News / Americas

Shelved Machine Translator Gets New Life in Haiti Relief Effort

Medical dictionary springs from largely forgotten English/Creole database

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

A largely forgotten translator is getting new life in the aftermath of the devastating January 12 earthquake in Haiti which left as many as 200,000 people dead and 1.5 million homeless.

Linguists and computer scientists are among the rapid responders to the disaster site. Among them is former Carnegie Mellon University linguist Jeff Allen who went to Haiti in 1990s on U.S. Army contract.

A sample sentence in Creole collected by Carnegie Mellon University's speech data collection project in Haiti led by linguist Jeff Allen.
A sample sentence in Creole collected by Carnegie Mellon University's speech data collection project in Haiti led by linguist Jeff Allen.

 

Allen is fluent in Creole, the language widely spoken in Haiti. He says his mission on the project, dubbed Diplomat, was to develop an English/Creole speech and text translation system.

"I spent nine months collecting data from different people within the Haitian community. And then we in-house translated everything that we could for a period of two years," he said.

Computer scientist Robert Frederking with Carnegie Mellon's Language Technology Institute was a lead investigator for Diplomat. He says Carnegie Mellon built a portable translator for a laptop computer and sent it to Haiti.

"It kind of sat on a shelf for four months and it came back [to the university]," he said. "Because it was kind of rare data, I made an effort to preserve it over the years after the project ended."

When Allen, now based in Paris with software giant SAP, watched news of the earthquake, he knew that Carnegie Mellon still had the English/Creole database. "So I called up Carnegie Mellon, and I said, 'We need to do something. What can we do?'"

On January 21, with Allen's help, Carnegie Mellon made the data public.

"We put out on the Internet site of Carnegie Mellon 13,000 parallel sentences and 35,000 parallel terms," he said.

This rich data set presented an opportunity for Microsoft Research. Their web-based translator service has 23 languages with more added every few months. Product manager Vikram Dendi, responding to the crisis in Haiti, says within five days his team put an English/Creole translator on the Internet, adding disaster-specific words and phrases to the data base.

"We have taken medical terminology. We have taken other emergency-type notification and helped translated them into Haitian-Creole," he said.

Microsoft regularly updates the translator, building a more robust system. Dendi says the more parallel sentences and phrases in the system, the more accurate the translation.

Translators without Borders, a virtual network that links translators worldwide with humanitarian causes, seeks bilingual Creole speakers for its database.
Translators without Borders, a virtual network that links translators worldwide with humanitarian causes, seeks bilingual Creole speakers for its database.

The Haitian earthquake struck the group, Translators without Borders, with an explosion of interest. More than 1,000 Creole speakers from the Haitian diaspora volunteered their translation services to the Paris-based humanitarian group. Co-founder Lori Thicke says the non-profit is distributing an English/Creole triage dictionary based on the newly released data.

"It contains a lot of interesting questions that you might ask someone to ascertain how serious their injuries are," she said. "For example, 'Where does it hurt? How long have you had this wound?' That sort of thing."

 

 

Thicke says machine translators from Microsoft and, more recently Google, help volunteers increase their productivity, affording them a rapid first draft that can be later revised.

"They are helping us translate documents that might be instructions for building a water purification or for treatment protocols, for educational materials, all really important translations that there might not be a budget for," she said.

And over at Microsoft, Vikram Dendi adds that his company is working to help integrate as many applications as possible for the translator on mobile devices like the cell phone.

 

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surge

Inaccurate claims suggest US will give amnesty to young migrants
More

US Disappointed in Netherlands' Release of Drug Trafficking Suspect

State Department spokesman says legitimate request made for Hugo Carvajal’s arrest under extradition treaty between US, Netherlands and Aruba
More

UN Panel Meets on Global Aging

HelpAge presents nearly 300,000 signatures calling for UN Treaty
More

Video Clock Ticking for Congress to Act on US Border Crisis

This week is lawmakers’ last chance before recess to respond to surge of undocumented children arriving at America’s southern frontier
More

US Considers Screening Youth in Honduras for Refugee Status

Officials say children could be interviewed before they make dangerous journey to US border, as tens of thousands of children from Central America have done already this year
More

Video President Asks Central American Leaders to Help Stop Migrants

Obama tells presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras it isn't lack of compassion, but obligation to obey immigration laws that is prompting US to turn back many migrants
More