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FREDERICK JELINEK

1932–2010

Elected in 2006

“For contributions to statistical language processing with applications to automatic speech recognition.”

BY BIING-HWANG (FRED) JUANG AND LAWRENCE RABINER

FREDERICK JELINEK, an information-theoretic linguist, died September 14, 2010, of a heart attack, at the age of 77. Jelinek was a Czech American researcher in information theory and natural language processing. Born just before the war, on November 18, 1932, in Czechoslovakia to a Jewish father (who was a dentist and died of disease in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1945) and a Catholic mother (who converted to Judaism), Fred Jelinek and his family managed to escape being sent to the concentration camps, due to his mother’s background, and to eventually emigrate to the United States in the early years of the communist regime.

Jelinek studied the newly developing field of information theory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under Professor Robert Fano. Jelinek had begun to develop an interest in linguistics after the immigration of his wife, who initially enrolled in the linguistics program at MIT; he often accompanied her to linguistics classes. After his graduate degree, he joined Cornell University in anticipation of the opportunity to work with Charles F. Hockett, a prominent linguist there. Although the intended research program in linguistics fell through, Jelinek went on to teach and develop information theory at Cornell in the subsequent years before joining IBM Research in 1972. Jelinek’s affiliation with Cornell was not a long one, but he deserved credit for the creation and



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