History – The Beginnings


The Founding document was signed on 12 February 1977 by

  • W. Nelson Francis
  • Geoffrey Leech
  • Stig Johansson
  • Arthur O. Sandved
  • Jan Svartvik

There is no one better to describe how ICAME came about than Geoffrey Leech and Stig Johansson themselves.

They did just that in the ICAME Journal No. 33:

As one of the founding fathers put it in 1996, “corpora are becoming mainstream”. There is no sign that the development has slowed down since then. ICAME has no doubt played an important role in this development.

Read the article

The First ICAME conference (Bergen, 1979):

What we count as the first ICAME conference was originally a symposium arranged in preparation for the grammatical tagging of the LOB Corpus. The 1979 symposium was attended by 37 participants from 10 countries. A variety of topics were taken up, but most of the papers dealt with aspects of the grammatical tagging of electronic corpora; a brief account is given in ICAME News 3 (1979), pp. 9-14.

The proceedings were audio-recorded on reel-to-reel tape by Knut Hofland. The recordings have been digitised, and three of the contributions are made available here. Although there is some reference to handouts which are not reproduced, the talks should be readily understandable.

Randolph Quirk gave an introductory lecture, which was open to a wider audience, on ‘The place of corpus study in English language research’. The reference to Professor Sundby is in recognition of the fact that he was the holder at the time of the chair in English linguistics at the University of Bergen. Quirk’s paper discusses general aspects of corpora, with particular reference to the corpus of the Survey of English Usage: the case for using corpora, considerations in corpus building, the importance of total accountability, corpora and elicitation, etc. – listen to recording

The contribution by W. Nelson Francis deals with the relevance of corpora in general, but in particular with considerations in compiling and developing the Brown Corpus. Special attention is paid to grammatical tagging. The reference in the beginning of the talk to ‘The Fulton County Grand Jury …’ echoes the opening of the first text of the Brown Corpus. – listen to recording

Geoffrey Leech did not present a formal paper. What is recorded here are his spontaneous remarks on the use and relevance of electronic corpora. It is especially significant that he looks ahead to what might happen in the future. – listen to recording

W. Nelson Francis’s Dinner Speech

This is an excerpt of the dinner speech W. Nelson Francis gave at ICAME 5 in 1985:

«People are more familiar with computers nowadays, and perhaps not so hostile as my colleague David O’Kraus. But corpus-based computational linguistics is rather mysterious to the general public. Just a few days before I left home to come here, I found myself at a cocktail party of the kind university administrators feel obliged to give at the end of term. I got into conversation with a middle-aged lady – at least I would call her middle-aged, since she seemed not a day older than I.

She asked the usual question that lay folk ask of academics at this time of year – “What are you going to be doing during the vacation?” I told her I was leaving shortly for England. “And what’s taking you to England?” she asked. “I hope it’s a 747,” 1 answered, “but you never can tell about British Airways.” “That’s not what I mean,” she said, “why in the world are you going to England?”

“Well, there’s a conference going on about corpuses. People from all over Europe are going to be there.”

“Oh. But what are you doing about corpses?” – (as a good Bostonian she doesn’t pronounce postvocalic r’s).

“Most of the people are trying to parse them with computers. We have a standard one at Brown.”

“Oh, dear. Will you be taking it with you?”

“No, only my wife. They have our corpus there already. The British have made a replica of it.”

“Isn’t that what they call cloning?”

“Not exactly – cloning means making an exact duplicate. Their corpus is not exactly like ours, because it’s British, you see. Whenever we say ‘monkey wrench’ they say ‘adjustable spanner’.”

“How odd. But what do you mean by passing it?”

“Well, before you can parse it, you have to segment it. That’s pretty hard to do with a computer. But at Brown we have a very sharp hacker to help with that – name of Andy Mackie.”

“That’s a funny name for a hatchet. But why can’t you leave the poor dead corpse in peace?”

“Oh, our corpus isn’t dead, it’s still living. Or at least it was in 1961 when we collected it”»

Read the whole speech