About the Interactive ALR

The Interactive ALR is a powerful online resource for the comparative study of Native American languages. Built from the ever-expanding catalog of our American Language Reprint Series, the Interactive ALR puts a growing 10,000 word database and comprehensive search capabilities into the hands of scholars, allowing comparison across dozens of linguistic records from the 1530s to the early 1900s. Its simple and easy-to-use features include:

  • A database of over 12,000 words from over forty native languages
  • Enhanced word search allowing the user to search for words, phrases and letter patterns in both native entries as well as  English translations.
  • An Interactive Linguistic Atlas, plotting native words on the user's choice of seven printable maps.
  • Ability to restrict searches by date and linguistic family.
  • Custom Lexicon generation for combining and comparing vocabularies in either dictionary or table format.
  • Unlimited access to full-text versions of the entire ALR series in printable PDF format. Available to purchasers of The Complete ALR on CD-Rom only.
  • Selected scans of the original sources of linguistic data (in planning).
  • Supplemental data and word-lists that do not appear in the book series


    The American Language Reprint series was inaugurated with the publication of "A Vocabulary of the Nanticoke Dialect" in 1996. The idea behind the series was twofold—first, to make minor historical vocabularies more accessible to a modern audience, and second, to present them in a fashion that was most useful to scholars and researchers.
    From its modest beginning as straight unedited reprints, the ALR series gradually took on a more editorial approach. More extensive use of original documents, including manuscript sources and multiple editions, were incorporated into each vocabulary to help preserve the integrity of the author's original data. Variant entries were also listed to help minimize the adverse affects of printers’ and copyists’ errors.
    Yet as the series progressed toward its 30th volume and more data continued to be published, it became apparent that the ALR series had far more potential than a mere collection of disparate vocabularies. Modern database and computer technology could provide an extraordinarily useful way to organize and compare the data in ways which could never be duplicated by a collection of printed books. Users could have the ability to search terms across all the vocabularies, to study their geographic distribution and to compile multiple vocabularies into a single list.

The Interactive ALR is born

    Eager to make use of this technology, but wholly ignorant of how to go about it, we asked programmer Dario Salvucci, now heading the Human-Machine Interaction Laboratory at Drexel University, to work up the basic search engine and interactive atlas features. He constructed an initial prototype for our website, and in the process amply demonstrated how effectively CGI scripting could suit our purposes. Not only could CGI be readily used over the internet and across a wide variety of platforms without any extra software, but the database programs themselves were both powerful and readily customizable. Thus the basic technology was now in place, although it was not until late in 2003 that we were able to finally prepare the prototype for commercial release.
    Then finally in January 2004, we were proud to publicly launch the Interactive ALR, with expanded versions of the prototype Word Search and Interactive Atlas features, as well as a new Custom Lexicon generator. By this time the book series had grown to 30 volumes, giving us a word database of about 10,000 entries.
    Since our launch we have continued to improve the database with subsequent additions, including new interactive features, and additional languages and vocabularies far beyond the published series. We are especially pleased to have been granted permission by the American Philosophical Society to incorporate linguistic data from the rare and valuable manuscripts in their collection. We extend our grateful thanks to the Society for allowing us to make this data--a good deal of which has never been published before--available to the modern student in a way that the great philologists of American history could only have dreamed.

Why use old vocabularies?

    The question may well be asked—why would there be any interest in old and out-of-date vocabularies? Aren't modern ones more linguistically accurate?
    To be sure, if considered by the recording standards of modern linguistics many of the older vocabularies are poorly done. Very seldom did the recorders have anything approaching native competency in the target language; many times they were compelled to elicit words by the extremely error-prone method of pointing to various objects and eliciting their names. Often their European-trained ears failed to distinguish important parts of the native words they heard, which were also organized under much different grammatical principles.
    Nevertheless, old vocabularies continue to remain important for two main reasons. First, because sometimes these are the only vocabularies we have. Languages like Stadaconan, Susquehannock and Woccon did not survive to modern times and the tantalizingly brief examples provided by Cartier, Campanius, and Lawson are the only direct evidence we have of what these languages sounded like. If these men had not bothered to record them, we would have no record of them at all.
    But even in the case of otherwise well-known languages such as Shawnee and Cherokee, old vocabularies can be important to the modern researcher precisely because of their age. Languages, after all, are continually changing. And like an old photograph, an old vocabulary provides an irreplaceable snapshot of the way a language sounded at a precise place at a precise time in history, preserving for us extremely important information on their historical development and ancestral dialect distribution. They are often all the data we have to fix the dates of important sound changes, or to establish tribal and subgroup boundaries.

©2006 Evolution Publishing

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Indian Language Native American database American Language Reprint Series Nanticoke Lenape Delaware Susquehannock Powhatan Tuscarora Mohegan Pequot Unami Woccon Shawnee Cherokee Siouan Huron Etchemin Minsi Mahican Oneida Onondaga Miami Cayuga Mohawk Seneca Tutelo Massachusett Saponi Wyandot Indian Native Language Linguistic Historical Vocabulary Prince Gleach Brinton Lawson Smith Strachey Salvucci Madison Americanist Algonquian Iroquoian Siouan Algic Iroquois Sioux