Perseus, Alpheios, and Corpus-Based Language Learning

Perseus, Alpheios, and Corpus-Based Language Learning

Postby Jonathan Robie » March 11th, 2014, 10:01 am

Harry Diakoff has just joined B-Greek, and he has agreed to present his thoughts on Perseus, Alpheios, and Corpus-Based Language Learning. The Classical Greek world is struggling with the same language pedagogy issues that we struggle with, many of the newer approaches focus on using the corpus as the focal point for instruction.

Harry, who is doing interesting work on Corpus-Based Language Learning in the classical Greek world, and what are they doing?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Perseus, Alpheios, and Corpus-Based Language Learning

Postby Harry Diakoff » March 12th, 2014, 12:01 am

Well, Jonathan, if more people were in fact applying corpus based learned effectively to the study of classical and patristic Greek, Perseus and Alpheios would probably not be so intent on doing so ourselves.

A few years ago we noticed that teachers of modern languages were developing more and more imaginative methods for taking advantage of current technology, including corpus exploitation, while the classics remained largely the captive of very traditional learning methods. This is of course ironic, since the pioneers of textual criticism and hermeneutics, were either classicists or churchmen, or both, from St Jerome to Father Roberto Busa, men who considered a profound study of Greek, Latin and Hebrew to be of the highest importance and have left us innumerable marvels of scholarly achievement. It is difficult to imagine the difficulties that had to be overcome to begin work on what became known as the Complutensian polyglot bible in the sixteenth century.

So in the Greek and Latin Classics and the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures we have texts that have been analyzed and enriched with commentaries for more than two millennia. No modern language can claim any comparable scholarly tradition, and one that has been focussed on a relatively small corpus of texts. Today, although the basic texts themselves are widely available, the vast body of critical commentary associated with them has yet to appear online, so the relevant corpora are still incomplete, and the relevant resources of additional languages such as Syriac, Coptic and Classical Armenian and Arabic are beginning to be appreciated.

Of more immediate importance to the student, surprisingly little has been done to facilitate self study of the classical languages by using the available annotations of these texts to create the adaptive learning games and automatic assessment tools that are becoming increasingly popular in the so-called Computer Assisted Language Learning tools being introduced for modern languages, things like Trude Heift's e-tutor for German, or Amherst's Langbot for Spanish. Leveraging the incomparably greater resources that the classical languages possess, especially in annotated corpora, thus became increasingly attractive, not least because the classical languages present special challenges, such as complicated pattern of inflections, that CALL tools seem well designed to address.

For nearly a quarter of a century, The Perseus Project, still under the direction of its founder, Gregory Crane, has been putting online searchable versions of all the major classical authors in Greek and Latin. Last year Crane also became a Humboldt professor of digital humanities at the University of Leipzig, where he has initiated an Open Greek and Latin project to further disseminate classical texts and explore a variety of pedagogical options, including MOOCs for classical languages. This year he will begin to digitize the major Patristic authors.

The Alpheios Project began in 2007 as an attempt to facilitate access to Perseus and similar online resources by making the necessary lexical and grammatical reading support tools available within a user's browser. Currently it is only available in Firefox, although a port to Chrome is underway. It is a flexible platform to which any number of dictionaries, grammars, inflection tables, etc can easily be added. The most recent addition was the Abbott-Smith dictionary of Biblical Greek, which Jonathan so kindly supplied. (Note that the user can choose to alter the sequence in which the available dictionaries are consulted, so he can make sure that a Biblical dictionary is consulted before a classical one.)

The Alpheios platform was originally designed as a reading support environment-providing direct access to the relevant reference works as one read any text that was being displayed in UTF-8 HTML. It was thus intended as a simply a convenience for reading a foreign text. We soon discovered that it was increasingly being used by students who were interested in learning the supported languages through study of texts that interested them, and there were anecdotal reports of considerable success.

The Alpheios platform has now evolved in two somewhat complementary directions. On the one hand it has added two editors, one for creating sentence diagrams and one for aligning a text with a translation. Both have proven popular among teachers and students as learning devices, but both also can be used to create and submit novel annotations to texts that have not yet been diagrammed or aligned with a given translation. On the other hand, Alpheios is now beginning to address pedagogical needs more directly with more learning games and a user model that will keep track of incremental progress and compare it against a map of target proficiency, generated automatically from whatever author or text a student wishes to study. We also are hoping to adapt the platform into a research instrument that can collect data about individual users and progressively optimize its functionality for that individual user (eg review intervals, methods of vocabulary acquisition, methods of increasing morpho-syntactic awareness etc), because we are profoundly skeptical that anyone currently knows the best method for learning languages, and are even skeptical that there is any such thing- one method that is optimal for all learners. And then language itself is such a composite of many different skills whose distribution varies among individuals.

Jonathan suggested that some of these opinions might be controversial and I should be delighted to discuss them further.
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Re: Perseus, Alpheios, and Corpus-Based Language Learning

Postby Jonathan Robie » March 16th, 2014, 5:12 pm

Thanks, Harry!

Can you say more about Trude Heift's e-tutor for German and Amherst's Langbot for Spanish? I am not familiar with these.

A lot of people on B-Greek favor conversational Koine as a means of internalizing the language. You focus primarily on corpus-based methods of language learning. Can you say more about the relative strengths of these two methods?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Perseus, Alpheios, and Corpus-Based Language Learning

Postby Louis L Sorenson » March 22nd, 2014, 2:16 pm

The Alpheios tools are currently the best tool for reading Greek texts online independent of any specific site (Which means that you are looking at a Greek text in a web browser's window). The Alpheios Tools allows an online reader to access a site such as biblegateway.com (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jn+3&version=SBLGNT) and have the ability to click on any word and get the (1) parsing, (2) inflection / declension, and (3) definition of the word in question. Alpheios will not pick the exact form if a hit returns multiple parsings or lemmata, but it lets the reader see all the possible entries in a very compact usable way.

Alpheios Tools are independent of any site. And provide the resources of the LSJ lexicons (full and Middle), Abbott-Smith (in a new or upcoming version), along with some Homeric lexicons (Hopefully also in the next few years Sophocles' Lexicon). If anyone has a page of Greek (unicode) text open in a browser, you simply turn the Alpheios tools 'On' and select 'Greek'. Then when you are reading a text, and need to query a Greek word's form, declension, lexeme, etc. You click on a the Greek word, and a floating window pops up. The floating window has some lexical entries, and also a declension/paradigm utility.

To install the Alpheios tools, you need to go to http://alpheios.net/content/installation. Then select to install the 'Greek and Latin Tools.' (Select 'Allow' if your Firefox browser or other browser has a security pop-up window.) You may also get a pop-up window asking to allow the installations of the extensions into the Firefox browser. (Alpheios tools are currently being ported so the work in other browsers such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, ktl.) To select the dictionary for which you want to have preference, you go (in the Firefox browser) to Tools>Add-ons>Alpheios Greek Tools > Options>Dictionaries.

Other sites and tools give access to the NT texts and also give helps to reading; these can also be aided by Alpheios tools (in some cases you may have to have the double-click pop-up behavior of Alpheios change to another action). Such sites are

(1) Laparola.net/greco (Only NT texts)
(2) Perseus.tufts.edu/ (But every click pops open a new window, not a floating window) (Perseus is a sponsor of Alpheios)
(3) TLG (Thesaurus Linguae Graecae) (some free access, most a paid access). Try this link to Plato's Critias http://www.tlg.uci.edu/demo/browser?uid=0&lang=eng&work=59003&rawescs=N&betalink=Y&filepos=0&outline=N&GreekFont=Unicode_All&, then use the Alpheios tools for reading. The free TLG corpus is a little tricky to find. Here is a list of authors and works: http://www.tlg.uci.edu/demoinfo/demoauthors.php
(4) Katabiblion (LXX - OT) Try reading Genesis 20 http://en.katabiblon.com/us/index.php?text=LXX&book=Gn&ch=20&interlin=on
(5) The German Bible Society's online texts: http://www.academic-bible.com/en/online-bibles/about-the-online-bibles/
(6) The Greek text converter at Katabiblon.com (Go to http://www.katabiblon.com/tools/perseus-hopperizer/index.php, paste in some Greek unicode text, select 'Link only', and make sure you turn Alpheios tools on. This is a really nice reader interface.

But I don't want to take this thread off of the discussion of corpus-based language study, and any discussion of the Alpheios toolset should (including this post), should perhaps be moved to a separate thread.
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Re: Perseus, Alpheios, and Corpus-Based Language Learning

Postby Harry Diakoff » March 26th, 2014, 6:45 am

Trude has a complete German course online
https://calico.org/memberBrowse.php?act ... cle&id=811
Scott Payne's LangBot is being moved to an android platform at the moment
https://www.amherst.edu/aboutamherst/ne ... ode/144997
Mathias Schulz gave an overview of icall a couple of years ago
http://journals.sfu.ca/CALICO/index.php ... le/793/654
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Re: Perseus, Alpheios, and Corpus-Based Language Learning

Postby Barry Hofstetter » March 27th, 2014, 12:05 pm

At the Perseus site, I can click any word and use the Perseus word tool to get all the goody info on the word. It too will prioritize the lemmata if there is more than one possibility. I know that Alpheios works independently on any site that is written in the target language, but how does the result itself compare with the Perseus word tool?
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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Re: Perseus, Alpheios, and Corpus-Based Language Learning

Postby Jonathan Robie » March 28th, 2014, 9:33 pm

I am at the NEH Working with Text in a Digital Age conference, and several professors and students have been extremely enthusiastic about using tree diagramming as a way to get a detailed understanding of how Greek and Latin work. Students were saying they would have long discussions with each other on the right representation of a given text in between classes, but gradually came to agree, and that they really remembered the details of sentences they had worked out.

Interesting stuff ...
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Perseus, Alpheios, and Corpus-Based Language Learning

Postby Harry Diakoff » March 29th, 2014, 4:16 pm

Barry Hofstetter wrote:At the Perseus site, I can click any word and use the Perseus word tool to get all the goody info on the word. It too will prioritize the lemmata if there is more than one possibility. I know that Alpheios works independently on any site that is written in the target language, but how does the result itself compare with the Perseus word tool?


For Greek alpheios uses the Perseus morpheus lemmatizer and morphological analyzer itself, for Arabic it uses Buckwalter2, and for Latin I believe still just Whitaker's Words. The architecture of the software is designed to permit swapping out morphological analyzers whenever a better one becomes available.
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