Interview with Mike Scott, WordSmith Tools developer

WordSmith Tools, a corpus linguistics program, turned 20 this year quite a feat for software from an independent developer. I have an OSX system so I don’t use WordSmith (though it can be run using Wine and/or virtualization) and also because it is a paid program – always an issue for us poor language teachers. However with the great support and new features on offer the fee seems more and more tempting. Mike Scott kindly answered some questions.

1. Who are you?
A language teacher whose hobby turned into a new career, software development for corpus linguistics. Lucky to get into Corpus Linguistics early on (1980s) and before that lucky to get into EAP early on (in the 1970s). Basically, lucky!

2. What do you think is the most useful feature in WordSmith Tools for language teachers?
WordSmith is used by loads of different types of researchers, many of them not in language teaching: literature, politics, history, medicine, law, sociology. Not many language students use it because they can get free tools elsewhere and many just use Google however much we might wish otherwise. Language teachers probably find the Concord tool and its collocates feature the most useful. 

3. Of the new features in the latest Wordsmith Tools which are you most excited about and why?
I put in new features as I think of them or as people request them. I am usually most excited by the one I’m currently working on because then I’m in the process of struggling to get it working and get it designed elegantly if I can. One I tweeted about recently was video concordancing. I think it will be great when we can routinely concordance enhanced corpora with sound and images as well as words! 

4. How do you see the current corpus linguistic software landscape?
Very much in its infancy. Computer software is only about as old as I am (born soon after WWII). Most other fields of human interest are as old as the hills. We are still feeling our way in a dark cavern full of interesting veins to explore, with only the weakest of illumination. Fun!

Many thanks to Mike for taking the time to respond and to you for reading.

Penny for your thoughts

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