you to follow the academic integrity policy but I am exempting the class from the requirement of hand-writing and signing the honor pledge.

Cheating. What you represent as your own work must be your own work. However, talking with one another to understand the material better is strongly encouraged. Recognizing the distinction between cheating and cooperation is very important. If you simply copy someone else's solution, you are cheating. If you let someone else copy your solution, you are cheating. If someone dictates a solution to you, you are cheating. Everything you hand in must be in your own words, and based on your own understanding of the solution. If someone helps you understand the problem during a high-level discussion, you are not cheating. If you work collaboratively with explicit permission from the instructor, you are not cheating. We strongly encourage students to help one another understand the material presented in class, in the readings, and general issues relevant to the assignments. Any student who is caught cheating will be given an F in the course and referred to the Office of Student Conduct. Please don't take that chance -- if you're having trouble understanding the material, or if you need some help clarifying what is ok to do and what is not, please let us know and we will be more than happy to help.

Accessibility and Disability Service. See for official information. Students with a documented disability should inform me within the add-drop period if academic accommodations will be needed. We will follow a process that involves meeting with me to provide with a copy of the Accommodations Letter and to obtain my signature on the Acknowledgement of Student Request form. We will plan together how accommodations will be implemented throughout the semester. To obtain the required Accommodation Letter, please contact Accessibility and Disability Service (ADS) at 301-314-7682 or

Mental health issues. Let's face it: grad school can be really hard. Sometimes students don't know that they need help, or they somehow know they're in trouble but they don't know what to do about it. What's really important for you to know is that at a big university like this one, you don't need to cope with it alone. There are many people on this campus who know how to help students in all kinds of circumstances. It's their job. Some resources you can take advantage of include the Counseling Center, in the Shoemaker Building, 301-314-7651, and Mental Health Services, in the Health Center, 301-314-8106; the Office of Student Affairs, 301-314-8430, is another place you can connect with to find help of various kinds.

If you are concerned about the behavior of another student, and in particular if you are worried that they might pose a threat to themselves or others, see this page for students concerned about another student.

Names and Pronouns. Many people might go by a name in daily life that is different from their legal name. In this classroom, we seek to refer to people by the names that they go by. Pronouns can be a way to affirm someone's gender identity, but they can also be unrelated to a person's identity. They are simply a public way in which people are referred to in place of their name (e.g. "he" or "she" or "they" or "ze" or something else). In this classroom, you are invited (if you want to) to share what pronouns you go by, and we seek to refer to people using the pronouns that they share. The pronouns someone indicates are not necessarily indicative of their gender identity. Visit to learn more.

Anti-Harassment. The open exchange of ideas, the freedom of thought and expression, and respectful scientific debate are central to the aims and goals of this course. These require a community and an environment that recognizes the inherent worth of every person and group, that fosters dignity, understanding, and mutual respect, and that embraces diversity. Harassment and hostile behavior are unwelcome in any part of this course. This includes: speech or behavior that intimidates, creates discomfort, or interferes with a person’s participation or opportunity for participation in the conference. We aim for this course to be an environment where harassment in any form does not happen, including but not limited to: harassment based on race, gender, religion, age, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Harassment includes degrading verbal comments, deliberate intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Please contact an instructor or staff member if you have questions or if you feel you are the victim of harassment (or otherwise witness harassment of others), or see this page for pointers to relevant resources.

Please note that as "responsible university employees" faculty are required to report any disclosure of sexual misconduct, i.e., they may not hold such disclosures in confidence. Campus Advocates Respond and Educate (CARE) to Stop Violence provides free confidential (including anonymous) advocacy and therapy services to primary and secondary survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, and sexual harassment; they are not an official reporting entity but rather a resource that can help navigate options and provide connection to appropriate resources; their General Information contact info is (301) 314-2222 ( with a crisis cell contact number at (301) 741-3442. The University of Maryland’s Sexual Misconduct Policy can be found at

Religious holidays. Please send the TA (email above, cc the instructor) a list of all holidays you observe during the semester by the end of the first week of classes, so they can be taken into account in the course schedule.

Emergency protocol. If the university is closed for an extended period of time, we will discuss how the course will be continued on Piazza.

Course evaluations. I welcome your suggestions for improving this class, so please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts during the semester! You will also be asked to give feedback using the CourseEvalUM system at the end of the semester.

Basic needs security. Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in this course, is encouraged to use the resources listed below for support. Students are better served and supported when such circumstances are shared with the professor. Please consider sharing your situation with your professor who may be able to assist you in finding the appropriate resources.

Use of student work.Your completed work may be used by me in this or subsequent semesters for educational purposes. Before making such use of your work, I will either get your written permission, or render the work anonymous by removing all your personal identification from the material.

Right to change information. Although every effort has been made to be complete and accurate, unforeseen circumstances arising during the semester could require the adjustment of any material given here. Consequently, given due notice to students, the instructor reserves the right to change any information on this syllabus or in other course materials. If you have concerns about any changes please discuss them with the instructor.

Philip Resnik, Professor
Department of Linguistics and Institute for Advanced Computer Studies

Department of Linguistics
1401 Marie Mount Hall            
University of Maryland             Linguistics phone: (301) 405-7002
College Park, MD 20742 USA	   Linguistics fax:   (301) 405-7104	   E-mail: