About Alfa-informatica

In 1986, Alfa-informatica started in Groningen at the Faculty of Arts as one of the specializations of the "Algemene Letteren" program. In the early years, the program focused on topics that nowadays would probably be called "Digital Humanities". Staff members included Jan de Vuyst, Harry Gaylord and George Welling. Frans Zwarts was one of the initiators. Highlight of the early years was the organization of the very first ESSLLI Summer School in Groningen in 1989.

In 1993, John Nerbonne became professor in Alfa-informatica, and his presence was an important reason for the success of the group in the following years. The focus of the group shifted more and more towards computational linguistics, with staff members Gosse Bouma and Gertjan van Noord, and PhD student Erik Tjong Kim Sang. At the same time, PhD student Bert Bos implemented one of the first web-servers in the Netherlands, and George Welling with his students built an extremely successfull web-site on the history of the United States - in this way establishing web-technology as a further important focus of expertise. By 2000, Alfa-informatica had been replaced by "Informatiekunde" (Information Science), as a full-fledged study programme. The focus of the programme: Language technology and Web technology.

Participation in the NWO Language and Speech Priority Programme, participation in an EU Mobility of Researchers program, and van Noord's NWO Pionier project strengthened the development of research in computational linguistics. John Nerbonne with help of Wilbert Heeringa and various students developed a new discipline, computational dialectology. Bouma and van Noord developed the Dutch Alpino parser, with help from a variety of post-docs and students, including Rob Malouf, Mark-Jan Nederhof, Miles Osborne and many others. Through participation in various STEVIN projects, various tools and resources for Dutch were developed and are now widely used.

Currently, students can choose Information Science as a Bachelors programme. The master programme is now formally part of the Communication and Information Science master programme. Cooperation with researchers in communication science has led to a separate programme in Computer Communication, which is quite popular with students.

About five years ago, Johan Bos - former Alfa-informatica student! - was awarded the Endowed Chair position of the Faculty of Arts, and now is Professor of Computational Semantics. In addition, Gertjan van Noord became Professor of Language Technology. With staff members Gosse Bouma, Barbara Plank, Malvina Nissim, Leonie Bosveld, George Welling, Gregory Mills, Martijn Wieling, Kilian Evang, Antonio Toral, the group is healthier than ever and still going strong. This year, a new master program in Digital Humanities has started - some 30 years after the start of Alfa-informatica.