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Yehoshua Bar-Hillel

Yehoshua Bar-Hillel (Hebrew: יהושע בר-הלל‎; 1915 in Vienna – 1975 in Jerusalem) was a philosopher, mathematician, and linguist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, best known for his pioneering work in machine translation and formal linguistics.

Born Oscar Westreich, he was raised in Berlin. In 1933 he emigrated to Palestine with the Bnei Akiva youth movement, and briefly joined the kibbutz Tirat-Zvi before settling in Jerusalem and marrying Shulamith.

During World War II, he served in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army. He fought with the Haganah during the Israeli War of Independence, losing an eye.

Bar-Hillel received his PhD in Philosophy from the Hebrew University where he also studied mathematics under Abraham Fraenkel, with whom he eventually coauthored Foundations of Set Theory (1958, 1973).

Bar-Hillel was a major disciple of Rudolf Carnap, whose Logical Syntax of Language much influenced him. He began a correspondence with Carnap in the 1940s, which led to a 1950 postdoc under Carnap at the University of Chicago, and to his collaborating on Carnap's 1952 An Outline of the Theory of Semantic Information.

Bar-Hillel then took up a position at MIT, leaving in 1953 just before Noam Chomsky's arrival. At MIT, Bar-Hillel was the first academic to work full-time in the field of Machine Translation; he organised the first International Conference on Machine Translation in 1952. Later he expressed doubts that general-purpose fully-automatic high-quality machine translation would ever be feasible.[1][2] He was also a pioneer in the field of information retrieval.

In 1953, Bar-Hillel joined the philosophy department at the Hebrew University, where he taught until his untimely death at age 60. His teachings and writings strongly influenced an entire generation of Israeli philosophers and linguists, including Asa Kasher and Avishai Margalit. In 1953, he founded a pioneering algebraic-computational linguistic group, and in 1961 he contributed to the proof of the pumping lemma for context-free languages (sometimes called the Bar-Hillel lemma). Bar-Hillel helped found the Hebrew University's department of Philosophy of Science. From 1966 to 1968 Bar-Hillel presided over the International Association of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science.

Bar-Hillel's daughter Maya Bar-Hillel is a cognitive psychologist at the Hebrew University, known for her collaborations with Amos Tversky and for her role in critiquing Bible code study. His other daughter, Mira Bar-Hillel, is the property and planning correspondent for the London Evening Standard. His granddaughter, Gili Bar-Hillel, is the Hebrew translator of the Harry Potter series.

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Notes

  1. ^ Melby, Alan. The Possibility of Language (Amsterdam:Benjamins, 1995, 27-41)
  2. ^ Appendix III of 'The present status of automatic translation of languages', Advances in Computers, vol.1 (1960), p.158-163. Reprinted in Y.Bar-Hillel: Language and information (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1964), p.174-179.

Select bibliography

  • 1954 - Indexical Expressions, in: Mind, Vol. 63, Pp. 359–379.
  • 1958 - (with Abraham Fraenkel) Foundations of Set Theory. 2nd ed. (also with Azriel Levy and Dirk van Dalen), 1973.
  • 1964 - Language and Information
  • 1970 - Aspects of Language: Essays and Lectures on Philosophy of Language, Linguistic Philosophy and Methodology of Linguistics
  • 1972 - Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science (Editor)
  • 1975 - Pragmatics of Natural Languages (Editor)

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