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Johns Hopkins Scientists to Build Machine Translation System For Obscure Languages

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Languages like Khmer (pictured), spoken in Cambodia, are considered "low-resource" because there is relatively little written material available in these languages.

The U.S. office of the Director of National Intelligence has given a team of computer scientists at Johns Hopkins University a $10.7-million grant to create an information retrieval and translation system for languages that are not widely used around the

Credit: Hadynyah/Getty Images

A team of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) scientists has received a $10.7-million grant from the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence to create an information retrieval and translation system for obscure languages.

JHU professor Philipp Koehn is leading the development of a system that can respond to queries typed in English based on documents written in "low resource" languages for which little written material exists.

Koehn says the team will compile online samples of a target language that have been translated into English, and then perform a machine analysis of language patterns, including sentence structures and positions of constituent components.

The researchers plan to use the data to derive algorithms for automatically translating the target language, with the system designed to respond to inquiries featuring a word or term and a topic area or "domain."

Koehn says the response should tell the user how the content is pertinent to the inquiry.

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