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

10 Migrants Drown, While 4,100 Rescued off Libyan Coast

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudi-led Airstrikes Use Banned Cluster Bombs

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen More

Hopes Fade of Finding Survivors of Nepal Earthquake

US military aircraft, heavy equipment and air traffic controllers arrive in Nepal to help manage growing piles of relief supplies clogging Kathmandu airport 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.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Ministry: Gunmen Open Fire on Mexican Army Helicopter, 3 Killed

Violence also flared up on Friday in Jalisco's capital, Guadalajara, second-largest city in Mexico, with vehicles set ablaze in and around the metropolitan area
More

Suspected Member of Guatemalan Family Drug Cartel Extradited to US

Elio Elixander Lorenzana Cordon, 43, arrived in the United States on Thursday and was arraigned on Friday
More

Photogallery Rallies Mark May Day Around the World

Workers are calling for higher pay, better working conditions during protest marches
More

Colombia's Former Spy Chief Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison

Maria del Pilar Hurtado sentenced for spying on opposition lawmakers, judges, journalists in one of biggest scandals to mar government of ex-President Uribe
More

Argentine Families Expect Pope to Open Dictatorship Files

Files contain complaints to papal nuncio in Argentina and episcopate by families of those disappeared during 1976-83 military crackdown
More

Photogallery Chile's Calbuco Erupts Again With New Cloud of Ash

Volcano erupts for third time in eight days, winds pushing ash clouds southeast towards Argentina
More