[Elsnet-list] Sergei Perschke

Steven Krauwer s.krauwer at uu.nl
Wed Aug 10 17:37:08 CEST 2011

Dear all,

A few days ago we received the following sad message from Ariane Ilion,
Sergei Perschke's long-time companion:

"To all those who have known Serge Perschke, who have worked with him,
   have liked him and have appreciated him,

   It is with great sorrow that I have to tell you that he has passed
   away peacefully after a very sudden and brief illness on 22nd July
   2011. He was buried in St Leon sur l'Isle, our village in the Dordogne
   last week."

As Sergei has played a very important role for the European MT
and NLP community we would like to give you a very short summary
of his career and the way we remember him.

Sergei Perschke was born in Leningrad 1936, but the family moved
to Germany in 1942, and he grew up in Germany and went to Köln
University where he studied Slavonic languages. Around 1960 he
was employed in Italy, at the University of Milan, Centre of
Cybernetics and Linguistic Research, where he worked with
Russian-English machine translation before he moved to the
European Commission's Joint Research Centre in Ispra where he
continued working with machine translation.

In the 1970ies, when the machine translation programme was
discontinued at the Joint Research Centre, he became an expert in
DBMS systems, but when the European Commission services in
Luxembourg, with the support of the Member States, decided to
create a machine translation programme of its own, he was called
to Luxembourg because of his expertise.

He started to work in Luxembourg in 1979 and stayed there until
his retirement in 2001. In 1982, after a few years of hard
technical as well as political work, there was a Council Decision
to create EUROTRA: "Council Decision of 4 November 1982 on the
adoption of a European Economic Community research and
development programme for a machine translation system of
advanced design". EUROTRA was co-financed by the Commission and
the Member States; the programme was extended to more languages
as the EEC grew, and was prolonged till 1992.

When the programme finished (late, in 1994) there was a research
prototype working for all 9 official languages, and in principle
all language pairs - obviously, more efforts had been put into
some pairs than others. These prototype systems gave rise to a
few industrial implementations for specific language pairs and
specific fields, but no big scale industrialization was made.

EUROTRA laid the basis for other language technology programmes
in the EC framework programmes for RTD, and in particular -
because of its distributed nature whereby every country was
responsible for its own language(s) - EUROTRA was the starting
point for machine translation activities, and later on for
language processing in a broader sense, leading to a still
existing and thriving network of institutions all over Europe.

An endeavour such as EUROTRA was obviously a collective effort,
but if we want to point at one single person responsible for
making EUROTRA happen and for carrying it through, that is Sergei

Most of us who have known Sergei will have met him in the context
of EUROTRA , and may have had his or her first real encounter
with him at one of the annual EUROTRA workshops, or in many of
the frequent thematic working group meetings. He was a very
special character: he was very bright and creative, but could be
very stubborn when he felt he was right, in his heart he was an
academic but at the same time he had to be an administrator to
make the project run, and a politician to ensure its continuation
as new countries and languages joined the European Community.

As a person he was always full of energy and charm, and, once you
understood how he thought and operated, he was a great and
inspiring person to work with. He was not the type to avoid
clashes, and in various committees there could be fights with him
about the best way to solve all the big problems, but even after
the most violent exchanges during meetings you could sit together
with him as good friends and continue the discussion in a
constructive manner over a drink or a good meal.

Sergei has had a big impact on the European language processing
scene, because of the way he managed to mobilize this European
army of young and eager researchers, most of which had no
background in machine translation at all, but who were all
excited to embark on this big EUROTRA adventure. Many of the
existing language processing institutes have their roots in
EUROTRA, and there is still a well-connected community of former
Eurotrians around who keep in touch and still collaborate in
European projects.

Without Sergei this would never have happened.

Bente Maegaard,
Steven Krauwer.


We have sent this message to the ELSNET and MT lists, but please
forward this message to others to whom you feel it is relevant.

If you want to send a personal message to Ariane her email
address is ariane.iljon at wanadoo.fr


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