Internet Grammars at ALT III

Thu Apr 15 22:49:16 UTC 1999

About a year ago there was some discussion on this list about
"internet grammars". This went on for some weeks but soon came
to a stop--despite the enthousiassm of ALT's members. I want
to re-open this discussion, mainly to propose that ALT (or ALT
III's organizing committee) organize a workshop or a special
session during the conference in August to discuss Internet
grammars and, if there is enough support, to set an agenda for
further development. The main reason why last year's
discussion petered out is, I think, that it was not organised
and structured. If ALT could install a number of people to
jointly work on this, Internet Grammar can be developed
properly; a session during the conference would be enough to
establish such a committee.

As about 100 people have joined ALT since the discussion took
place, let me briefly summarize what it was and is about.
(I have most of the correspondence and can e-mail that to
those interested.) The idea was that there is a lot of
descriptive material that does not get published, for whatever
reason. This material may be in the form of field notes,
fragments of a descriptive grammar, word lists, well,
anything. The suggestion was that, as most people keep their
data in electronic form, it could be made available on the net
for members of ALT. This material would be published "as is"
without editorial interference.

Another angle was that it becomes increasingly difficult and
expensive to publish descriptive grammars such as those in,
for example, the Routledge, Mouton-de Gruyter, and Lincom
series. Added to this, the budgets of many academic libraries
are cut so that they can't afford to buy these grammars
anymore. It was therefore suggested that ALT might seek a way
of publishing descriptive grammars in electronic form.
Publishing books electronically is much less expensive than
publishing paper books: production, printing, storage,
distribution: all this is cheaper in electronic form. These
books would be published under an editorial regime as
traditional paper productions. Apart from cost, there are
other advantages to electronic books. For example, table of
contents and indexes can be hyperlinked to the text so that
these books are more easily accessible than paper books.

So there are two things: the informal grammatical material
that would be made available "as is", and the more "formal"
material that would be published under strict editorial

A number of issues need to be discussed. I mention just a few.
Is the "informal" material to be placed on ALT's web site, or
do individuals keep it on their private web sites (if they
have them), with the ALT web site pointing to those individual
sites via links? As to the "formal" material:
(a) should ALT go its own way, or should it seek a "strategic
alliance" with a Reputable Publisher?
(b) are these electronic books to be published on the Web, or
in another form, such as CD? A hybrid is possible as well:
table of contents, introduction, and index on the web, by way
of advertisement and assessment, and the full book on CD.
(c) in which form should these books be published?
(d) etcetera, etcetera.

With descriptive grammars becoming as an endangered species as
many of the languages they describe, they are important enough
to spend time and energy on. And with ALT being the
organisation it is, as Lena Mostova remarked: if not ALT, then

Peter Kahrel

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