Saturday, February 22, 2014

Oh, patents! Oh, spellchecker!

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

Oh, spellchecker! Let me count the ways I love thee!.....

Intolerance of spelling mistakes is probably as drastic as intolerance for various accents or registers of speech. You may unwittingly truly be offending your readers or interlocutors when you make a misteak, or if you do not speak the standard dialect….even if you score high on the basketball court or in math and computational theory. George Bernard Shaw’s story Pygmalion is one of transformation through phonetics, at least on the surface! And Alain Rey’s book: L’amour du français is partially a plea to the contrary, and a detailed defense of the plural of love when referencing French. Yes, that would be “For the loves of French”, coming from the Editor-in-Chief of the Le Robert dictionaries, France’s equivalent of the OED!.... So there!

And, three cheers for Spellcheckers, and especially the newer ones that work on line, for email, and in your browsers!

The patent US2008270122, assigned to IBM, and titled System for handling novel words in a spellchecking module, arises in a long history of IBM and ARPANet/Stanford University AI Lab spellcheckers, initially designed for mainframe computers, and dating back to the 1960s and 70s. This particular spellchecker offers the possibility of adding new words to the main dictionary, and more particularly, of adding several forms of the new word. Thus, for example, the patent describes how the term “elastomer’ could be added to a spellchecker dictionary, as well as the adjective “elastomeric”, the plural “elastomers”, and the possessive forms “eleastomer’s”. This new functionality of spellcheckers is then seen as particularly useful since such items as trademarked product names or company names can be added to a spellchecker, including various forms of the new item, which will all prevent the spellchecker from marking these items are erroneous.

Below, you will find the abstract for US2008270122, titled, System for handling novel words in a spellchecking module: 

A system for adding words to an online dictionary used for spell checking is described. A spell checker module compares words of an electronic document with words in the online dictionary and identifies a word in the electronic document that is missing from the dictionary. After a user indicates a desire to add the missing word to the dictionary, the spell checker module determines at least one related-word form of the missing word. The related-word forms depend upon the part of speech of the missing word. The spellchecker can prompt the user to identify the part of speech and then to verify each determined related-word form. The spellchecker concurrently adds the missing word and at least one related word to word form of the missing word to the online dictionary in a single 'add-to-dictionary' operation.

 Spellcheckers are probably a hop, skip and a jump, from/to matching the source and target segments of a large corpus in MT (machine translation), but that is another line of inventions altogether…

Now, seriously, can you imagine ever having to write without a spellchecker?....  

Rey, A. (2008) L’amour du français: contre les puristes et autres censeurs de la langue. France: Editions Denoël.

Shaw, G.B. (1916) Pygmalion. New York, NY: Brentano.

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