Allo Latin presented at the 24th Biennial Conference of the Dictionary Society of North America
Allo Latin presented at the 24th Biennial Conference of the Dictionary Society of North America
The CRS is delighted to announce that Allo Latin was presented at the 24th Biennial Conference of the Dictionary Society of North America (DSNA 24) from May 31 – June 3, 2023, in Boulder, Colorado. Since 1977, the DSNA conference has been bringing together experts and professionals from the fields of lexicography, linguistics, and others. The presentation included background information, a live demonstration of the Allo Latin website, and a brief question-and-answer session. It took place on June 2, 2023, 11:00 AM, at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Boban Dedović was the presenter on behalf of the OMNIKA Foundation. The full video presentation is provided below as well as on YouTube.
Allo: A Modern Digital Dictionary Platform for Ancient LanguagesBy Boban Dedović on February 23, 2023
Ancient languages matter. They connect us to our ancestors and draw attention from many fields of study. Despite overwhelming interest, the practical study of ancient languages is usually limited to persons with access to training and resources. For introductory students, the dictionary is usually located in the appendix of the assigned grammar book. For advanced study, many ancient languages have one or more physically large, expensive, inaccessible, and difficult to use dictionaries. A systematic review of both print and digital dictionaries for eight ancient languages yielded three recurring challenges: accessibility, usability, and scope. To illustrate: the Oxford Latin Dictionary contains 2,400 pages with tiny font and weighs 9.1 pounds. The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek is similar; and, digital access to both requires institutional affiliation. The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, although digitized, is comprised of over twenty volumes. In languages like Ancient Egyptian, Akkadian, and Sumerian, yet another difficulty is added. Vital dictionaries for these languages require a separate publication of sign lists to understand the script. In many cases, these resources are hand-written in French or German. While the Internet has helped with respect to distribution of some of these materials, the challenges noted above—particularly usability—remain. This is not to say that these resources are inadequate or their creators inferior; rather, there exist hitherto unexplored opportunities to leverage the Internet in order that trade-offs are mitigated. It is therefore necessary to reconsider the goals and priorities of digital dictionaries. Enter Allo–a modern dictionary platform for ancient languages. Each dictionary contains 1,000 high-frequency words. It is designed to be accessible, user-friendly, and suitable for advanced users. To accessibility: we offer it online, charge nothing, and do not require registration. To usability: the interface is optimized for tablet and mobile devices via our design-oriented approach. Because we regarded speed and search as the most critical goals, features like autocomplete, caching, and a recommendation engine are fully integrated. These features may reduce the time it takes to find a given entry by orders of magnitude; based on a small user study, up to 50 times faster than a print book and 5 times faster than a PDF file. To content scope: all entries are aggregated such that they include both a beginner and advanced resource. The federated, or aggregated, model we chose allows us to make updates when new resources are released. Each entry contains between 30–50 individual data fields. Full page images of original source materials and cursor-zooming are built in. Advanced users can find grammatical details, tables of forms, usage frequency statistics, example sentences, and a comprehensive but compact grammar from authoritative sources. We demonstrate the benefits of this approach in our first complete language: Allo Latin, a digital Classical Latin–to–English dictionary kindly provided on https://allo.conscious.ai/latin. Our experience suggests that digital dictionaries must be aggregations of information about a given entry and packaged in a clean user interface. Future innovation likely requires intense cooperation among three concerned parties: a technologist, lexicographer, and language expert.
Full presentation video
Salvēte urbī et orbī is a Latin phrase that means "greetings to the city and to the world."  It has been used by popes for almost two millennia in order to make important announcements and proclamations on behalf of the Catholic church. Despite the longevity of this tradition and the legacy of the classical Latin language, studying Latin is difficult for many individuals. The same is said of other that ancient languages like Sumerian, ancient Greek, Akkadian, Middle Egyptian, and others. The traditional model for studying ancient languages requires having access to several technical resources that vary according to the skill level of the student. Some of these resources may include a dictionary, grammar, reading class textbook, and word frequency list. While some digital tools exist, we perceived an opportunity to improve upon prior methods by means of building a single, reliable, and easy-to-use digital tool.
Upon analysis of those required resources noted above, it came to pass that they all had a common theme: the importance of the dictionary. That is, studying ancient languages requires using books and resources that include a list of entries and definitions in some shape or form. For example, the Oxford Latin Dictionary is in itself a dictionary, but for advanced users. Wheelock's Latin grammar includes definition entries at the end of each chapter, as well as in the appendix. Intermediate reading class textbooks like Ecce Romani III provide various definitions for each individual text a student has to translate. The study of dictionaries belongs to a discipline known as lexicography. Ancient languages and lexicography therefore have an intimate relationship with one another.
Before writing code and building the end product, we closely analyzed the current situation and defined our core problem, proposed solution, and execution plan. We resolved that ancient languages like Latin and others have unique needs and challenges. This is not true of modern languages like English. Our solution was to reconsider the goals and priorities of digital dictionaries in general. Having determined that the dictionary itself holds a station of high importance, our plan was to reduce the number of resources required to study ancient languages.
We built upon prior methods by means of consolidating relevant lexicographic information from various publications into a single digital tool. That is, we combined information from several books that were all related to a given word. This approach exceeded the scope of a traditional dictionary. As a result, we determined early on that we were building a dictionary platform, which is distinct from the former. We wanted to build a robust Latin study tool that was approachable by a general audience, but suitable for the needs of advanced users.
Enter Allo—a digital dictionary platform that contains 1,000 high-frequency words for a given ancient language. Our first complete language is Allo Latin. It is a combination of over ten digital and print resources.
As the list of features below shows, we wanted users to have everything they needed in a single digital experience. This translated into a simple but specific user goal: speed. That is, we sought to reduce the total amount of time required for users to access certain authoritative information about a given entry.
- Features of Allo Latin
- Multiple definition sources
- Sentence examples
- Frequency statistics
- Compare with Google/Yandex
- English derivatives
- Tables of forms
- Easy to read (plain English)
- Well-cited via bibliography
- Comprehensive grammar
- Linguistic explanations
On each entry page of the dictionary, the head word is shown prominently alongside an English translation. The audio pronunciations for each word sound out the core parts of the entry according to how most scholars believe it was vocalized. The definitions are provided from two sources: Wheelock's Latin, and the Oxford Latin Dictionary. Most entries have more than two example sentences for how the word was used, and these translations can be compared with other digital tools.
Advanced users can find grammatical information, word frequency statistics from reputable sources, as well as a table of all forms for each word. If one wishes to access the Oxford Latin Dictionary, the "See more definitions" button opens up the full page or pages from that very book in the side column. Moving the mouse over the page automatically zooms in so that users do not have to change the resolution of the browser window.
Clicking on bibliographic references takes you to the exact page in the book thanks to a deep integration with the OMNIKA Library's reader technology. The bottom of each page contains all of the bibliographic information necessary in order to give credit to publishers, authors, and creators. We also consolidated three authoritative grammars into a single, summarized page.
We plan to expand into other languages and continue building time saving features. While the exact timeline is undetermined, we are optimistic that development of Allo Akkadian and Allo Egyptian will be next. These languages utilize different writing systems that are alien to the writing system used in the English language. We look forward to addressing these unique challenges with high interest. Having aggregated lots of information about each entry, we now believe that further improvements must prioritize the search experience. Our development roadmap thus includes lots of activity related to the search box, autocomplete, indexing of more data fields, and the search results page in general. We believe that if people can find what they are looking for as quickly as possible, they will be more likely to return to the website and use the tool more frequently.
The goal of Allo was to construct a digital tool for studying ancient languages while serving the needs of users of all skill levels. In developing our first complete dictionary–Allo Latin–we have thrown light upon several insights we believe to be true.
- The study of ancient languages like classical Latin has unique challenges and needs
- Existing resources prioritize inclusion of a dictionary in various form-factors
- Combining information from multiple sources into a clean user interface reduces the amount of time required to search for things in comparison to alternative methods
- Allo is a product of lexicography, a field of study that seems to us to be overlooked in the shadow of computer science
We recommend future practitioners to consider the benefits of having a team that includes a lexicographer, language expert, and computer scientist.
As noted in our initial announcement of the Allo project, studying the mentality of ancient people requires proper tools and resources. While many excellent print resources exist, focused innovation on making existing resources more accessible to the public will likely accelerate that process. We believe that making ancient languages available to a wider audience will allow interested third parties to contribute more readily. Because we are one of the few organizations that invest heavily in ancient languages, we regard our work as important for humanity as a whole. Finally, we may remark that the study of ancient languages is in rapid decline, according to notable thought leaders. Tools like Allo Latin may encourage more students to embark on the difficult, but worthwhile journey of learning an ancient language. We are proud to be a contributing participant in this endeavor.
About the 2023 DSNA-24 conference
The Dictionary Society of North America Conference is a biennial gathering of researchers focused on lexicography. This prestigious event began in 1977. The 2023 conference was held between May 31 – June 3, 2023, at University Memorial Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Campus, in Boulder, Colorado. The listed organizer was Orin Hargraves. The conference's website provides the following description:
("About DSNA Biennial Conferences," DSNA 2023)
"Bringing together scholars of lexicography and professional lexicographers, the conference is an important event for anyone interested in modern dictionary research and practices. Speakers must be DSNA members; nonmembers should apply for membership when they receive their acceptance to speak."
For more information about the conference, please refer to the conference program's PDF file or visit https://dictionarysociety.com/conference/dsna-24-in-boulder-colorado
Disclosures: Partial funding for this research publication and its contents was provided by the OMNIKA Foundation, a Nevada-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit managed under the auspices of the Consciousness Research Society (CRS). Boban Dedović is a psycholinguist who serves as the Executive Director of the OMNIKA Foundation as of this writing. Article copyright © 2023 Boban Dedović, some rights reserved.