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Human language technologies are currently experiencing a renaissance, and a stream of applications is reaching the markets. This development is spurred by the rise of information and communication technologies, especially the Internet. As more and more massive amounts of information becomes available, it is becoming increasingly clear that language technologies are crucial instruments for the handling of e-content in a multilingual information society. 

The problem of translation and multilingual information access is becoming evident. At the moment, translation within the European Union already spans 72 pairs of official languages. Added to that are the non-official languages, the languages of other European states, and the languages of the states with which Europe has social, economic and political ties. Consequently, the potential language pairs run into hundreds of possible combinations, and the challenge is formidable. The larger Europe is facing enormous problems of transnational communication, including official communication (trade, politics) as well as communication of intentions and activities (cultural, scientific and personal). Imperfect tools will inevitably result in ambiguous or incorrect communication, with the risk of huge losses economically as well as socially and politically.

It is a common political goal in Europe to preserve distinctive language and culture values, European minority languages and smaller European languages at the periphery. As long as this goal is present, the multilinguality issue must be faced and must be taken seriously. Multilinguality issues are being addressed by a variety of European programmes and actions, and are complemented by regional initiatives. Moreover, the EU has recognized the need for effective communication with and participation by the regions at the periphery of Europe, as part of its cohesion policy. From that perspective, a special emphasis on Scandinavian languages, their relation to each other, and their interaction with other European languages, is appropriate and timely. 

The state of development in human language technologies is nowhere near satisfying the demand for multilingual support, even though products are being made. EUROTRA and other European translation programmes have focused on specific tasks and contexts, but have not fulfilled all expectations; major research and development challenges remain. Machine translation and multilingual access to information depend, among other things, on good mechanisms for handling the linguistic material and relating to linguistic theory, as well as on appropriate methods for building tools and resources. For successful research in this area, content handling skills are required as well as information technology skills. 

Especially for the smaller languages, the necessary resources needed to effectively apply multilingual technologies are not yet in place, but are awaiting more research and development. Therefore, advances cannot only rely on a market pull that puts existing knowledge into use, but is in dire need of an R&D push. However, the available competence in computational linguistics and language technology, with special reference to multilinguality, is scarce. Research projects in these areas are often faced with a shortage of highly competent personnel. There is now an urgent need to train young scientists and develop cross-boundary research expertise in this field in order to meet the challenges of both academia and the European language technology industry. The proposed training site will contribute to increase the much-needed competence base at a European level. 


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Last updated Sept. 25, 2001 by Kristin Bech