Thursday, May 5, 2011

How does a programming field linguist come into existence?

Now after 20 years of education it's been nearly 7 months since my last assignment was turned in and I have been released to do my work. Hence the absence of any sort of light reading or content creation since I discovered programming and linguistics in the same summer, the summer I turned 16. I could barely check into PhD Comics and the Language Log once every 2 years...

So you might ask, how does a programming field linguist become a programming field linguist, does it co-evolve, or is there no connection? I argue that the connection is tied to the root of the two disciplines. We could argue that the common ancestor is Chomsky, but I prefer to think in more abstract terms.

To better understand this cross-breed, let us explore this path in a particular individual. Individual c. finds out about comparitive linguistics and programming decentralized agent-based systems in the same summer at the University of Maine, Math and Science UpWard Bound Summer Program for high school kids. She decides to do her undergrad in linguistics at Concordia, where Dr. Hale gives her a RedHat CD, and years of green text and compiling dependancies fly by. Bending the rules she takes Field Methods her first year. With only Ling 101 and Phonology under her belt, she is confused and awed by the fourth-years who seem to ask the informant sentences that she would never have figured out. She starts practicing on her roommate (who hails from Lahore, Pakistan) gets the hang of it, writes a (kick-ass) final paper on Mongolian locatives and instrumentals and manages to be 1 of the three A+ in the course. She takes this as a sign that she has met her destiny... Dr. Reiss suggests she do her grad school at University of Delaware, where they have some pretty well known field linguists. She graduates, gets a job as a Linguist at a multinational Text To Speech and Automatic Speech Recognition company in Montreal on a 1 year work visa, learns Perl, and works until all linguists in the fishbowl are laid off due to a final push for profitability in the 4th quarter. She gets accepted for grad school, deferes for 1 year and moves to Pakistan again to gather data for her research. She goes to grad school, takes more field methods courses on two dialects of Malay, some Passamaquoddy and as well as on-site fieldwork in Romania, Korea, Austria and the Czech Republic. She gets her permanent residence and settles in Montreal where through Dr. Bergler, she finds out about GATE, she also finds out about Jurafsky and Martin (second edition), and Protege. Being (apparently) the only grad student in the Computer Science and Software Engineering department with Perl on her CV, she TA's two Software Engineering courses. To help out an old friend from undergrad she works as a Linguist durring the summer at a Knowledge Engineering Startup (bound by another non-disclosure agreement she won't tell you what she did). The GATE training comes to town and she really learns Eclipse and some practical Software Engineering. The flood gates open, she ditches her Perl and Python and PHP scripting in favor of Groovy so she can script GATE to her needs... and she learns how to program Android to make an interface for GATE pipelines, to auto-summarize her pdfs and make "audiobooks" that don't read try to read damn data tables or trees to her, and more importantly read with comprehensible prosody. It's a beginning, it took her a lot of reading and highlighting to get here, and there is still more to do, but the flood is on the horizon :)

Are there others working these two fields? The answer is as sure as the common root is sure: yes. Where are they? Very busy plowing and cultivating the rocks in their two fields, perhaps stamped out as weeds, or perhaps they have already moved on to more fertile ground...

Three cheers for Engineering and Infrastructure to connect the neighboring fields!

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