17.656 what they (you) were thinking

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Feb 18 2004 - 03:33:12 EST

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 656.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2004 08:27:26 +0000
         From: Elisabeth Burr <elisabeth.burr@uni-bremen.de>
         Subject: Re: 17.653 what were they (you) thinking?

Dear Willard,

good question. I remember quite well what attracted me to the computer:
dissatisfaction with linguistic research. We had so many models of language
(system / competence / variation, you name it) but knew nothing about use.

To find out more I had done a "corpus"-based research into the usage of ten-
ses of French and Spanish newspapers. I put corpus between quotation marks
because my corpus consisted in printed editions, my concordance was made up
of phrases copied onto punch cards (do you remember the hand held "computers"
with a long needle to go through the holes?) and my statistics were based
on ex-
haustive but manually conducted counts. The tediousness, the fear of
the none repeatability and, perhaps most important of all, the
impossibility to ask
questions which only turned up once your close look at the material had allowed
for more insight, was one thing I was very unhappy about.

The other was the vagueness of research results as they appeared in scholarly
publications and the impossibility to control them. In those days (I think
they have
not ended yet completely) you could read that at the basis of the research
were 100s of newspaper pages, all the editions of a certain year or even of
years. Very impressive, also frightening (How could one human count all the
rencies of a phenomenon in all this material in a relatively short time?).
And it was
not good enough.


At 11:25 17.02.2004, Willard McCarty wrote:

>What did philologists, historians, musicologists, literary critics,
>linguists and all the rest -- all these and more turned up in the pages of
>the early issues of CHum -- see in the computer that attracted them? What
>was the nature of the ideational baggage they brought that motivated them
>and that shaped the early applications of the tool, indeed defined the tool
>for them? How did those of us who are old enough, and were flogging the use
>of computers at the time, appeal to the curious masses? What did we
>observe at the time?
>Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
>Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
>7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

PD Dr. Elisabeth Burr
Fachbereich 10 - GW 2 B 3430
Frankoromanistik und Italoromanistik
Universität Bremen
28359 Bremen

Tel. +49 421 218-8236

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