The Arab Fund Continues its Support to the UNDL Program
During the year 2013, the Arab Fund extended a KD 600 thousand grant to the UNDL Foundation to support the development of the Universal Networking Digital Language (UNDL) program. With this grant, the total contribution of the Fund towards this effort reached KD 2.5 million.
The aim of the program is to break the language barrier between the citizens of the various countries by developing a program that will translate text from one language to the other. This will allow Arab researchers to access and understand technical articles published anywhere on the net in up to 49 different languages. The program will also allow any user, with access to the internet, to surf the world-wide-web and read and understand content from almost every existing site, regardless of the language in which the article was written.
The basic design of the program involves creating 49 digital dictionaries that associate words of each of the supported language with digital words, building 49 different translators (encoders), each capable of translating words and sentences in a language to words and sentences in an intermediate digital language, and reverse translators (decoders) to recover the text in a different supported language. The program currently supports 49 wide-spread languages, such as Arabic, English, French, Chinese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, etc.
This ambitious effort was started by the United Nations University (UNU) in the late 1990's. The responsibility for developing and promoting the program now lies with the UNDL Foundation, a non-profit organization located in Geneva, Switzerland. The development effort received a strong boost as a result of the continuous financial support from the Arab Fund, and other donors, over the last ten years. The Foundation is responsible for the core research, the development of the intermediate digital language, and the coordination between it and all 49 decoders and encoders developed by the various language centers located worldwide, the dissemination of the program, and educating potential users and developers.
Recognizing the importance of the program to the Arab world, the Arab Fund was instrumental in the establishment of a dedicated language center for developing the Arabic portion of the program (the Arabic Computational Linguistic Center). Such a center was established in the Library of Alexandria (Bibliotheca Alexandrina), Egypt. It currently employs over 20 dedicated professionals from various technical fields. A good portion of the proceeds of each of the grants provided by the Arab Fund is earmarked to support the activities of the Center.
The dedicated work of the last ten years is starting to bear fruit, as the applications being developed have reached a stage where they will be available on the web, free of charge, for the benefit of all internet users. Three distinct applications will be available on line by the middle of 2014, namely:
Multi-lingual Harmonized Dictionary (MUHIT):
This is a dictionary containing more than 10 million words, in 49 different languages; approximately 20% of them are Arabic. When a user types a word included in the dictionary, the application provides him/her with a translation of this word in 48 other language, and also gives the user its various meanings, synonyms and derivatives, in as many languages as the user specifies. The application also has the capability of comprehending the meaning of a phrase and suggesting a word that summarizes the meaning of that phrase.
Language to Inter-language to Language (LILY):
This is an application that can be used to translate sentences from one language to the other, and re-phrase sentences, in the same language, to improve their syntax, based on linguistic rules stored in the application.
Knowledge Extraction System (KEYS):
This is an application used by the user to extract knowledge about usage of words worldwide. For example, the application would indicate where a word was used, worldwide to indicate the name of a person, the name of a street, a square, a treaty, or even a main dish, etc. This application will list all such appearances and their frequencies.
In order to prevent the monopoly of the use of the program by a commercial entity, the UNDL Foundation donated the ownership rights of the program to the United Nations, which, in turn, entrusted the Foundation with developing the program and making it available, free of charge, to all users of the internet, along with conducting seminars and workshops to promote the use of the program and get feedback that will help in enhancing its performance.