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

Computer Crash Halts US Visa, Passport Operation

Problems with database have resulted in extensive backlog of applications, affected State Department's consular offices all over the world More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

World Bank: Boko Haram Stalls African Aid Projects

Islamist group’s terrorism sets back agriculture, health efforts in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
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.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US
More

US Ambassador Calls for LGBT Rights

John Berry spoke at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne
More

China's Xi Praises Close Ties with Cuba

Head of China's Communist Party hails common socialist bond between his country and Cuba as he kicks off a state visit in Havana
More

US Judge Orders Argentina, Creditors to Reach Deal

Lawyers for investors who declined to restructure bonds after country defaulted on about $100B in 2002 warned that time running out to reach a deal, avert fresh default
More

Trial Imminent for Detained Venezuelan Protest Leader Lopez

Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, says outside pressure needed on Venezuelan president to move case forward
More

Sex Workers Seek HIV Prevention

The Lancet publishes new series on HIV
More