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Obituary: W. John Hutchins, librarian and historian of MT

It is with deep sadness that I have just read that last January, 19, 2021, Dr. William John Hutchins passed away at the age of 81. 

John, a linguist and information scientist, was born in St. Pancras, London, on January 27, 1939. He graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in French and German at the University of Nottingham in 1960 and obtained a diploma in librarianship at University College London in 1962. 

He worked as assistant librarian at Durham University (1962–1965) and at the University of Sheffield (1965–1971), and then as assistant librarian (1971–1980) and sub-librarian (1980–1998) at the University of East Anglia.

In 2000 he obtained his PhD degree at the University of East Anglia. In addition to authoring numerous articles in journals and conferences about machine translation since 1963, he is particularly well known for the book An Introduction to Machine Translation (1992) which he co-authored with Harold Somers.

John’s service to the machine translation community, most of it after retirement, has been outstanding. After serving as editor of the UEA Papers in Linguistics, (1976–1982), he was editor of MT News International, the bulletin of the International Association for Machine Translation (1992–1997), president of the European Association for Machine Translation (EAMT, 1995–2004) and of the International Association for Machine Translation (IAMT, 1999–2001), and editor of the Compendium of Translation Software (1992–2012).

John leveraged his experience as a librarian and machine translation scholar to become the librarian and the historian of the field of machine translation. In the last few decades, he was the curator of one of the best resources about machine translation, the Machine Translation Archive. The service is temporarily offline but the IAMT is working hard to host it again as soon as possible and has commissioned the transformation and transfer of a large part of the information to the ACL Anthology, some of which is already available there.

The International Association for Machine Translation has recognized John’s dedication twice, first with the IAMT Award of Honour (2001) and with a unique Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

Harold (Harry) Somers, who was professor of Language Engineering at the University of Manchester and editor of the journal Machine Translation, says:

John was a truly great and important contributor to the field of machine translation, in his own unique way. I was fortunate enough to have him as a collaborator when we produced what was —I think— the first genuine text book for students of MT. I like to think that students found that book useful, even after the statistical MT revolution made a good number of the chapters fairly quickly out of date. What perhaps many did not realise is that John’s work on MT was entirely a labour of love, a kind of hobby, all completed in his own spare time: his job as a librarian did not include working on the MT Archive, nor I think did his employers properly realise and reward his fantastic contribution to the field. We were extremely fortunate to benefit from his skills: from a scientific viewpoint he was an informed observer free of any of the prejudices of the developer or researcher with his own theories and approaches to push. I have been away from the field for a good few years now, but working with John was certainly a highlight of my career, and I am sure his memory will be honoured far into the future.

Tony Clarke, treasurer of the EAMT for so many years, says:

I can only endorse all that has been already said about John and his academic achievements. I was always struck by his warmth and humility and his unassuming manner. Even though he was basically a fairly shy person, once you got talking to him, he could really open up and even surprise you with a joke or two. My wife, Susanne, used to talk to him about England and had some really interesting conversations.  I simply remember John as a warm-hearted and pleasant companion whom I am blessed and honoured to have known.  May he rest In peace.

Viggo Hansen, who has been part of EAMT for decades, as conference organizer, secretary, and recently as co-opted counsellor to the EAMT president adds:

I met John at the MT Summit in Luxembourg in 1995, when John was elected EAMT president. I am not a linguist but a user (at that time one of the few) using MT commercially. I had the pleasure to be the EAMT secretary during John’s nine years as EAMT President. When being with John you were in good company. He was an extremely interesting person and had a very broad range of interests. When we had talked enough about MT we could always relax in a good talk about football.

I met John in Exeter, in a workshop called MT 2000, which he had organized, and then many other times during these years. It was always a great pleasure to chat with such a nice, knowledgeable, and generous man. The last time I spent some time with John was at his home in Norwich, in 2017. He showed me how he planned to scan and catalogue shelves and shelves of historical machine translation publications and add them to the Archive. By the way, as my predecessor Andy Way points out, as a Norwich City FC season ticket holder, John would have been delighted to see the Canaries promoted again to the Premier League, after winning the Championship last Saturday.

I feel hugely indebted to John Hutchins, and I think many of you in the machine translation community do too. We will have to work together to preserve and continue his work on our behalf.

Sit ei terra levis.
Mikel L. Forcada
President of the European Association for Machine Translation
May 13, 2021

EAMT best thesis award

[UPDATED] The Anthony C. Clarke Award for the 2020…

The European Association for Machine Translation (EAMT, http://www.eamt.org) is an organization that serves the growing community of people interested in MT and translation tools, including translators, users, developers, and researchers of this increasingly viable technology.

The EAMT invites entries for its ninth EAMT Best Thesis Award for a PhD or equivalent thesis on a topic related to machine translation.

Previous year winners can be found at http://www.eamt.org/best_thesis.php.

Eligibility

Researchers who

  • have completed a PhD (or equivalent) thesis on a relevant topic in a European, Northern African or Middle Eastern institution within calendar year 2020,
  • have not previously won another international award for that thesis, and,
  • are members of the EAMT at the time of submission,

are invited to submit their theses to the EAMT for consideration.

Panel

The submissions will be judged by a panel of experts who will be specifically appointed, based on the EAMT 2020 program committee, and which will be ratified by the Executive Board of the EAMT.

Selection criteria

Each thesis will be judged according to how challenging the problem was, to how relevant the results are for machine translation as a field, and to the strength of their impact in terms of scientific publications.

Scope

The scope of the thesis does not need to be confined to a technical area, and applications are also invited from students who carried out their research into commercial and management aspects of machine translation.

Possible areas of research include:

  • development of machine translation or advanced computer-assisted translation: methods, software or resources
  • machine translation for less-resourced languages
  • the use of these systems in professional environments (freelance translators, translation agencies, localisation, etc.)
  • the increasing impact of machine translation on non-professional Internet users and its impact in communications, social networking, etc.
  • spoken language translation
  • the integration of machine translation and translation memory systems
  • the integration of machine translation software in larger IT applications
  • the evaluation of machine translation systems in real tasks such as those above
  • the cross-fertilisation between machine translation and other language technologies

Prize

The winner will be announced on the 5th of September 2021 and will receive a prize of €500, together with an inscribed certificate. The recipient of the award will be required to briefly present their research at EAMT 2022. In order to facilitate this, the EAMT will waive the winner’s registration costs, and will make available a travel bursary of €200 to enable the recipient of the award to attend the said conference. The prize includes complimentary membership in the EAMT for 2021 and 2022.

Submission

Candidates will submit using EasyChair: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=eamt2021 (Submission type: Thesis Award), a single PDF file containing:

  • a 2-page summary of your thesis in English, containing:
    • your full contact details,
    • the name and contact details of your supervisor(s),
  • a copy of your CV in English (at most one page, plus a complete list of publications directly related to the thesis)
  • an electronic copy of your thesis
  • optionally, an appendix with any other relevant information on the thesis

By submitting their work, authors

  • agree that, in case they are granted the award, any subsequently published version of the thesis should carry the citation “The Anthony C. Clarke Award for the 2020 EAMT Best Thesis” and
  • acknowledge the right of the EAMT to publicize the granting of the award.

For this year Best Thesis Award we are requiring candidates to be an individual EAMT member at the time of submission. For EAMT memberships, please visit: http://www.eamt.org/membership.php.

The closing date for submissions will be the same as the deadline for EAMT 2021 research papers (to be announced).

Closing date

  • Submission deadline: June 30, 2021, 23:59 CEST.
  • Award notification: September 5, 2021.

[1] Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.
[2] Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.