Two earn award for language work

The European Language Resources Association has awarded Princeton psychologists George Miller and Christiane Fellbaum this year's Antonio Zampolli Prize.

The biannual award, named for the first president of the association, honors outstanding contributions to the advancement of language resources and language technology evaluation. Miller and Fellbaum were presented with the prize, which carries a stipend of 10,000 euros (approximately $12,300), at this year's Language Resources and Evaluation Conference on May 26 in Genoa, Italy.  

The two researchers received the award largely for creating WordNet, an electronic dictionary that helps computers understand human language. WordNet organizes words and concepts into interconnected groups, enabling software to determine which of a word's multiple definitions is most likely to apply in a given situation. A computer attempting to understand a paragraph of text might, for example, guess the usage of the word "tank" by determining that nearby words such as "cannon" and "armor" fall into WordNet groups related to combat vehicles rather than storage containers.

The Princeton WordNet, which has occupied the two scientists for two decades, has been re-created in some 40 languages worldwide. It has proven useful for many linguistic applications, including helping computers retrieve relevant information from large databases.

Miller, who joined the psychology department in 1979, is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor Emeritus and a senior research psychologist. Fellbaum joined the department in 1987 and is a senior research psychologist.