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Karen Spärck Jones

I would like to introduce this distinguished scientist from my personal experience as I was a PhD student of John I. Tait who was a PhD student of Karen Spärck Jones.

When I started my PhD studies I asked John Tait about new references in the field of cross language information retrieval (CLIR), he told me to go to the library and look for a book called Synonymy and Semantic Classification.

I went to the library and found the book, the book was old issued in 1986 for a PhD thesis wrote in 1964 as I remember. I thought that John Tait made a mistake, and at that time I did not know who Karen Sparck Jones is.

I took the book back home and started reading, I couldn't stop reading the book until I fall into sleep. I figured out that this book was written by a distinguished person.

After few days I had a meeting with John Tait and I told him do you remember the book that you advised me to read? He told me yes what about it? I told him it is an excellent book, the best I ever read. He told me you wanted a recent reference and I gave you a very old one but you like it? I told him this reference is not old the author had a sight for many years forward.

Then after this John Tait wrote a book (Charting a New Course: Natural Language Processing and Information Retrieval: Essays in Honour of Karen Spärck Jones) and mentioned this story in the preface.

The research carried out by Karen Sparck Jones and her research students leaded the development of the field of information retrieval and the use of semantic resources to disambiguate query terms.

I will quote here some sentences from her PhD thesis (1964) Synonymy and Semantic Classification:

Requirement for a machine translation dictionary:

“I have been particularly concerned with the problem of finding a general method for constructing a semantic dictionary for machine translation. Such a dictionary must, as we have seen, be both precise and explicit; and it must embody some theory about the way in which words are used” (page 14).

“A machine translation dictionary has to be a dictionary in the ordinary sense: it must give definitions or descriptions of the meanings of words. It must also, however, give some indication of the kind of context in which the words are used, that is must be a 'semantic classification' as well as a dictionary” (page 16).

In relationship of semantic relations to linguistic relations:

“We can put some restriction on the notion of semantic relation, so that the problem of defining relations becomes more manageable. I shall say, therefore, that there is a difference between linguistic relations between words and factual relations between what they stand for, which depends on a distinction between the intra-linguistic use of a word and its extra-linguistic reference” (page 49).

Finally when John Tait asked me if I have in mind a name of an external examiner for PhD viva, that was in early May 2007, I told him anyone other than Karen Spärck Jones, he told me don't worry she passed away last month. a tear dropped from my eye.

I loved this lady while I didn't have the honour to meet her, and I wrote this article in honour of someone that I loved and learned a lot from while I never met.

Mustafa Abusalah, 01-05-2009

For more information about Karen please visit the link here.


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