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New Doctoral Programme in Computational Linguistics

Press Release No. 43/2011
17 February 2011
Heidelberg University and Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) strengthen their cooperation

To support the upcoming generation of young scientists specializing in computational linguistics, Heidelberg University and the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) have initiated a new doctoral programme “Semantic Processing”. The programme is international in reach and has started work with ten pre-docs. It focuses on the automatic processing of natural language and is situated at the interface between linguistics and computer science. The leading scientists are members of HITS and the university’s Department of Computational Linguistics. The joint study programme for pre-docs strengthens the existing cooperation between Heidelberg University and the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies.

“Language is the most important channel for information in our society,” says Prof. Dr. Anette Frank, Professor for Computational Linguistics at Heidelberg University. “So the automatic search for information in texts is getting more and more important.” Prof. Frank initiated the programme together with Prof. Dr. Michael Strube, head of the Natural Language Processing research group at HITS. Other professors involved in the graduate programme are Sebastian Padó and Stefan Riezler, both recent additions to the university’s teaching staff.

At present, many research issues in the automatic processing of the meaning of words, phrases or dialogue are still unsolved. “We concentrate on the use of statistical and corpus-based methods,” says Michael Strube. “In this way we are able to develop new and robust models of semantic analysis and processing that are suitable for large-scale applications.”

In the new doctoral programme the students will be working on topics like information and knowledge extraction, multilinguality, discourse processing and automatic translation. Another important subject is the detection of implicit information. “In ordinary language, a lot of information is not explicitly expressed,” explains Anette Frank. “This is because a reader or hearer possesses background knowledge that enables them to understand what is meant. The sentence: ‘Deep-sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is permitted again’ conveys more information than is literally contained in the actual sentence. It tells us that drilling was initially permitted, then prohibited and has now been ‘permitted again’. The human mind has semantic knowledge of this kind at its disposal. Computers don’t.” The Heidelberg computational linguists aim at developing programmes enabling computers to process such implicit information.

The doctoral programme “Semantic Processing” targets graduates in computational linguistics, computer science and mathematics, as well as graduates in linguistics who possess the required computational skills. In-course communication is in English. Three HITS doctoral grants are linked to the programme. The first will be advertised in the course of this year, the other two over the next two years. Beside a career in university research departments, students successfully completing the course have good prospects in business and industry, for example in IT companies specializing in text-mining, document management or internet search.

For more information, go to


Prof. Dr. Anette Frank
Heidelberg University
Department of Computational Linguistics
phone: +49 6221 543247 or 543245 (secretaries)


Prof. Dr. Michael Strube
Natural Language Processing
phone: +49 6221 533243


Dr. Peter Saueressig
Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies
Public Relations
phone: +49 6221 533245

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