Janyce Wiebe was a leader in sentiment analysis

Janyce Wiebe, a pioneer in sentiment analysis — a subfield of computational linguistics — and professor of computer science in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, died Dec. 10, 2018 at 59.

Wiebe joined Pitt in 2000.

“She was one of the reasons I came here,” said Diane Litman, Wiebe’s departmental colleague since 2001. “She really was the founder of a field.”

Wiebe described her work as “ ‘subjectivity analysis,’ recognizing and interpreting expressions of opinions and sentiments in text, to support NLP (natural language processing) applications such as question answering, information extraction, text categorization and summarization.”

“It was very good work, very creative, and it had a very strong computational component as well as a very strong linguistic component,” Litman said — and “extremely influential. A lot of people work on it and it has a lot of commercial impact.”

Wiebe directed the Intelligent Systems Program at Pitt from 2004-2010, and co-directed it with Litman from 2010-2016. She was a fellow of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) and the ACL program co-chair, as well as program chair and executive board member of ACL’s North American chapter.

“She was a great mentor,” Litman said. And she was very devoted to her students, serving on many of their PhD committees.

“She deeply cared about her teaching and she was a great colleague. She always stepped up to do things she didn’t have to; she was very generous with her time.”

Wiebe earned all her degrees from the State University of New York, receiving her bachelor’s in English and general literature from the Binghamton campus in 1981 and her master of science and Ph.D. in computer science from Buffalo in 1985 and 1990, respectively. She was in the post-doctoral computer science program at the University of Toronto, 1989-1992, and began her teaching career in the Department of Computer Science at New Mexico State University from 1992-2000.

Wiebe was involved in the early stages of planning for the School of Computing and Information, to which her department has since moved, and spoke all over the world about her research, including keynoting the Canadian Artificial Intelligence Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in June 2015. She had been on medical leave, battling leukemia, since later in 2015.

She is survived by her parents, Richard and Jean; her aunt, Robin Wiebe; siblings Ellen and Rick and their spouses; and many nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held in spring 2019; details will be announced through the Rose Funeral Home. Memorial donations are suggested to the Director's Development Fund at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.