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Language and Technology - From the "Tower of Babel" to the "Global Village"

The European Commission, DG XIII, has published a report outlining research into language technology, its history and possible developments in the future. The book has been compiled in view of the launch, in 1996, of the Multilingual Information Society (MLIS) programme.

The ...
The European Commission, DG XIII, has published a report outlining research into language technology, its history and possible developments in the future. The book has been compiled in view of the launch, in 1996, of the Multilingual Information Society (MLIS) programme.

The book starts with the earliest developments which harnessed technology for language understanding or interpretation. Many of these developed for military reasons, such as the first automatic translation system, developed by IBM. This was demonstrated in public in 1954, at the height of the Cold War, as a tool to translate Soviet technical publications. Developments in Europe in the information age have been considerably hampered by the number of languages.

Within the European Community, particular efforts have been devoted to developing automated or semi-automated translation systems, to cope with the large number of languages used in its work. While developing fully automated translation systems has not yet been possible, systems which assist translators have been used in the Commission for some time. These may be used to provide a rough translation, which is often sufficient to gain a general understanding of a text. Where the text is to be published, the machine output can be edited by a human translator with less effort than doing the whole translation. Major efforts have also been made to develop translation aids, particularly large multilingual terminology databanks.

The book goes on to describe the range of products and services which are currently available or in development. As well as translation, these address areas such as speech technology, education and industry. In the future, language technology should be directed to creating jobs and transforming the workplace, while ensuring quality of life for all. The book looks at the trends for future developments, and outlines the support for language technology currently available from the Community, principally under the Language Engineering Sector of the Telematics Applications programme and the MLIS programme.

Source: European Commission, DG XIII

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