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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Carnival Aims to Launch Miami-Cuba Cruises in May 2016

Pending Cuban approval, Carnival would become first American cruise company to visit island since 1960 trade embargo
More

Pope Francis to Celebrate Mass in Ecuador's Capital

The pope will leave Wednesday for Bolivia, then heads to Paraguay on Friday
More

Venezuela Recalls Ambassador to Guyana Amid Territory Dispute

OPEC nation in June demanded Guyana halt exploration off coast of region known as the Essequibo, weeks after ExxonMobil said it had found oil
More

CONCACAF Details Rebuilding Plans After FIFA Scandal

North and Central American and Caribbean soccer body publishes anti-corruption proposals Monday after its two of its officials were implicated in racketeering
More

Thousands Camp Out for Pope's First Mass in Ecuador

Pilgrims converge on coastal city of Guayaquil; after Ecuador, pope heads to Bolivia and Paraguay
More

Pope Begins South America Tour With Ecuador Mass

Thousands of worshipers camped out overnight in Ecuador awaiting Pope Francis, who began tour with open-air service in southwestern city of Guayaquil
More