On Friday 25 April 2014, John Nerbonne received Royal Decoration. Nerbonne has been appointed Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion.
John Nerbonne (1951) is professor of Computational Linguistics. His field is located on the interface between computer science, linguistics and cognitive sciences. Nerbonne is remarkable because he links his huge technical expertise to linguistic research.
Since 1989 Nerbonne has been involved with very high level research, first as a visiting professor at the Hewlett Packard laboratories, and since 1993 at the University of Groningen. He combines computational linguistics with dialectology in a unique and innovative way – so much so that his approach is now known as the Groningen School. This is only one aspect of his research; Nerbonne is much more broadly orientated. He is a pioneer in the uniting of methods from computer science and computational biology with the field of language variation and language change. He has turned the Groningen computational linguistics research group into one of the strongest in Europe. Nerbonne is one of the five most cited researchers at the Faculty of Arts and always achieves outstanding scores during visitations. Nerbonne’s exceptional ability to attract good research projects has played a major role in this. In the past twenty years he has caused the degree programme in Computational Linguistics, which used to be called Humanities Computing, to flourish and converted it from a specialization into fully fledged Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes.
Nerbonne has proved to be a skilled administrator and an initiative taker. Right from the start he has played a leading role in LOT, the national Research School in Linguistics. In addition, he was the Director of the Center for Language and Cognition Groningen (CLCG) of the University of Groningen for no less than thirteen years, with five years being the standard. Nerbonne is an extremely involved and capable administrator with great strategic insight. Linguistics comprises several subfields, and Nerbonne has proved capable of allowing them all to flourish. His management style is thoughtful, tenacious and associative with a good sense of strategy, and he is very good at stimulating individual researchers. Many researchers have benefited from his extremely good advice on how to successfully apply for funding.
Nerbonne has participated in several international projects. These have related not only to his own research but also to assisting developing countries. For example, he is co-director of a project to assist four public universities in Uganda to improve their curricula and strengthen their research capacities in the field of Computer Science. What is particularly noticeable in the management of this project is Nerbonne’s ability to unite opposing interests, often under difficult circumstances exacerbated by cultural differences. He is exceptionally sensitive to these differences and interests and always succeeds in uniting all those involved in the project in a powerful, diplomatic and amiable way.
The supervision of PhD students is one of the duties of a professor, but his supervision is exceptional in the numbers of students supervised and in its high quality. He has successfully supervised 36 PhD students, many of whom are now postdoctoral researchers, university lecturers or professors. Nerbonne always takes great care of his PhD students, and always wants to provide the best possible training for young researchers. What is particularly remarkable is his work on team-building within his department, where he never loses sight of the importance of informal contacts. In general, Nerbonne has never worked purely for his own benefit. In all his positions, the interests of others and the stimulation of young talent have played very important roles. However, he has never lost sight of the importance of academic quality.
His exceptional scientific quality and his administrative talents have meant that Prof. Nerbonne has been invited to sit on many boards related to linguistics, both national and international. For example, he is chair of the European Association for Digital Humanities, board member of CLARIN and STEVIN and member of the advisory board for the Language and Speech Technology section of the Dutch Language Union (Nederlandse Taalunie). He has also been visiting professor or researcher at the universities of Stanford, Tübingen, Stuttgart, Paris and Freiburg, to mention but a few. His election in 2005 to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and being awarded the prestigious German Alexander von Humboldt Prize in 2012 also bear witness to his exceptional services to his field.
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