Using Computers in Linguistics: A Practical Guide

Using Computers in Linguistics: A Practical Guide

Using Computers in Linguistics: A Practical Guide

Using Computers in Linguistics: A Practical Guide


Computing has had a dramatic impact on the discipline of linguistics and is shaping the way we conceptualize both linguistics and language. Using Computers in Linguistics provides a non-technical introduction to recent developments in linguistic computing and offers specific guidance to the linguist or language professional who wishes to take advantage of them.Divided into eight chapters, each of the expert contributors focus on a different aspect of the interaction of computing and linguistics looking either at computational resources: the Internet, software for fieldwork and teaching linguistics, Unix utilities, or at computational developments: the availability of electronic texts, new methodologies in natural language processing, the development of the CELLAR computing environment for linguistic analysis.


John M. Lawler and Helen Aristar Dry


In the last decade computers have dramatically changed the professional life of the ordinary working linguist, altering the things we can do, the ways we can do them, and even the ways we can think about them. The change has been gradual, incremental, and largely experiential. But the handwriting is already on the screen—the rate of change is accelerating, and the end is not in sight.

The relations between computing and linguistics are in fact deeper and more interesting than mere technological change might suggest. Indeed, the advent of widespread access to computing power may well have had an effect on the discipline comparable to that of the early study of Native American languages. In the first half of this century, the experience of doing fieldwork on Native American languages shaped the concepts and methodologies of American Structuralism; now, in the second half of the century, the common experience of using computers is shaping the way we conceptualize both linguistics and language.

This is apparent, for example, in the metaphors we use. As is widely recognized, the metaphor of automatic data processing underlies and informs the goals and methodology of generative grammar. And, whatever the validity of this image as an intellectual or ideological basis for linguistic theory, it is unquestionably valid in representing the actual experience of doing linguistics today, as anyone who has studied both syntax and programming will attest.

Of course, one reason the computing metaphor works so well is that language truly is a form of software. Just as the human brain was the model for computer hardware, human language was the model for computer software—and we are now, after a decade of widespread, intensive experience with computers, in a position to recognize experientially what that means. The social, cultural, and intellectual activities of linguistics and computing (in academia, in hardware and software industries, and in various user communities) are woven of many of the same conceptual threads. The relations between linguistics and computing

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