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 (1962â€“1965) and at the University of Sheffield (1965â€“1971), and then as assistant librarian (1971â€“1980) and sub-librarian (1980â€“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.
Johnâ€™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, (1976â€“1982), he was editor of MT News International, the bulletin of the International Association for Machine Translation (1992â€“1997), president of the European Association for Machine Translation (EAMT, 1995â€“2004) and of the International Association for Machine Translation (IAMT, 1999â€“2001), and editor of the Compendium of Translation Software (1992â€“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 Johnâ€™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 â€”I thinkâ€” 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 Johnâ€™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