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Sjef Barbiers appointed Scientific Director: 'LUCL is unique in the world'

The LUCL has a new Scientific Director. Professor Sjef Barbiers took over the reins from Lisa Cheng with effect from 1 January. 'This is a great opportunity to contribute to a wonderful institution.'

As a professor of Dutch linguistics and director of the Centre for Digital Humanities, Barbiers has committed a lot of time and attention to digital research in recent years. 'Linguistics has traditionally been closely related to Digital Humanities, so it makes sense as a linguist to have an interest in it,' he explains. 'Furthermore, this is the area where significant developments are currently taking place.'

Focusing on digitization

As Scientific Director, he will also make digital science one of his key interess. 'Under my predecessor, Lisa, it has already become a priority to pay attention to computational linguistics and artificial intelligence, also because these research areas are crucial for all other research directions in the institution. A master's programme in Computational Linguistics has been launched, and there is likely to be a bachelor's track. I certainly intend to strongly encourage this development.'

In line with this, he is keenly interested in the SSH domain. 'Recently, several SSH labs have been opened that I would like to help develop further,' he says. 'How can these facilities be used to their optimum in research proposals, for example? It must be possible to stimulate experimental linguistics and psycholinguistics with these labs.'

Preserving what is unique

Barbiers' explicit commitment to a future with interdisciplinary collaboration and innovative methodology does not mean that more traditional disciplines need fear neglect, he emphasises. 'These days, the trend is to make all research multidisciplinary, but our institution also has some monodisciplines in which it excels. They may not contribute directly to solving the climate problem, but they have great intrinsic value for science. We have to preserve them, in the same way as the number of languages where LUCL has expertise. That is unique for the Netherlands, and we should take advantage of it.'

One of the first issues Barbiers has to address in this regard is the discussion about the position of French, German, and to a lesser extent Dutch at the university. 'I will only be satisfied when these languages have a better position than before,' he asserts. 'The idea that everyone “speaks English anyway” seems to me to have a very limited perspective. Language studies are not just about language proficiency but also about shared culture, economic interests, and language history. We have to make an effort to make that visible again.'

Satisfied when everyone is satisfied

Barbiers does not currently have the financial support he needs to achieve this. 'So, it could indeed be challenging,' he admits, 'but then it’s your duty as Scientific Director to strengthen the institution and make sure that people here are as little affected as possible by the lack of funding. If everyone can carry out their teaching and research satisfactorily, I’m satisfied too.'

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