Christopher Cieri 1963-2023
Chris Cieri was a native Philadelphian who grew up among the diverse population in the neighborhoods of South Philadelphia. He had a lifelong affinity for the Italian language, and it was no surprise that when he entered the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate, he chose Linguistics for his major. In fact, he concluded his Masters’ degree concurrently with his Bachelor studies in 1985-1986; his thesis topic was Italian Lexical Items in the English Speech of Italo-Americans. Under the direction of Bill Labov, he received his PhD at Penn as well. His dissertation, Modeling Phonological Variation in Multidialectal Italy, was based on fieldwork in L’Aquila, Italy, of which he had fond memories and spoke about often.
Chris continued his affiliation with Penn in his academic career. He was a research specialist at the Language Analysis Center (1983-1989) which developed software and other tools for linguistic analysis and served as director of Penn Law School’s Computer Services (1990-1997). But Chris found his true career calling when he joined LDC as Executive Director in 1998. This gave him the opportunity to pursue his dual research interests in linguistics (linguistic variation, phonetics, phonology, morphology, dialectology) and in language-related technologies (linguistic databases, annotation and computer-assisted linguistic analysis and language learning).
Chris’s tenure at LDC saw the Consortium’s evolution from a small data repository and burgeoning research hub to a prominent global data center. This included the expansion of its public catalog, the implementation of best practices for digital repositories and the development of an e-commerce-based business system to better serve Consortium members and the community. LDC’s work in sponsored project research expanded during that time as well, and with it, LDC’s reputation for tackling complex research tasks and for developing high-quality language resources. As a representative of LDC in the community, Chris established strong relationships with like-minded organizations, collaborators, and sponsors, resulting in a vital global network that supported the growing language technology/natural language processing community.
Chris also continued to pursue his research interests. He authored numerous papers, made many presentations around the globe and served on various advisory boards and committees. His recent projects included work with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia exploring the relationship between language and autism spectrum disorder (in conjunction with LDC Director Mark Liberman) and as co-editor of, and contributor to, a volume on linguistic variation (forthcoming from Oxford University Press).
Chris was devoted to his wife Mimi and daughter Caitlin and enjoyed spending time with them above all. He also loved good food and travel. LDC colleagues remember well some memorable meals with Chris on the road.
Colleagues were always struck by his friendly personality, kindness, and professionalism. He will be sorely missed by all.