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Talking Dictionaries of Rare Languages

The Economist has recently published an article about K. David Harrison, of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Dr Harrison thinks that IT, which is usually considered an arch enemy of rare languages, may actually save them from extinction.

He has been managing four different projects, in India, Oregon, Papua New Guinea and Siberia. First, he created a talking dictionary that could be put onto the web. A talking dictionary of Tuvan, a language spoken in southern Siberia, has existed since 2006.

The two villages involved in this project in Papua New Guinea speak Matukar Panau. In 2011, as soon as they were linked to the country’s electricity grid, they almost immediately started using the Internet and the talking dictionary.

In Oregon, meanwhile, many now send texts in Siletz Dee-ni, a language that had only one fluent speaker at the beginning of the project. With his help and that of a few others who had partial knowledge of the language, Dr Harrison and his team have created a talking dictionary of 14,000 words.

Dr Harrison hopes also that the project for the dictionary of Koro-Aka, a language spoken in north-eastern India, will take off. Here, people have been using mobile phones for a long time, so it’s likely that texting in Koro-Aka will become glamorous.

If you are interested in rare languages, you can also read The Rosetta Project and the rescue of endangered languages and ELA (Ay-la).

By | March 1st, 2012|Blog|0 Comments

Google’s PageRank and Hydrogen Bonds

Aurora Clark, an associate professor of chemistry at Washington State University, has adapted Google’s PageRank software to determine the way molecules are shaped and organised.

Hydrogen bonds between different water molecules are in fact similar to the hyperlinks between different websites: in the same way that some hyperlinks are worth more than others, some molecular links are stronger than others.

Google’s PageRank algorithm was developed at Stanford University by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It essentially decides how important a website is, taking the number and importance of website links to it into account. Clark adapted Page and Brin’s idea to build “moleculaRnetworks”, which substitutes websites and hyperlinks for molecular shapes and chemical reactions. Water molecules are ranked on the basis of how many hydrogen bonds they make and how many of these bonds nearby molecules have. This system can then quickly characterise the interactions of millions of molecules, which is very useful in predicting how various chemicals will react with one another, saving the expense, logistics and danger of lab experiments. Predicting chemical reactivity will help in drug design, to understand better how different proteins lead to different diseases, in the analysis of radioactive pollutants and much more.

By | February 28th, 2012|Blog|0 Comments

Simultaneous Interpreter on Your Mobile Phone

Last year NTT DoCoMo, a Japanese mobile communications operator, developed an app to translate menus. They are now announcing they are testing a new phone whose main feature is to translate conversations in almost real-time using cloud technology.

At the moment, it only does translation between Japanese and English. Some 400 people are trying out the service, and DoCoMo is tweaking it to solve any problems that come up. Testing will end in March at which point hospitals, retailers and tourist-specific services are going to start using it.

Of course, this is nowhere near the ultimate translation system, even if it is a step in the right direction. The pause between speaking and hearing the translated version is only 2 seconds, and Japanese accuracy is around 90%, whereas English accuracy is slightly behind at 80%.

These are not bad results for a mobile phone, but if you want 100% quality and reliability you can only trust a trained interpreter. Ask SanTranslate.

By | February 27th, 2012|Blog|0 Comments
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