Carnegie Mellon University
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Language Technologies for Humanitarian Aid

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journal contribution
posted on 1996-06-01, 00:00 authored by Jaime G. Carbonell, Alon LavieAlon Lavie, Lorraine LevinLorraine Levin, Alan Black
Humanitarian aid missions, whether emergency famine relief, establishment of medical clinics, or missions in conjunction with peace-keeping operations, require on-demand communication with the indigenous population. If such operations take place in countries with a commonly-spoken major language, such as English or Spanish, it proves relatively easy to find participating personnel with the appropriate linguistic fluency. However, such is not the case when the operations take place in regions where less common languages are spoken, such as Bosnia (language: Serbo-Croatian), Haiti (language: Haitian Creole), Somalia (language: Somali, a.k.a. “Soomaaliga”), or Afghanistan (language: Pashto, with subpopulations of Urdu and Tadjik speakers). Even in Latin America, where Spanish and Portuguese dominate, there are over 100 indigenous languages, including Quechua in Peru, Aymara in Bolivia, Mapudungun in Southern Chile, and the Tucan languages in the Southern Colombian Putumayo region. Many native speakers of these languages are not versant in either Spanish or Portuguese, especially those in remote mountainous or jungle regions, where the need for medical or educational aid, or protection from organized drug gangs, may be paramount.




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