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Python and Linguistics

11/15/2000

Late on Thursday of last week, Steve Williams posted a short note to comp.lang.python about Perligata, a Perl module which make it possible to write Perl programs in Latin. Oddly enough, this makes the language much more readable. Williams suggested Python in Finnish, a suggestion largely ignored as the Perligata article captured the attention of the linguists among us. It became last week's hot thread.

The thread reminded that many programmers find linguistics fascinating. This has been a perennial topic of conversation among several of my friends at O'Reilly. We all agreed that linguistics, Monty Python, playing musical instruments, and role playing games were common hacker interests. While we pondered the reasons why, we never struck upon a definitive answer. Pressed by an article deadline, I decided to see what ties there were on the web between Python and Linguistics.

Boudewijn Rempt is one of the many linguists in the Python community. (He also has an interest in role-playing games. I wonder what instrument he plays?) Rempt has created Kura, a Linguistics database. Rempt, also a fan of Qt and KDE, wrote this program in Python and gave it a Qt interface.

As an interesting aside, Tolkien, another common interest for many hackers, was a linguist who constructed languages for his fictional Middle Earth. Rempt's linguistic interest is also in constructed languages.

Another linguistic database, WordNet, can be found at Princeton University. WordNet is an online database of words and meanings. While not written in Python, Python developer and linguist Oliver Steele created a Python interface to the WordNet dictionary. Based on Steele's API for WordNet, developers at ENST wrote WAPI, the WordNet Advanced Python Interface.

The real gem of my search, however, was not a Python project at all, but a collection of 13 linguistic parodies written by Metalleus, some of which were originally posted to the sci.lang newsgroup. Metalleus is described in the sci.lang faq as the Monty Python of linguistics. The articles are attributed elsewhere to Ken Miner, Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the University of Kansas. That was my school. I am disappointed now that I never took a class from Professor Miner. These articles are funny even if you don't have a background in linguistics, but if you do, they're a riot.

Stephen Figgins administrates Linux servers for Sunflower Broadband, a cable company.


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