Feeds

New cunning linguist computer has got ancient tongues licked

Boffins build system to reconstruct man's protolanguages

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

Boffins have put together a new computer system that attempts to translate protolanguages, the ancient "parent" tongues from which modern languages evolved.

The sophisticated Rosetta Stone-like system can quickly reconstruct the languages of yore from today's vocabularies with 85 per cent accuracy, we're told. The system's designers reckon it can outpace human linguists who painstakingly reconstruct protolanguages from the words we all know and use today.

With the exception of Latin - the parent of the Romance language family* - and a few others, written records of protolanguages tend to be rather rare, forcing experts to analyse modern speech to derive the parent languages. Specifically, linguists group together words with common meanings and study changes in pronunciation, among other techniques.

“We’re hopeful our tool will revolutionise historical linguistics much the same way that statistical analysis and computer power revolutionised the study of evolutionary biology,” said Alexandre Bouchard-Côté, statistics professor at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study.

“And while our system won’t replace the nuanced work of skilled linguists, it could prove valuable by enabling them to increase the number of modern languages they use as the basis for their reconstructions.”

The new system, designed with help from colleagues at Berkeley, analyses sound-changes at basic phonetic unit level so it can operate at a much greater scale than previous computer tools.

The researchers reconstructed a set of protolanguages from a database of more than 142,000 word forms from 637 Austronesian languages for a study that will be published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ®

* The group includes Spanish, Italian, French, Romanian, Neapolitan, Ladino and many more.

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Apple fanbois SCREAM as update BRICKS their Macbook Airs
Ragegasm spills over as firmware upgrade kills machines
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Captain Kirk sets phaser to SLAUGHTER after trying new Facebook app
William Shatner less-than-impressed by Zuck's celebrity-only app
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
Chrome browser has been DRAINING PC batteries for YEARS
Google is only now fixing ancient, energy-sapping bug
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.