to Wordcorr. Tracing systematic similarities among
languages is the key to understanding their history. Unfortunately,
the way the similarities once had to be traced manually was error
prone and required tedious tabulations.
Division of labor. The
Wordcorr Project extends the capabilities of comparative linguists.
- takes advantage of your
familiarity with recognizing relevant patterns.
- combines that with the
computer's ability to organize all your data in response to
those judgments about patterns.
This division of labor allows
linguists to stay on top of quantities of data from many speech
varieties simultaneously, and to deal with them in a shorter time
than was possible before. It provides an information technology
infrastructure for their discipline.
Computer as organizer. The
computer does not do the analysis for you. Instead, it organizes
your data according to your own informed decisions in a way that
rapidly shows up contrasts and complementarities among
correspondence sets, a fundamental step in arriving at a systematic
Wordcorr also shows up and
organizes information about the many anomalies that have to be
accounted for. It allows different levels of detail to be worked
on, simultaneously if desired.
Wordcorr? In the tabulation phase of comparative
linguistics, the ratio of bookkeeping time to thinking time
traditionally stood at more than 200 to 1. Word processors and
spreadsheets brought the ratio down a little, but not much.
The Wordcorr design, however,
allows you to concentrate on the data, because the bookkeeping is
handled in seconds, without error and without diverting attention
from your main thought process.
This helps transform comparative
linguistics from drudgery illuminated now and then by a flash of
insight into a doable endeavor that more people can feel attracted
to. Wordcorr also assists in organizing the presentation of
evidence for hypotheses about how language families have developed.
Because of the necessity for close attention to minute details,
truly collegial research by teams of scholars has been hard to
achieve. Usually one scholar keeps in his or her head most of the
options and uncertainties of the developing analysis, and
assistants may be limited to compiling data and checking out
specific lines of thought the lead scholar wants traced.
Wordcorr, however, is designed so
that each member of a team may follow through several alternate
analyses, send them to colleagues, and discuss them freely while a
consensus takes shape, because all the alternatives are accessible
through file exchange on the Internet.
Impact: The team research aspect allows classes in the
comparative method to be conducted using exactly the same software
the students will eventually use for their own field work. By
making educationally useful data sets available to the public at
large via the Internet, Wordcorr may even help attract people into
linguistics. It may also help informed citizens to realize that
languages other than their own have an intricate and beautiful
heritage, not something to be despised or stamped out.
Look at Overview.
The initial project involved joint
support from the Information Technology Research and the
Linguistics programs of the National Science Foundation from 2002
to 2004. The goal was to construct a specialized tool for linguists
Enabling collaboration between
Dr. Joseph E. Grimes, graduate assistants at the University of
Hawaii, and the software specialists at DataHouse, Honolulu, to
produce a robust and user friendly tool accessible without cost
to linguists anywhere in the world that an Internet connection
Providing the means for a
linguist to work alone in the field, and for a team of
scholars, or a professor and class, to dialogue via the
Internet about each other's views of any analysis.
Organizing conceptual and
technical help for linguists who may be so remotely situated
that they lack access both to consultation with colleagues and
to technical advice about Wordcorr itself.
Compiling sample word list
collections to exploit Wordcorr as an educational tool by
treating a class as the beginnings of a research team.
Training linguists and
graduate students to exploit Wordcorr's speed and consistency
in order to jump start comparative studies that combine field
data with data from the linguistic literature.
Making data about Wordcorr
collections available worldwide through the Open Language
Archives Community and Linguist List's collection of materials
from endangered languages.