Honorary doctorate for Peter Wittenburg

Peter Wittenburg, long-standing head of the MPI’s technical group and senior advisor and first head of The Language Archive, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Tübingen, Germany. The honorary doctorate was conferred because of Wittenburg’s significant contribution to building an intelligent European infrastructure for the creation and scientific use of (endangered) language corpora. On November 8, there was an official ceremony at Schloss Hohentübingen.

Peter Wittenburg received the honorary doctorate from Dean Jürgen Leonhardt of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Tübingen (Eberhart Karls Universität Tübingen). Wittenburg was honoured for his significant accomplishments in digital speech documentation and building an intelligent European infrastructure for the scientific use of language corpora, as the certificate states in Latin.

John Nerbonne, professor of Information Science at the University of Groningen, portrayed Wittenburg in his laudatory speech as dedicated and hard-working, very popular among colleagues and famously modest. He also praised his passionate leadership.

Not just technical challenges

Through the years, Peter Wittenburg has been active in many projects, boards and (European) organisations, such as CLARIN (Germany, NL, ERIC), EUDAT and now the Research Data Alliance. Since the early nineties, when MPI director Stephen Levinson joined the institute, Wittenburg and his technical staff were confronted with an increasing interest for small and endangered languages, which implied archiving linguistic material from all over the world. Documenting endangered languages not only imposed technical challenges, but also political, legal and ethical challenges.

These activities gained an enormous momentum with the Program Documentation of Endangered Languages (DOBES), funded by the Volkswagen-Foundation, where the technical group functioned as the central archive and technical centre for the whole program, from 2000 to 2016.  The collected DOBES material, together with corpora from the institute and other external research projects form the basis of the data collection at The Language Archive.

“We are very proud of him,” Wolfgang Klein, director of MPI’s former Language Acquisition Department and now responsible for The Language Archive, concludes.