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Re: [ontolog-forum] The history computing volume 6

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 19 Feb 2011 08:42:08 -0500
Message-id: <4D5FC8B0.1090306@xxxxxxxxxxx>
On 2/19/2011 7:35 AM, Gian Piero Zarri wrote:
> Note that SNOBOL was, at least partly, a spin-off of Victor Yngve's
> COMIT, the first (I think) computer language practically used for string
> processing and computational linguistics-like applications. I have (very
> satisfactorily) used COMIT for several applications in the mid-60 at the
> Center for Cybernetics and Linguistic Applications of the University of
> Milan, including a small generative grammar program for Italian inspired
> from Yngve's "Little Train" work.    (01)

Yes.  COMIT was a pioneering language that was designed for machine
translation.  Following is a paper that Yngve published in 1958:    (02)

    http://www.mt-archive.info/MT-1958-Yngve.pdf    (03)

That same web site has copies of papers at MT conferences from 1952
to 2010.  They help reinforce my claims about the amount of pioneering
research from AI & NLP that enriched the field of computer science:    (04)

    http://www.mt-archive.info/conferences-1.htm    (05)

I never used COMIT, but I did enjoy SNOBOL, which was influenced by it.
SNOBOL had a top-down, recursive descent backtracking pattern matcher.
That technique has strong similarities to many kinds of parsers,
including the Definite Clause Grammars, which were the primary
motivation for Alain Colmerauer's invention of Prolog.    (06)

A serious deficiency of string languages, however, is that their
unit of parsing is a single character.  That is not bad for analyzing
morphology (word endings, for example), but it is a serious limitation
for grammars, in which you need to group characters into words,
words into phrases, and phrases into larger phrases.    (07)

In his history of LISP, McCarthy noted that limitation of string
languages.  The ability to group lists into larger lists was a major
advantage of list languages, including IPL and FLPL as predecessors
to LISP.  And by the way, Newell, Shaw, and Simon were also very
much aware of the need to group items into larger units represented
by lists.  They were, in fact, the ones who popularized the term
'chunk' for those larger units.    (08)

Side note:  Yngve was the director of the machine translation project
at MIT.  Some of the MT funding, which Yngve got from the DoD, was
used to support a new guy named Noam Chomsky.  Chomsky acknowledged
that funding in his first book (1957), but he never did any actual
work on the MT project.    (09)

John    (010)

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