This paper describes aspects of an intelligence interface that provides natural language access to a large body of data distributed over a computer network. The overall system architecture is presented, showing how a user is buffered from the actual data base management systems (DBMSs) by three layers of insulating components. These layers operate in series to convert natural language queries into calls to DBMSs at remote sites. Attention is then focused on the first of the insulating components, the natural language system. A pragmatic approach to language access that has proved useful for building interfaces to data bases is described and illustrated by examples. Special language features that increase system usability, such as spelling correction, processing of incomplete inputs, and run-time system personalization, are also discussed.