By Donna Mo

The introduction of computers in the linguistics field have made it easier for researchers to verify their research and data. “It allows linguistic researchers to off-load the tedious part of verifying analyses to a computer,” said linguistics scholar Emily Bender.

Bender currently teaches at the University of Washington. Her main area of research is multilingual grammar engineering, computational semantics and the relationship between linguistics and computational linguistics.

She visited UC Santa Barbara to discuss the culmination of 20 years of research on linguistic documentation and typology at a colloquium put on by the Linguistics department. Bender’s talk focused on two computational programs that allow researchers to quickly and efficiently verify data analyses, which previously had to be done manually. The two programs are the LinGO Grammar Matrix and the AGGREGATION project. 


The LinGO Grammar Matrix is an open-source toolkit used to create “precision grammars” based on the grammar rules we already know. The Grammar Matrix looks at the broad finding of the languages we know and extract the similarities for further use. It allows researchers to check if a written language matches with any universal grammar rules. 

The AGGREGRATION project uses the Grammar Matrix and interlinear glossed text, which are annotations of a text usually explaining the definition or pronunciation of a word, produced by field linguists to build grammar fragments automatically. The project uses established grammar rules to create tree banks which is a way of breaking down syntactic sentence structure. It then documents the results and provides useful feedback to linguists about patterns in their data.

“The current focus of the AGGREGATION project is trying to give back to the field linguists community immediately,” said Bender. “Any time you take a large collection of anything and process it automatically, the computer finds not just patterns, but also exceptions that are worth looking at.”

Bender hopes that these programs can make analyzing data quicker and more efficient for linguistic researchers. “We’re trying to make it easier to bring the benefits of grammar engineering to field linguistics,” said Bender.

The UCSB department of Linguistics is offering courses in Computational Linguistics Fall 2018 and advanced Computational Linguistics Winter 2019. 

Donna Mo is a fourth year Communication major and Theater minor. She is a Web and Social Media intern with the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.