Princeton and Birzeit Cooperate in Linguistic Science

Professor Christiane Fellbaum from Princeton University in the United States visited Birzeit University for an intensive week of research at Birzeit’s Sina Institute, and to teach a course in Computational Linguistics at the Sixth International Summer School of the Faculty of Information Technology. Fellbaum is a prominent computational linguist and one of the founders of WordNet, a renowned English linguistic ontology (i.e., a conceptual dictionary and a semantic network) that includes the most common English concepts and semantic relationships between them. Her visit to Birzeit was a part of the institute’s efforts over the last three years to attract and fund the participation of international scholars in its summer school. During her visit, Fellbaum met with researchers at Sina Institute and discussed many thoughtful ideas for building and mapping the Arabic Ontology for the English WordNet. This cooperation including Fellbaum is an ongoing activity of the EU-FP7 SIERA project coordinated by the Sina Institute. The project aims to bridge and create further research cooperation with scientists around the world in the field of multilingual and multicultural knowledge-sharing technologies, such as multilingual search engines. Sina Institute Director Mustafa Jarrar noted that, during her visit, Fellbaum and researchers at Sina Institute established a cooperation framework that enables researchers from Birzeit and Princeton universities to unite and reconcile concepts across Arabic and English languages. Such cooperation is critical in building multilingual applications such as search engines, machine translators and other things. The course that Fellbaum delivered at the annual summer school in the Faculty of Information Technology covered topics in Linguistic Ontology, Computational Linguistics, and Natural Language Processing. She presented the foundations of the English WordNet, clarifying the strategies and methods used to build such a linguistic ontology, and how to semantically link its concepts and verify its credibility. More than 30 undergraduate and master students attended the course along with researchers and faculty members from Birzeit University. “Thanks to Birzeit for always attracting world class scientists and exposing us to such interesting topics--including this one that I will certainly chose as a Master theses--and thanks to Professor Fellbaum for her great teaching style,” said Master’s candidate Nafiz Qassim. Head of the Computer Systems Engineering Department and director of the summer school Abdel Latif Abu Issa stated that “the summer school is a pedagogical activity conducted annually by Birzeit University. This year was its sixth year in a row, where international scholars of advanced technologies from well-known universities participated.” Professor Fellbaum called her visit to Birzeit “immensely rich and rewarding.” “I was deeply impressed with the level of commitment to research and education among the hard-working faculty,” she said, “and the intellectual maturity of the students who challenged me with questions and comments in the classroom and outside. My hosts' extraordinary hospitality and endless patience in educating me about the Palestinian people, its culture, land and history, made this one of the most impressive weeks in memory. I am eager to encourage my colleagues in building and reinforcing scientific bridges, perhaps to accompany me on my next visit.” The Sina Institute has contributed to summer school participation from such scholars as professors David Chadwick from the University of Kent in the UK and Paulo Bouquet from the University of Trento in Italy in 2012, and professors Carlo Battini and Gianluigi Viscusi from Milano University in Italy in 2011.