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UJ expert joins ministerial panel to build SA indigenous language capacity

The Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa has named a University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) linguistics expert as one of the members of the Human Language Technologies (HLT) expert panel.

Prof Anne-Marie Beukes, Head of the Department of Linguistics (UJ), joins a six-member team, that will advise and promote South Africa’s indigenous languages in an effort to build capacity in translation and interpreting to meet the demands of government’s official Languages Act.

HLT refers to computer technologies that are used to process language for the purposes of speech recognition, speech synthesis, translation and text editing.

“There is a vast need for the development of text and speech resources to assist the translation and interpreting industry. The Autshumato machine-translation project with software for translation from English to four other official languages, i.e. Afrikaans, isiZulu, Sepedi, Xitsonga, with Setswana in the pipeline, is one such project,” said Prof Beukes.

The Minister of Arts and Culture will be guided by the HLT expert panel that will offer solutions to practical language challenges such as technologies and software that support translators in their work, and others that assist persons who cannot read or write to access information and express themselves.

The HLT expert panel, which includes representatives from the University of Pretoria; Stellenbosch University; and the University of South Africa, will also be tasked with producing reports on developments in their networks that have relevance to the HLT directorate’s business; to review proposals and make recommendations for funding.

Amidst some of the HLT projects that will be examined are the development of speech technologies that enable blind people access to information as well as the development of a speech transcription platform for all official South African languages.

Says Prof Beukes: “I am delighted to find myself in a situation where I can contribute to supporting the development of resources and tools for the promotion all our official languages.”​

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