The sponsoring agencies, in particular the DGXIII and its language engineering sector, headed by Roberto Cencioni, considered that a successful development of language technologies is and will continue to heavily rely on the availability of large scale language resources, together with appropriate standards, methodologies, and manipulation tools (reference Eagles Spoken book). They also considered the need to capitalise on all the investments done on the production and the packaging of language resources in order to ensure certain re-usability. The access to large annotated spoken and written corpora, together with appropriate higher-level language resources, would not only provide a direct benefit to research and development efforts across a wide range of private and public organisations, but would also foster fruitful academic and industrial cooperation.
In order to carry out such strategic analysis, the European Commission and a large number of key players in the language engineering field decided to launch a project called RELATOR. The project aimed at defining a broad organisational framework for the creation of language resources, for both written and spoken language engineering, which are necessary for the development of an adequate language technology and industry in Europe. It also aimed at determining the feasibility of creating a co-ordinated European network of repositories which would perform the function of storing, disseminating and maintaining such resources. This activity was intended to contribute towards the long-term goal of making large scale language resources widely available to European organisations involved in R&D and educational activities.
The major outcome of RELATOR was the creation of ELRA as well as the initiation of several language resource production projects (e.g. SpeechDat family, PAROLE, etc.). This action was carried out through discussions in which high level representatives of the relevant actors were involved (e.g. owners of resources, producers, private and public users, funding bodies, scientific and professional associations). The big industrials as well as the major R&D labs were represented in what was known as the RELATOR Steering Committee, chaired by Parajon-Collada, Deputy Director General of the DGXIII. The discussions were about the various aspects of the problem, their needs and requirements, the possible solutions, their willingness to co-operate, and the conditions for a joint European action. They also aimed at identifying, describing and evaluating at various levels (e.g. organisational, technical, legal) the alternative methods and structures which could ensure the creation, management and maintenance of a European repository of re-usable language resources, and their dissemination to the various types of users.
The project had to present final recommendations for establishing a collaborative infrastructure that will act as a collection, verification, management and dissemination centre, built on the foundation provided by existing European structures and organisations.
The project consortium comprises representatives of major European-wide bodies and associations, most notably ELSNET, ESCA and EACL, plus an industrial steering committee composed of representatives of leading IT companies, publishers, Telecom operators and other providers of electronic information services. The action has been carried out in co-operation with relevant European groups and with on-going initiatives such as EAGLES. It also implied an analysis of existing international structures.
An unanimous decision was made to set up an independent, permanent, centralised organisation. Legal experts were asked to evaluate different scenarios and to suggest the most useful one. Of all suggestions (an incorporated company, a grouping of economic interests as allowed by the French law, a non-profit association) the steering committee felt that an independent, not-for-profit, membership-driven association was the most easiest to implement and the most acceptable from the liability and the legal points of view. The association statutes were prepared and deposited in Luxembourg on February 1995 by 16 founding members, under the name of The European Language Resources Association (ELRA).
To handle every issues related to the association affairs, ELDA, Evaluations & Language resources Distribution Agency, was created, as ELRA operational body. ELDA is responsible for the development and the execution of ELRA’s strategies and plans, and handles issues related to the distribution of language resources.