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Henry Kučera (15 February 1925 – 20 February 2010), born Jindřich Kučera, was a Czech linguist who pioneered corpus linguistics, linguistic software, was a major contributor to the American Heritage Dictionary, and a pioneer in the development of spell checking computer software.
Early life and education
Kučera was born in the former Czechoslovakia in the village of Třebařov (between Pardubice and Olomouc). When the Communists came to power in February 1948, his studies in philosophy and linguistics at Charles University in the Czech capital of Prague were interrupted. He was forced to leave Czechoslovakia in April 1948 when it became clear that his political writings had placed him at risk of detention by the Communist authorities.
Kučera then moved to Allied-occupied Germany where he worked under the supervision of the U.S. CIC (Counterintelligence Corps) for refugee organizations, assisting Czech refugees with relocation programs and preparing passports. It was during this time that he met Pavel Tigrid, who went on to become Kučera's mentor and longtime friend. Following the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Tigrid went on to become the Minister of Culture for Czechoslovakia.
In 1949, he traveled to New York City aboard the USS General C. H. Muir. After receiving his PhD from Harvard University, he taught at the University of Florida at Gainesville for two years. Kučera returned to Harvard in 1969 as a research fellow. The next year, Kučera received an appointment at Brown University where he was promoted to full professor in 1965. He spent the rest of his teaching career there. Kučera retired in 1990 with, among other honors, a black tie retirement party and the publication of a book about his accomplishments, entitled Festschrift.
Kučera married Jacqueline Kučera (née Marie Jacqueline Fortin, 1928–2008) in 1951. The Kučeras settled in Providence, RI and Freedom, NH. They had three children, Tomaš Kučera (b. 1968), John Kučera (b. 1970-d.1970), and Edward Kučera (b. 1970).
While at Brown, he was able to further pursue his interest in linguistics. 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 1963 and 1964, Kučera collaborated with W. Nelson Francis to create the Brown Corpus of Standard American English, generally known as the Brown Corpus. This was a carefully compiled selection of current American English as published during the year 1961 in 1,000 sources on a wide variety of subjects. It has been very widely used in computational linguistics, and was for many years among the most-cited resources in the field. Kučera and Francis themselves subjected it to a variety of computational analyses from which derived their classic work Computational Analysis of Present-Day American English (1967), followed by Francis and Kučera's Frequency Analysis of English Usage: Lexicon and Grammar (1982).
Shortly thereafter, Boston publisher Houghton-Mifflin approached Kučera 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.
Kučera wrote one of the first spell checkers over Christmas, 1981, in PL/I for VAX machines, at the behest of Digital Equipment Corporation. It was a simple, rapid spelling verifier. Further development resulted in "International Correct Spell" a spell checking program which was used on word processing systems such as WordStar and Microsoft Word in addition to numerous small computer applications. Kučera later oversaw the development of Houghton-Mifflin’s Correct Text grammar checker, which also drew heavily on statistical techniques for analysis. He founded Language Systems Incorporated (LSI), later Language Systems Software Incorporated (LSSI), to manage his software programs and updates until the patents expired in 2002.
In addition to his PhD in Linguistics from Harvard University, Kučera had a doctorate from Charles University in Prague which was restored after the Velvet Revolution ousted the communist rule in Czechoslovakia.[when?] He received honorary degrees from Pembroke College in Providence, RI, Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, and Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.[when?] Kučera was a member of the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa.
Mackie, Andrew, Tatyana K. McAuley, Cynthia Simmons, eds. 1962. For Henry Kučera. Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Slavic Publications.