Tributes to Christopher Cieri 1963-2023

He was kind, thoughtful and considerate. What a lovely scholar. A gentle soul rests.

-- Renee Blake, New York University


Chris was a friend for many years. He is one of the few American researchers who are closely connected to the European community. Our relationship was initiated within ELRA, the European Language Resource Association, and LREC, the international Language Resource and Evaluation Conference. It started since the creation of ELRA in 1995, inspired by the Linguistic Data Consortium in the US. Chris was the American representative participating in the 20th anniversary of ELRA in Dubrovnik in 2015, and in the brainstorming seminar in Lucca in 2019 for the 25th anniversary of ELRA to prepare the next 25 years, which resulted in the important decision of making ELRA international. In LREC, he was a major member of the Program Committee where he was the one who solved the difficult cases by always taking the right decision. Next LREC in 2024 will have a major change with a new organization to select the best papers, and Chris was invited to be a Technical Chair of the conference. He nicely responded at the end of January that “he was dealing with some medical issues” (those were his own words) and was not in the position to accept the invitation this time. Unfortunately, there will not be another time. Chris, we deeply miss you.

-- Joseph Mariani, LISN-CNRS, France


Working with Chris was always such a pleasure. In addition to being knowledgeable and organized, he was also flexible and creative about finding workarounds when needed. His calm, gentle, smiling presence lit up every room he walked into, and his humorous comments livened up every conversation. A lovely, much loved man. He is much missed.

-- Martha Palmer, University of Colorado


The way I once, unreflectingly, understood the world to work, children outlive their parents, and students outlive their professors. But Chris now joins the group of brilliant and accomplished Penn Ph.D,s in sociolinguistics that I had the privilege of teaching, whose lives were cut short way too soon, and whose loss I deeply mourn: Anne Bower, Deborah Schiffrin, Elizabeth Dayton. Like them, Chris was an accomplished fieldworker, and cherished the human relationships that that work brought him. His life was a shining example of the human side of linguistics. I hoped and expected to keep learning from Chris. My deepest sympathies go out to his family, to his colleagues and friends.

-- Gillian Sankoff, University of Pennsylvania Linguistics


Chris first came to my attention when he asked me to supervise his study of the food vocabulary that Italian Americans had introduced to the Philadelphia scene -- a treatment that made for a delicious Master's thesis. After that, when invited to assist in setting up a language lab in the university in L'Aquila, Italy, he used the opportunity to transfer his expertise so that anyone in the Old World could learn from what had been developed here at Penn by the LDC. His Ph.D. on the L'Aquila vowel system shows his creativity on so many dimensions that it will be a model for generations to come. More recently, as DIrector of the LDC, he provided invaluable support to me and Gillian in consolidating the archive of the thousands of recordings made by Penn sociolinguists over many decades. A last favor he did for us was his unstinting help in our making use of that archive for our book "Conversations with Strangers" that appeared last month. In the Acknowledgments I wrote: "The late Chris Cieri saved me from the disorganization of time, facilitating my use of the digitized archival materials." We are so very sorry that he did not get to see the finished product.

-- Bill Labov, University of Pennsylvania Linguistics


Chris will be sorely missed by all! His loss is devastating! He was the kindest person I have ever met. I was lucky to work with him for the last few years. He carried his love of family and of life [and food] to LDC with him, and somehow managed to insist that get togethers would be truly festive [whether at LDC, or at a conference]. He helped shape LDC, to maximize its relevance to both its socio-audience, and its tech-audience, while creating an atmosphere more familial than professional-- where 'familial' entails lots of food and good cheer, and caring about each individual. He lived his life to the fullest, without letting his illness take over. May his memory be a blessing!

-- Malcah Yaeger, University of Arizona


Chris was an extremely kind, professional and thoughtful person and I consider myself lucky to have counted him among my friends. I really enjoyed seeing him at conferences and visiting LDC. I was so very sad to hear the news of Chris’s death and I will miss him dearly. Chris was a real inspiration and was a brilliant force for good in the field of linguistics. It was very evident how dedicated Chris was to his family and I am so deeply sorry for their loss. My sincerest condolences to all his colleagues, friends and family.

-- Amanda Cole, University of Essex


It is with great sadness to learn of Chris Cieri's passing. Chris has been an inspirational leader for all speech and language researchers worldwide focused on speech processing, lingusitics, speech technologies based on speech corpora development. Through all his contributions to the field, he will be remembered as a true scholar, academician and educator, always looking to advance the field and help all who interacted with him realize their best. His always positive and constructive approach was instrumental in building collaborations with all he interacted with, and will be missed be all in our field. As a final personal note - Chris helped our center (CRSS) and school (UTDallas) significantly by enthusiastically contributing to our recovery of APOLLO Program audio communications - we had many conversations at confs talking about the historical impact this massive collection of audio would have for preserving one of mankinds greatest engineering accomplishments. I and all at CRSS-UTDallas are sorry for his passing, and our prayers are with his family. We will remember Chris for the wonderful person he was and what he did to help all he came in contact with in our community. Rest in peace Chris.

-- John Hansen, CRSS - Univ. of Texas - Dallas


In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, my partner, Jacqueline Toribio, and I were consulting with Chris by Zoom about something linguistic when we mentioned that Philly was on our list of potential places to retire.

Boom! Chris's face lit up and, for the next 45 minutes, he treated us to a glorious exposition about Philly, her neighborhoods, her foods, and his family's love of the place. Linguists have lost a prized member of our community and Philly has lost one of its most beautiful and devoted souls.

 Our love goes out to his family, to his colleagues, and to his city.

-- Barbara E. Bullock, University of Texas


I worked on various LDC projects with Chris and planned some others that didn't come to fruition. He was not just smart, and effective, he was also a mensch. He cared not just about the science of language, but also about the languages themselves, and about the speakers. So young, what a loss.

-- Andras Kornai, Budapest University of Technology and Economics


Chris is one of the most generous and kindest people I've met in my life. After joining LDC in 2018, I had the privilege of working with Chris for the last five years on various clinical projects. Whenever I had to travel for a conference, he kindly shared his experience in that city and recommended good places to visit in spare time, what to eat, what to buy for a souvenir, etc. The places I visited following his recommendation were always very beautiful and lovely. I will miss his advice, leadership, and more. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

-- Sunghye Cho, Linguistic Data Consortium, University of Pennsylvania


Even though I haven't known Chris for long (we met at some point years ago, but mostly communicated the last years related to work at SADiLaR), I always very much appreciated his kindness. He was always open, providing useful feedback and encouragement. He will be missed.

-- Menno van Zaanen, South African Centre for Digital Language Resources


Chris and I joined LDC around the same time and worked together for 20 years. As I reflect upon my life in my early fifties, I realize that we come across only a limited number of people in our lives. Among them, very few leave a profound impact on us. For me, Chris is at the top of that list. Chris exuded composure, and his calm demeanor never faltered even in challenging situations. I admired his ability to anchor and soothe those around him. Chris was also an embodiment of kindness and generosity, and people felt at ease in his company. Chris has been a mentor for me and just being around him has taught me so much. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had Chris in my life. I wish I could have had the chance to tell him all of this before he passed away. Chris, we miss you.

-- Xiaoyi Ma,


I was a graduate student in the Linguistics department at Penn from 2001-2008. I worked at LDC my first summer there, during subsequent summers, and as a graduate assistant 2003-2004. Although Chris wasn't my direct supervisor, he was a frequent and genial presence around LDC. And because we had sociolinguistics in common, we often chatted. Over the years, Chris and I intersected at conferences, and we wrote chapters for each other's edited volumes. I considered Chris to be a node in my mentor network: Someone who was always out there ready to answer my questions, and who was deeply enthusiastic about the creation, maintenance, and reuse of sociolinguistic corpora. We've lost a great force for progress in the field. I'll miss him very much.

-- Suzanne Wagner, Michigan State University


Chris was one of the kindest, warmest people I have ever met. When I started grad school at Penn as a clueless naïve newbie, Chris took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, with his wonderful sense of humor and practical approach to life. When my friend Patti and I were far from home, Chris took us to his home, where the Cieri family welcomed us in and fed us, like good Italians do, and basically adopted us as our family away from home. Later, when Chris and I would meet up at a Linguistics conference, we always ended up talking and laughing like no time had passed. Chris represents for me, and always will, the true meaning of "a family man." He loved his family so fiercely. This might've been the only fierce thing about him. He was the gentlest of souls. I hope knowing the difference he made in the world will bring some comfort to his family and friends. Sending love.

-- Carmen Fought


Like many other friends across the world, we received the news of Christopher's death with much sadness. I remember meeting him at several conferences, particularly in a memorable ELRA 20th anniversary in Dubrovnik. Christopher's role as Executive Director of LDC greatly contributed to fulfill the very relevant mission of the Consortium. His legacy will not be forgotten. RIP.

-- Isabel Trancoso, on behalf of all of us @INESC ID Lisboa, Portugal


From the first time I met Chris at a conference, I was always looking for him and hoping to find him among the conference attendees. He was a special person, one of those rare people -especially in a business setting- who show that they truly care about those in front of them. I cannot give myself peace since I learned this news, it is too great a loss for all of us.

-- Claudia Soria, CNR-ILC, Italy


Your LDC family will miss you, Chris. Somewhere out there, please keep cheering for us, for your loved ones and yes, for your beloved Philadelphia Eagles too. I am honored to have been your colleague, your ally and your friend for the past 25 years.

-- Natasha Bragilevskaya, Linguistic Data Consortium, University of Pennsylvania


I had the privilege of working with Chris at LDC for 17 years. Coming from prior jobs where bosses were not always very nice, Chris was a breath of fresh air with his easygoing manner. He was open to new ideas and with his support, LDC’s external relations functions expanded and improved immensely. I always enjoyed talking with him about various topics in history and literature, subjects he and I both liked. I will miss that and more. My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. 

-- Denise DiPersio, Linguistic Data Consortium, University of Pennsylvania


I first met Chris nearly three decades ago when we were both grad students in Penn linguistics and I was struck by his kind and generous spirit even then. Those same traits were often on display during his 25 years as my boss. Chris was genuinely curious -- about language, about ideas, but especially about people -- and this always made for enjoyable and wide-ranging conversations. He played a huge role in shaping my career and in building LDC into an organization that I'm proud to be part of. I'll miss you, boss. My deepest condolences to Chris's family and to his worldwide circle of friends and colleagues.

-- Stephanie Strassel, Linguistic Data Consortium, Unniversity of Pennsylvania


All of us at LDC will miss Chris's leadership, but it is the conversations at pre-holiday pizza lunches or summer LDC picnics that I have found myself thinking of. Always both interesting and interested, he had a warm and genuine way of interacting with people. My condolences to his family and friends. 

-- Jennifer Tracey, Linguistic Data Consortium, University of Pennsylvania


It was in early November 2017, when Mark and people from LDC visited my campus, that I first met Chris. He gave me a cap with the Philadelphia Eagles logo on it. I still wonder how he knew I liked collecting caps, especially Philadelphia ones. When he visited our campus, he gave a talk on “Novel Incentives and Engineering Unique Work Flows: a New Initiative”. I am still impressed by his talk. He and I talked about the possibility of him working as a visiting scholar on our campus. He supported us when we collected samples of the Guanzhong dialect for the Global TIMIT project. All my teammates were saddened when we learned of his death. We found some photos we had with him and recollected his visit to our campus. We will all miss him. My condolences to his families, friends and colleagues at LDC.

-- Yue Jiang, School of Foreign Studies, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an, China


Sit tibi terra levis, dear "gentle giant". I am so sorry you left too soon. It was an honor to meet you. You were truly a very special person. My condolences and a big hug to your wife and daughter.

-- Paola Baroni, CNR-ILC (Pisa, Italy)


Chris was a "big brother" when I started at Penn. I've seen him over the years and feel he embodied the best of the Penn approach to linguistics. He always remained authentic (I feel this word is overused today but applies) and approachable. I am very saddened by his passing and wish all the best to his friends and family.

-- Corey Miller


Although I do not know Chris as well as many others at the LDC (I just began my postdoc late last year), Chris was very kind and welcoming and was always available whenever I needed his help. I will miss his leadership and energy, and I would like to send my condolences to his family and friends and close colleagues.

-- Martin Ho Kwan Ip, Linguistic Data Consortium, University of Pennsylvania


I met Chris at the LDC holiday party in 1997. I was a student worker, and he had just accepted the position as Executive Director. Not long after, he helped me find full time work at LDC, and finally about 10 years ago he became my direct supervisor. It was a privilege to work for Chris. You couldn't have a nicer boss, and he was incredibly generous with his time and advice. It was great to chat with him about linguistics, technology, conferences, the people he knew in our field, the places he'd been, the things he'd read, and of course projects at LDC. He was quick to laugh, and his advice was often memorable, like when he captured our responsibilities by saying that "Data is our middle name." He would emphasize the difference between managing and leading, and he certainly lead by example. It's devastating to think we can't talk anymore. I'll miss him. My deepest condolences to his family.

-- Jonathan Wright, Linguistic Data Consortium, University of Pennsylvania


Chris was a close friend, and I always saw him in very joyful mood.

For over a quarter of century, we were colleagues and became friends. We first got to know each other while initiating common projects. I admired his vision, appreciated his “unsaid” advice and, like many, considered him as a major pillar in our field of computational linguistics.

We shared many opinions (and I never witnessed him forcing his opinion on someone) and our debates about the international and domestic politics over unforgettable dinners all over the world lasted for ever. Chris was a gourmet and he introduced me to many specialties when I was traveling to the US and he shared my favorite ones when we were meeting in the Mediterranean countries. I still remember that time when we walked in the Jewish neighborhood in Prague looking for a dinner place before we realize it was Shabbat and that everything was closed. I also remember the cactus leaves salad that I promised to promote once back to Morocco. Both of us loved chocolate and I knew that if you offered chocolate to Chris, he would distribute most of it to colleagues.

Chris was very kind and attentive: whenever I visited him in Philadelphia, he would have made a selection of all the nice Halal restaurants next to LDC.

Chris was so caring.

I also remember this afternoon shopping in the BAZAR of Rabat to buy jewelry for the “girls”. With some locals, we were tasked with the bargaining duties, but at some point, he turned to me and asked me not to be too harsh as the shopkeeper needed to make a living with the tourists!

Chris had a great sense of humor and he made a point to explain some typical untranslatable jokes in my “English”.

In 2018, when we were preparing LREC in Japan, he brought me a very lovely Eagles cap after "his" team won the Super Bowl, although football meant different things to us . I took it as a reward for me watching the game of his team at 3:00am!!

Our daughters are of almost the same age; we saw them growing and making their ways in life. I know he was extremely proud of the young lady Caitlin was becoming. I knew what a loving husband and father Chris was.

Rest in peace Chris, I miss you so much.



I will miss our espressos, and lunch breaks, our long chats on an incredible number of topics: socio-linguistics, travel, computer science, Italian-American culture, music, politics, life... Chris made LDC more than just a workplace, for all those who had the privilege to work with him. His discreet human touch and generosity will be missed.

-- Andrea Mazzucchi, Linguistic Data Consortium, University of Pennsylvania


Chris was a treasure to the field of linguistics. He was kind, supportive, and genuinely curious. I regret that I was only able to meet him in person a few times, but it has been a pleasure to work with him on editing his forthcoming volume, Dimensions of Linguistic Variation. I will do my absolute best to make it a book he would be proud of. We will miss you always, Chris!

-- Lauren Hall-Lew, University of Edinburgh


I did not know Chris well. I worked with him and his team on various design projects over the years and always found him to be thoughtful and kind. My condolences to his family and colleagues.

-- Demitri Pagonis