C.M. Downey

PhD Student: Computational Linguistics, University of Washington

About Me

I am currently a PhD student in Computational Linguistics with the University of Washington Department of Linguistics, under the advisement of Dr. Gina-Anne Levow. I also belong to the CLMBR lab group within UW NLP, headed by Shane Steinert-Threlkeld. Before coming to UW, I earned a B.S. in Linguistics and Russian at Tulane University, where I also completed extensive coursework in Computer Science, including algorithmic analysis, machine learning, and computational linguistics.

In my research, I focus on Natural Language Processing outside the bounds of English-only supervised tasks. I am especially interested in NLP for cross-lingual and low-resource settings, and applying NLP to the revitalization of Indigenous and otherwise endangered languages. Specific research projects of mine have spanned:

  • Improving Machine Translation for low-resource and unsupervised settings
  • Developing unsupervised methods segmenting raw text into linguistic-like units
  • Improving the zero-shot transferability of modern crosslingual models to low-resource languages

I aim for the research I conduct to not just advance linguistic science, but also aid in the concrete task of language revitalization among groups who have experienced attrition of their native language due to colonialism and related influences. It is my hope that NLP can be a tool to help Indigenous communities reclaim their languages by making technology-based language-learning easy and accessible for both students and teachers.

For more specific information on my work, please see the CV information and links on this page.


  • Ph.D., Computational Linguistics
    September 2018 - Present

    University of Washington; Advised by Gina-Anne Levow

  • B.S. Linguistics, Russian
    August 2014 - May 2018

    Tulane University; Advised by Charles Mignot and Judith Maxwell


  • University of Washington Department of Linguistics
    September 2018 - Present

    Teaching/Research Assistant; Supervised by Richard Wright

  • Siri Web Answers
    June - September 2020

    Apple. AI|ML Intern; Supervised by Chris DuBois


  • Learning to Translate by Learning to Communicate
    June - September 2021

    UW Royalty Research Fund. Research Assistant; Supervised by Shane Steinert-Threlkeld (PI)

  • University of Washington FLAS Fellowship
    September 2019 - June 2020

    Fellow; Supervised by Nadine Fabbi

  • Low Resource Languages for Emergent Incedents (LORELEI)
    August - October 2019

    DARPA. Research Assistant; Supervised by Gina-Anne Levow

  • Newberry Research Library Summer Institute
    July - August 2019

    Fellow; Supervised by Jenny Davis



  • A Masked Segmental Language Model for Natural Language Segmentation
    April 2021

    C.M. Downey, Fei Xia, Gina-Anne Levow, and Shane Steinert-Threlkeld

    Arxiv Code

Invited Talks

  • Segmental Language Modeling
    April 20 2021

    UW CLMBR Lab Group; Seattle, Washington

  • Archival Work and Language Revitalization at the NCAIS Summer Institute
    December 13 2019

    UW Linguistics Field Reports; Seattle, Washington

  • Dependency vs Phrase-Structure Trees
    October 4 2019

    UW Linguistics Syntax Roundtable; Seattle, Washington

  • Subword Segmentation for Morphologically Complex Languages
    September 28 2019

    UW NLP Retreat; Lake Chelan, Washington


  • LING 575k: Deep Learning for Natural Language Processing
    Spring 2021

    Teaching Assistant: Supervised by Shane Steinert-Threlkeld

  • LING 566: Introduction to Syntax for Computational Linguistics
    Fall 2020

    Teaching Assistant: Supervised by Emily M. Bender

  • LING 200: Introduction to Linguistic Thought
    Fall 2020

    Teaching Assistant: Supervised by Richard Wright, also:

  • ASL 305: Introduction to American Deaf Culture
    Spring 2019

    Grader: Supervised by Lance Forshay

  • LING 406: Introduction to Syntax
    Fall 2018

    Grader: Supervised by Kirby Conrod

Guest Lectures

  • Cross-lingual Language Modeling
    May 26 2021

    as part of LING 575k: Deep Learning for NLP; University of Washington; Instructed by Shane Steinert-Threlkeld

  • Computational Linguistics and Language Revitalization
    May 4 2020

    as part of LING 234: Language and Diversity; University of Washington; Instructed by Lorna Rozelle

  • Computational Linguistics and Language Revitalization
    January 27 2020

    as part of ENGL 4717: NAIS Capstone Seminar; University of Colorado; Instructed by Penelope Kelsey


  • ACL Reviewer-Paper Assignment System
    December 2020 - February 2021

    Research Assistant/Developer: Supervised by Fei Xia