eBooks: 2000 – The web portal yourDictionary

by Marie Lebert on July 21, 2011

eBooks: 2000 - yourDictionary

Five years before co-founding yourDictionary.com in February 2000, as the portal for all languages without any exception, Robert Beard created the website A Web of Online Dictionaries (WOD) in 1995.

Robert Beard was a language teacher at Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. In September 1998, his website provided an index of 800 online dictionaries in 150 languages, as well as sections for multilingual dictionaries, specialized English dictionaries, thesauri and other vocabulary aids, language identifiers and guessers, an index of dictionary indices, the “Web of Online Grammars”, and the “Web of Linguistic Fun”, i.e. linguistics for non-specialists.

Robert Beard wrote in September 1998: “There was an initial fear that the web posed a threat to multilingualism on the web, since HTML and other programming languages are based on English and since there are simply more websites in English than any other language. However, my websites indicate that multilingualism is very much alive and the web may, in fact, serve as a vehicle for preserving many endangered languages. I now have links to dictionaries in 150 languages and grammars of 65 languages. Moreover, the new attention paid by browser developers to the different languages of the world will encourage even more websites in different languages.” (NEF Interview)

Fifteen months later, Robert Beard included his website into a larger project, yourDictionary.com, that he co-founded in early 2000.

He wrote in January 2000: “The new website is an index of 1,200+ dictionaries in more than 200 languages. Besides the WOD, the new website includes a word-of-the-day-feature, word games, a language chat room, the old ‘Web of Online Grammars’ (now expanded to include additional language resources), the ‘Web of Linguistic Fun’, multilingual dictionaries; specialized English dictionaries; thesauri and other vocabulary aids; language identifiers and guessers, and other features; dictionary indices. yourDictionary.com will hopefully be the premiere language portal and the largest language resource site on the web. It is now actively acquiring dictionaries and grammars of all languages with a particular focus on endangered languages. It is overseen by a blue ribbon panel of linguistic experts from all over the world. (…)

Indeed, yourDictionary.com has lots of new ideas. We plan to work with the Endangered Language Fund in the U.S. and Britain to raise money for the Foundation’s work and publish the results on our site. We will have language chat rooms and bulletin boards. There will be language games designed to entertain and teach fundamentals of linguistics. The Linguistic Fun page will become an online journal for short, interesting, yes, even entertaining, pieces on language that are based on sound linguistics by experts from all over the world.”

As the portal for all languages without any exception, yourDictionary.com offered a section for endangered languages called the Endangered Language Repository.

As explained by Robert Beard: “Languages that are endangered are primarily languages without writing systems at all (only 1/3 of the world’s 6,000+ languages have writing systems). I still do not see the web contributing to the loss of language identity and still suspect it may, in the long run, contribute to strengthening it. More and more Native Americans, for example, are contacting linguists, asking them to write grammars of their language and help them put up dictionaries. For these people, the web is an affordable boon for cultural expression.”

How about the future of the web? “The web will be an encyclopedia of the world by the world for the world. There will be no information or knowledge that anyone needs that will not be available. The major hindrance to international and interpersonal understanding, personal and institutional enhancement, will be removed. It would take a wilder imagination than mine to predict the effect of this development on the nature of humankind.”

Copyright ©2011 Marie Lebert

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