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Information & Communication Technologies

Language Technologies


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Language technologies in the EU

What is the state of play with regard to language technologies in the European Union? Just how can we cope with all the content on the Web and make it available to interested people, regardless of the language(s) they speak and understand? The obvious answer is to teach computers how to understand and process written and spoken human language.

Human Language Technologies, or HLT, cover many research groups and disciplines including natural language processing, speech technology, machine translation, information extraction, and so on. If all these strands could be brought together in a meaningful way then perhaps computers could make sense of our many languages.

The European Commission has supported HLT for some 40 years now. There was a lot of sustained effort throughout 1980-1990 which resulted in some pioneering Machine Translation and Translation Memory technologies. The EC did not simply help fund HLT projects but developed and deployed machine translation systems and translation memories to handle the ever growing amount of internal information to be translated.

After a period of relatively low visibility, EC support for HLT is now being revived due to renewed political commitment following the enlargement of the EU. From the EC's point of view the addition of eleven official languages has meant that translators have more and more work and it is becoming almost impossible to keep pace. Not only EU enlargement but globalisation has had an impact. More and more commercial transactions are being done online and there are more consumers using the Web that do not speak English than those who do. While a few years ago English may have been seen as the lingua-franca of the Web, the amount of online content in other languages, especially from Asian countries and the Arabic world, has exploded, leaving English-language content covering only 29% of what is available online. Recent e-commerce statistics indicate that two out of three EU customers only buy in their own language. This suggests that language is a significant barrier to a truly Europe-wide digital single market. Of course, language barriers do not only impact on e-commerce activities, but also on access to virtually all online services.

In view of the above, European support has been stepped up, starting with the publication of the Communication "Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment" . Europe, with its people and skills, and variety of languages accounts for 50% of the worldwide language services market, and the experience and expertise is there to provide tangible results. However, there are several R&D issues which must be addressed in the immediate future in order to better meet the challenge. In recognition of the importance of languages in the digital age, the Work Programme 2013 has a specific challenge "Technologies for Digital Content and Languages".

The European Commission wishes to promote SMEs in their international activities. Increased internationalisation reinforces growth and enhances competitiveness of SMEs. More information including the results of a recent study on the internationalisation of SMEs can be found on the DG Enterprise SME web page .

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Challenge 4: Technologies for Digital Content and Languages

Challenge 4 focuses on managing digital content and the knowledge contained therein. It aims to do this by making access to online content easy and reliable for all, whether on an inter-personal or business level. The Challenge aims to bridge language barriers by allowing information access, communication and collaboration in your own language. It also addresses the problems of the ever growing amount of data and how to deal with it effectively and accurately.


Open Calls

There are currently no open Calls relating to language technologies.

Please note that information on open Calls together with full documentation is published on the Participants Portal . Below we provide links to the full Work Programme as well as Challenge 4-specific abstracts.

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Further information

An LT Business Platform based on input and discussion with people directly from industry has been set up. You can find more information on our business platform page .


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Related Events

For full details of upcoming and previous information days please have a look at our " information days " page.

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This page is maintained by: Susan Fraser (email removed)