Henry Kucera

From Academic Kids

Henry Kucera (born 1925) is a Czech linguist who was a pioneer in corpus linguistics and linguistic software.

Kucera was born in Czechoslovakia. When the Communists came to power in 1948, his studies in philosophy and linguistics were interrupted.

In the 1950s, Kucera found his way to Brown University, Rhode Island, USA, where he was able pursue further his interest in linguistics (he remained there for the rest of his career). At Brown, he became interested in the computational analysis of human language, though at the time there were scarcely any tools for this type of research.

In 1967, Kucera and Nelson Francis published their classic work Computational Analysis of Present-Day American English (1967), known today simply as the Brown Corpus. The Brown Corpus was a carefully compiled selection of current American English, totalling about a million words drawn from a wide variety of sources. Kucera and Francis subjected it to a variety of computational analyses, from which they compiled a rich and variegated opus, combining elements of linguistics, psychology, statistics, and sociology.

Shortly thereafter, Boston publisher Houghton-Mifflin approached Kucera to supply a million word, three-line citation base for its new American Heritage Dictionary. This ground-breaking new dictionary, which first appeared in 1969, was the first dictionary to be compiled using corpus linguistics for word frequency and other information.

Kucera wrote one of the first spellcheckers over Christmas, 1981, in PL/I for VAX machines, at the behest of Digital Equipment Corporation. It was a simple, rapid spelling verifier. Kucera later oversaw the development of Houghton-Mifflin’s Correct Text grammar checker, which also drew heavily on statistical techniques for analysis.

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