Roger Mitton's Home Page
(photo circa 1997)
I was brought up in Morecambe, Lancashire. I studied classics at
The Royal Grammar School, Lancaster and then Psychology and Philosophy
at Merton College, Oxford, where I graduated in 1968. After a year
at Stanford University, California, studying philosophy, I returned to
London to help write the story of a community development project in
Notting Hill, which I had got to know during a gap year as a Community Service Volunteer. I then did various pieces of social research and spent some
months teaching English in Paris before going to Africa where I spent a
term as an English teacher in Botswana and then three years as deputy director
of the Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre. On returning to London in 1977
I was in charge of a European study of income support for the
unemployed. It was while supervising the analysis of the data from this
study that I became interested in computers and I took the Diploma in
Computer Science at Birkbeck. I combined part-time work in computing with part-time
study for a few years before joining this department, first as a
research assistant and then, in 1986, as a lecturer. In 1989 the Diploma
was superseded by the MSc Computing Science, of which I became course director and remained so until 2005.
I retired from Birkbeck in 2012 but retain some connection as a visiting research fellow.
The main topic of my research has been
spellchecking, more specifically the development of a spellchecker that
can make good guesses about the words that the writer intended, even when
the writer's spelling is poor; you can see a demo of its performance on isolated misspellings
The products of my work include
a computer-usable dictionary, a collection of spelling errors culled
from many sources, a prototype spellchecker, a PhD thesis, a number of papers and a
book, no longer in print but available from
I gave copies of the first two items - the dictionary and the error collection - to the
Oxford Text Archive.
Two of my research students gained their PhDs in 2007, the first
(click here) for work on the detection and correction
of "real-word" errors (such as "there" for "their"), and the second
(click here) on the generation of cryptic crossword clues. A third research student was working on the use of
semantics to improve the order of a spellchecker's suggestions but had to give it up because of the demands of
his full-time job.
If you are interested in spellchecking, you might like to read a short (now rather old) article
Spellchecking by computer, or my book
English Spelling and the Computer, or a more recent article
Ordering the suggestions of a spellchecker without using context
or, shorter and more readable,
Fifty years of spellchecking.
There is also a simple demo of the suggestions-making part of my spellchecker at did-you-mean.
If you are doing research into spellchecking yourself, you might want to download
a corpus of spelling errors.
My principal contribution to the department's teaching was a
C++ programming module, which was taken mainly by students on the MSc/PGDip Computer Science.
(See C++ notes.)
- English Spelling and the Computer, Longman 1996
- Unemployment, Poverty and Social Policy in Europe, (with Peter
Willmott and Phyllis Willmott) Bedford Square Press 1983
- Practical Research in Distance Teaching, International Extension
- A Community Project in Notting Dale, (with Elizabeth Morrison)
Allen Lane The Penguin Press 1972
All these books are now out of print, but
English Spelling and the Computer, and
Practical Research in Distance Teaching, are available from
School of Computer Science and Information Systems
London WC1E 7HX
Telephone: +44 020 7631 6715