Creole-English database to help Haiti

Jan. 28, 2010 at 3:39 PM

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- A Pennsylvania university said it is developing software translating Creole into other languages in an attempt to help Haitian earthquake relief efforts.

Carnegie Mellon University's database has been used in the last week by Washington-based Microsoft Research to create an experimental system that includes written and spoken Haitian words and their English translations, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Thursday.

"We've taken a couple of years worth of work on a text and spoken-word database and made it available to developers," CMU spokesman Byron Spice said.

French is Haiti's official language, but is spoken by "elite members of society," while Creole is based on French and developed over the 200 years since Haitians overthrew French colonialists, said Robert Frederking, senior systems scientist at CMU's Language Technologies Institute.

"French speakers can sort of puzzle through it, but Creole isn't penetrable if you don't know French," said Frederking.

Translators Without Borders, a non-profit Paris organization said it intends to distribute a medical triage dictionary when the Creole language data from CMU is becomes available in a readable format.

"This should be a big help, because if you cannot communicate, it is going to be difficult to get around and assist others," said Leon Pampile of Stanton Heights, who is a native of Haiti and a member of the Functional Literacy Ministry of Haiti, a non-profit group.

CMU developed its Haitian Creole database in the 1990s for use by the Defense Department, and a prototype was delivered to the Army, but Frederking said that as far as he knows, no one ever field-tested it.

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