Most European Languages Face 'Digital Extinction', Say University Of Manchester Researchers

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Some European languages have poor support in the digital world
Some European languages have poor support in the digital world

A staggering 21 European languages are facing 'digital extinction', according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Manchester’s National Centre for Text Mining (NaCTeM) and others from across the continent found that many languages struggle to be recognised in the digital world, on spelling and grammar checkers, on voice activated services such as Siri on the iPhone and automatic translation systems.

Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian and Maltese are at the highest risk of disappearing, while other languages such as Bulgarian, Greek, Hungarian and Polish are also at risk.

The study, prepared by more than 200 experts, assessed language technology support for each language in four different areas: automatic translation, speech interaction, text analysis and the availability of language resources.

Several languages, for example Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian and Maltese, receive this lowest score in all four areas.

While English has the best language technology support amongst all European languages, it can still not be considered as "excellent support", but rather only "good support", the University of Manchester researchers found.

Dutch, French, German, Italian and Spanish are considered to have "moderate support". Languages such as Basque, Bulgarian, Catalan, Greek, Hungarian and Polish exhibit "fragmentary support", which also places them in the set of high-risk languages.

The report concludes that a coordinated, large-scale effort has to be made in Europe to create the missing technologies and transfer this technology to the languages faced with digital extinction.

Professor Sophia Ananiadou, director of NaCTeM, said in a press release: "In the UK, most of us use software that incorporates language technology without even realising it.

"Language technology already makes our lives easier and has huge potential to help us in many different ways. As digital information and communication is becoming increasingly dominant, it is vital that sophisticated language technology support is available for a wider range of languages, otherwise collaboration with our European neighbours will become more difficult."

Professor Hans Uszkoreit, another researcher on the study, said: "The results of our study are most alarming. The majority of European languages are severely under-resourced and some are almost completely neglected. In this sense, many of our languages are not yet future-proof.”