Goodbye, Groningen!
Valedictory Lecture
Jan. 27, 2017
John Nerbonne, Prof. em.
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

Goodbye, Groningen!

Lustrum & Workshop

On Fri. Jan. 27, 2017 at 4:15 pm I held my valedictory lecture in Groningen, where I'd been professor of Alfa-informatica (aka Humanities Computing aka Digital Humanities), later known as Information Science, since Feb. 1993. This followed a half-day celebration of the department's 30th anniversary, or Lustrum, where I was "chuffed" (to use British expression I like), that Frans Zwarts introduced the workshop in the lustrum, and where Harald Baayen, Mark Liberman, Max Louwerse and Joakim Nivre had agreed to give keynotes.

From left to right, Frans Zwarts, Harald Baayen, Mark Liberman, Max Louwerse, and Joakim Nivre at the Alfa-informatica lustrum. Right click on a picture for an larger rendering.

There are some more pictures of the workshop and lustrum here.

Alfa-info Demos!

The workshop was followed by a lunch. And since Alfa-informatica has always emphasized hands-on computational linguistics and information science, there was the usual session for demonstrations after lunch with time for in-depth exchange.

There are some more pictures of the demo session here.

Bleumink Fund

In lieu of gifts, over €1.100,- was donated to the Eric Bleumink Fund to support deserving students from third-world countries who wish to study in Groningen. Thanks to all of you who donated!

Text and overheads

The text of the 30-minute lecture is here, and the slides I used are here. Shamelessly sentimental about my youth pleasantly mispent in catgorical (non-statistical) methods, I also show a clip with Han Solo's famous quip "Never tell me the odds".



Gerry Wakker once co-supervised a thesis on Latin syntax, a difficult project. Now dean of Arts, she held a laudatio on behalf of the faculty, which culminated in an award of the University of Groningen's Academy Plaque, for which I'm very grateful.

Erhard Hinrichs, who I studied with at The Ohio State University, and whose career has been very parallel to mine, moving from formal semantics (and some syntax) to computational linguistics and digital humanities, held a laudatio as my closest colleague for the longest amount of time. We're friends, and we've done an awful lot together!

Gertjan van Noord, my closest colleague for all these years in Groningen, spoke on behalf of the department. His notes are here. In particular Gertjan said that he probably would not have applied for the very prestigious Pioneer grant he received in 2000 without a lot of encouragement from me. I was very moved, and continued to be for the rest of the evening as many other colleagues reminded me of (positive) influences during the reception and dinner.

He also announced a Festschrift in my honor, which surprised me (somehow I thought my professorial style unlike ‐ but not unbecoming! ‐ that of a Festschrift recipient). But I also thought it was too much work to impose on colleagues!

Martijn Wieling, Martin Kroon, Gertjan van Noord and Gosse Bouma (eds.) From Semantics to Dialectometry. Festschrift in honor of John Nerbonne College Publications:London. (Tributes Series 32) 2016.

Here's the table of contents, with contributions from forty-one colleagues. The full text is also available (15 MB).

The most personal part of the Festschrift was, as always, the preface, which left me with a great sense of gratification. Thanks to everyone involved!

I was too choked up to thank people properly from the podium, so please accept belated thanks from me now, all of you who were involved!

There are some more pictures of the lecture here and of the reception in the Speigelzaal here .


We had a reception in the Spiegelzaal of the university and dinner at the Huis de Beurs, a landmark on Groningen's Vismarkt.

Johan Bos, whose thesis was my first Master's supervision in Groningen and current holder of an endowed chair in Groningen unveiled with colleagues a Wikipedia entry about me that they'd made -- we'll see if the editors let it remain.

Dan Flickinger, one of my favorite colleagues from the Californian period, told everyone how important I'd been to the Hewlett-Packard Labs work in natural language processing, spoiling his otherwise unblemished reputation for honesty.

But the highlight of the evening was George Welling's extending a tradition he initiated and continued for over twenty years, leading the 100 guests in not one, but two songs: "John Nerbonne is on his way" to the tune of "Jamaica Farewell" (you can also hear it here).

The second song is sung to the tune of "You were always on my mind" (Willie Nelson, inter alia), and the new (Dutch) lyrics are here.

There are some more pictures of the dinner here

An interview soon after

Finally, Amélie La Roi held a friendly "good-bye" interview with me for the BCN Newsletter that I've take the liberty of providing here.

Last modified: Thu Jun 8 17:05:42 CEST 2017