The old spark of Electric Word

Thanks to John Rynne, language tech nostalgia-seekers can reread bits and pieces of LT/Electric Word, a now-defunct computer mag founded about 20 years ago as Language Technology by INK (a pace-setting Amsterdam-based localization company) and edited by a certain Louis Rossetto. Louis even pens a sepia-tinted introduction to John’s site, explaining that although he knew nothing about language or technology, the experience enabled him and his significant other Jane Metcalfe to learn the ropes of mag publishing.  You bet: Louis and Jane went on to found Wired. Fans of the digital impresario might also be amused by this wee memoir of the younger Louis.

I must of course disclose an interest here, since LT/Electric Word allowed me to start writing about the language technology nexus just then emerging from the R&D benches. One of the issues on this site republishes one of my late 1980s pieces on the language of Minitel (France’s national videotex system that never really survived the onslaught of the web). The first large-scale experiment in online lifestyle, every French phone subscriber got a small beige monitor plus alphabetic-layout keybord. Minitel linguistic usage at the time adumbrated today’s SMS style streamlined writing format as a way to speed up input and keep dialup costs down. There was even a Systran-driven automatic translation service long before AltaVista showed up on the web.

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.


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