the Interactive ALR
The Interactive ALR is a powerful online resource for the
comparative study of Native American languages. Built from the
ever-expanding catalog of our American Language Reprint Series, the
Interactive ALR puts a growing 10,000 word database and comprehensive
search capabilities into the hands of scholars, allowing comparison
across dozens of linguistic records from the 1530s to the early 1900s.
Its simple and easy-to-use features include:
- A database of over 12,000 words from over forty
- Enhanced word search allowing the user to search for
words, phrases and letter patterns in both native entries as well
- An Interactive Linguistic Atlas, plotting native
words on the user's choice of seven printable maps.
- Ability to restrict searches by date and linguistic
- Custom Lexicon generation for combining and
comparing vocabularies in either dictionary or table format.
- Unlimited access to full-text versions of the entire ALR
series in printable PDF format. Available to purchasers of The Complete ALR
on CD-Rom only.
- Selected scans of the original sources of
linguistic data (in planning).
- Supplemental data and word-lists that do not appear
in the book series
The American Language Reprint series was inaugurated
with the publication of "A Vocabulary of the Nanticoke Dialect" in
1996. The idea behind the series was twofold—first, to make minor
historical vocabularies more accessible to a modern audience, and
second, to present them in a fashion that was most useful to scholars
From its modest beginning as straight unedited
reprints, the ALR series gradually took on a more editorial approach.
More extensive use of original documents, including manuscript sources
and multiple editions, were incorporated into each vocabulary to help
preserve the integrity of the author's original data. Variant entries
were also listed to help minimize the adverse affects of printers’ and
Yet as the series progressed toward its 30th volume
and more data continued to be published, it became apparent
that the ALR series had far more potential than a mere collection
of disparate vocabularies. Modern database and computer technology
could provide an extraordinarily useful way to organize and compare the
data in ways which could never be duplicated by a collection of printed
books. Users could have the ability to search terms across all the
vocabularies, to study their geographic distribution and to compile
multiple vocabularies into a single list.
The Interactive ALR is born
Eager to make use of this technology, but wholly
ignorant of how to go about it, we asked programmer Dario Salvucci, now
heading the Human-Machine Interaction Laboratory at Drexel University,
to work up the basic search engine and interactive atlas features. He
constructed an initial prototype for our website, and in the process
amply demonstrated how
effectively CGI scripting could suit our purposes. Not only could CGI
readily used over the internet and across a wide variety of platforms
any extra software, but the database programs themselves were both
and readily customizable. Thus the basic technology was now in place,
it was not until late in 2003 that we were able to finally prepare the
for commercial release.
Then finally in January 2004, we were proud to
publicly launch the Interactive ALR,
with expanded versions of the
prototype Word Search
and Interactive Atlas features, as well as a new Custom Lexicon
generator. By this time the book series had grown to 30 volumes, giving
us a word database of about 10,000 entries.
Since our launch we have continued to improve the
database with subsequent
additions, including new interactive features, and additional
languages and vocabularies far beyond the published series. We are
especially pleased to have been granted permission by the American Philosophical Society to
incorporate linguistic data from the rare and valuable manuscripts in
their collection. We extend our grateful thanks to the Society for
allowing us to make this data--a good deal of which has never been
published before--available to the modern student in a way that the
great philologists of American history could only have dreamed.
Why use old vocabularies?
The question may well be asked—why would there be
any interest in old and out-of-date vocabularies? Aren't modern ones
more linguistically accurate?
To be sure, if considered by the recording standards
of modern linguistics many of the older vocabularies are poorly done.
Very seldom did the recorders have anything approaching native
competency in the target language; many times they were compelled to
elicit words by the extremely error-prone method of pointing to various
objects and eliciting their names. Often their European-trained ears
to distinguish important parts of the native words they heard, which
were also organized under much different grammatical principles.
Nevertheless, old vocabularies continue to remain
important for two main reasons. First, because sometimes these are the
only vocabularies we have. Languages like Stadaconan,
Susquehannock and Woccon did not survive to modern times and the
brief examples provided by Cartier, Campanius, and Lawson are the only
direct evidence we have of what these languages sounded like. If these
men had not bothered to record them, we would have no record of them at
But even in the case of otherwise well-known
languages such as Shawnee and Cherokee, old vocabularies can be
important to the modern researcher precisely because of their
age. Languages, after all, are continually changing. And like an old
photograph, an old vocabulary provides an irreplaceable snapshot of the
way a language sounded at a
precise place at a precise time in history, preserving for us extremely
important information on their historical development and ancestral
dialect distribution. They are often all the data we have to fix the
dates of important
sound changes, or to establish tribal and subgroup boundaries.