Newnham College, Cambridge

ALLC 6th International Symposium on Computers in Literary and Linguistic Research

28 March – 3 April

The general quality of work reported on at this symposium was perhaps slightly more technical and strictly 'computational' than at some previous ones in the series. There were noteworthy papers in the usual areas of lexicography, prosody, bibliography, concordancing, attribution studies, literary statistics and so forth, but also some sessions on database techniques, natural language processing and -whisper who dares- machine translation. The latter was the subject of Professor Liu Yong-quan from the Peking Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, where machine translation has been somewhat of a necessity and appears to work (into if not out of Chinese) despite the limitations of available hardware. Jitze Couperus (CDC & Codasyl) gave what was intended to be a keynote address on the concurrence of linguistics and computing in current database trends. Semiotics, he averred, was more fashionable than cybernetics. No-one disagreed but (as a subsequent two hour discussion session demonstrated) this may have been because few understood. This 'Open Forum' was probably the most disappointing event of the Conferences - the understanding gap between database specialists and computational humanists shows no signs of shrinking.

As an indication of the range of subjects and representatives at the conference, I shall just mention a few papers which interested me. Among impressive new textual projects reported on were the collation of the six editions of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (Faulkner, Washington State); the indexing of two early 17th century German newspapers by topic (Ries, Cambridge); the production of a lemmatised concordance to Ibsen (Hofland, Bergen) and the problems of concording the textually complex 1606 folio of Ben Jonson (Howard-Hill, South Carolina). There was of course a paper on OCP (Hockey, Oxford) and another on a very quick and very dirty indexing program called CODOC (Niblett, Swansea) . There was little else on software of note though there was much informal praise for SPIRES, UNIX and other unattainable goodies. The most impressive hardware on view was that attached to the Chinese Languages Transposition Project (Nancarrow, Cambridge) which hooks a tektronix up to a rotating cylinder for transput of any of several thousand characters in Chinese, Tibetan etc. Among more technical papers, Cercone (British Columbia) surveyed current methods of storing lexicons for natural language applications and Skolnik (Amsterdam) gave a good account of storage mechanisms well suited to them. Another new statistical measure of lexical diversity was proposed by Delcourt Mathonet & Mersh (Liege) and the poetic style of W. B.Yeats resisted all attempts to analyse its variations with EYEBALL (Jaynes, Minnesota). Not so Dostoevski, who has now come under the searching eyes of Geir Kjetsaa (Oslo) and his attribution algorithms.

Abstracts of all the papers are available from me. Apart from the papers I can report a great deal of interest in OCP and a great deal of information about machine readable texts scattered around the globe. I was co-opted to an international working party which aims to catalogue all such materials. Finally there was an Elizabethan Feast, complete with madrigals, which almost (but not quite) made up for the appalling standards of the Newnham cuisine.