Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Rosetta Project

click for info on the MECI thought the Middle English Compendium was an impressive project.  Completed in 2001, the MEC is an digital version of the Middle English Dictionary and associated works, all hyperlinked, available from the University of Michigan Press for $750.  
The electronic MED now contains the complete Middle English Dictionary, A-Z, corresponding to 115 fascicles of the print Dictionary, or about 14,940 pages. It contains exactly 54,081 entries and 891,531 quotations [...]
click to go to the Rosetta Project pageAs impressive as the MED is, the Rosetta Project promises to eclipse it.  Under development by the Long Now Foundation, the Rosetta Project is intended to result in dictionaries ofclick to go to the Long Now Foundation all human languages.  

Because of the fact that many languages face extinction, the Project is starting with those spoken by the fewest number of persons.  For example, they have cataloged Laal, which is spoken in only two villages in Chad.  So far, they have records of 1,384 of the approximately 7,000 known languages.  They claim to have 404,451 "distinct words" in their databases, although I am not sure how they define a "distinct word."

Meanwhile, the The international center for Advanced Communication Technologies (interACT) at Carnegie Mellon University, is developing a compact device that they hope will enable instantaneous translation of speech from one language to another, and produce an intelligible audio stream of the translated text.  
Current systems allow translation of spontaneous speech in very limited situations, like making hotel reservations or tourist shopping, but they cannot enable translation of lectures, television broadcasts, meetings or telephone conversations. The new technology fills that gap and makes it possible to extend such systems to other languages and lecture types.
For some reason, this reminds me of the end of Joe Haldeman's science fiction classic, The Forever War [Note: plot spoiler ahead].  After fighting an interstellar war that goes on for centuries, the two sides finally sit down to talk.

When they do, the conversation goes something like this (it has been a couple of decades since I read it, so this is an approximation):
Humans: Why did you start this war?

Taurans: Us? We thought you started it.