FEL Executive Committee member Steven Krauwer

This post introduces another Executive Committee member

Steven Krauwer

My home base is Utrecht University in the Netherlands. I studied mathematics and general linguistics in Utrecht and Copenhagen. Until my official retirement in 2011, I worked in the Institute of Linguistics at Utrecht University as a lecturer and researcher in mathematical and computational linguistics. I participated in and was coordinator of a number of projects funded by the European Union, many of them focusing on machine translation and other themes related to language and speech technology. During this period, I developed a special interest in the creation, development, preservation and re-use of digital language resources as crucial instruments in many research areas where language plays a role, such as linguistics, literature studies, history, and language and speech technology.

After my retirement I became the first Executive Director of CLARIN ERIC, the governing body of CLARIN, the Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure. CLARIN’s mission is to create and maintain an infrastructure to support the sharing, use, and sustainability of language data and tools for research in the humanities and social sciences. Today, 24 European countries participate in CLARIN, 21 as members and 3 as observers. When I stepped down as Executive Director in 2015 I became Senior Advisor to CLARIN’s Board of Directors.

My first encounter with the FEL was in 2005, when I happened to see an announcement for the FEL IX conference in Stellenbosch, South Africa. I didn’t know anything about endangered languages and didn’t (and still don’t) speak one, but I decided to attend the conference just to get an idea of what was happening in the field and, being involved in language technology, to find out whether language and speech technology could be used to strengthen threatened languages. From the very first day, I was fascinated by what I saw and heard, both by what I learned about particularities of languages that I had never heard of, by the causes of endangerment and possible remedies, and also by the passion with which people spoke about their languages. In some mysterious way I was immediately co-opted as a member of the FEL Executive Committee and have been serving on it ever since. My activities in those years have been centered around membership administration and the finances. I am currently Treasurer and try to ensure our financial health, so that we can keep our annual grants programme and other activities running.

For me personally the most interesting aspect of FEL’s activities is language revitalization (in contrast with, e.g., advocacy, policy and documentation – all very important for FEL, but just not my cup of tea, and I am very pleased that other committee members are taking care of them).  If one looks at the FEL grant reports it becomes clear that many of our grants go to bottom-up language revitalization activities, which I personally think is the best and most exciting way to spend the money contributed by our members. It is impressive and promising to see how much can be achieved on the basis of the modest amounts (maximum US$ 1000) we give per grant.