Abstract : When the ALPAC report was published (Pierce 1966), I was deeply convinced that MT made no sense in the absence of detailed and formalized language descriptions. MT development was an engineering task, combining computer programming and linguistics, two fields that had an autonomous life and from which MT developers had to start. For computer specialists, several new tasks were clear: new programming tools should be helpful, as well as new algorithmic tools and new types of memories. For linguists, several subfields of linguistics were involved: the synchronic description of each language, namely, its morphology and lexicon, its syntax and possibly its semantics. No inventory of the needs and of the resources had been made seriously. But it should have been obvious that ambiguity was the major problem, and that only a detailed exploration of the contexts of ambiguous words could bring a solution.
Authors such as L. Bloomfield, N. Chomsky and Z.S. Harris have provided the methodology for building cumulative lexicons and grammars. There is a price to pay: descriptions should be limited to reproducible phenomena, which is precisely what the above mentioned authors have attempted to clarify.