At the launch of the new Digital Plan for Irish in Dublin today (8 December 2022), the Minister of State for Gaeltacht and Sport, Jack Chambers TD, said that the Irish language is on the cusp of a new era in language technology and that as the recommendations of the Plan are implemented in the coming years, it will be easier than ever for businesses and State service providers to make Irish available as an option in their digital services to the public.
Among the technologies referenced in the new Digital Plan, there is a speech synthesis technology that will enable the Irish-speaking community to read out any digital text in their chosen dialect. In addition, Irish speakers with a speech and language or literacy disability will be able to take advantage of the technology to communicate effectively with carers, service providers and the world around them in Irish and improve their quality of life as a result.
The Adapt Centre at Dublin City University and the Phonetics and Speech Laboratory at Trinity College are the main partners commissioned by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media to prepare the Digital Plan for Irish. Both these partners along with others will be central in conducting the research needed to develop the technologies. The Government is providing an investment of €1m in 2023 to complete the first steps in the research work so that the technologies can be developed and made available on a free license basis to those who wish make the Irish language available to the public in their digital services.
Along with speech synthesis, Trinity College Dublin has provided a beta speech recognition technology system through which Irish sentences can be spoken into a microphone and the technology is then able to convert that speech into text. This technology will be an aid to professionals who work through Irish in dictating correspondence or meeting notes for example, instead of typing them manually. When speech synthesis and speech recognition are brought together, Irish speakers can then conduct their business through Irish digitally, for example when using tax or social welfare services.
Significant development has also been made at Dublin City University in translation aids that will enable translators to translate texts more efficiently using Artificial Intelligence technologies. As a basis for all the technologies planned and being developed under the Plan, there is a complete digital account of the Irish grammar system, which allows the technology to better understand the structures of the language and enable systems such as search engines, chatbots and grammar checkers to better support Irish users.
Educational software and applications will emerge from this underlying linguistic work and already platforms are being developed for learners which harness these emerging technologies. Further work is recommended to develop applications for educators to be able to assess students' literacy, in line with its counterpart in terms of English literacy.
Speaking at the event Minister of State Jack Chambers said:
“The results and new technologies which arise from this plan will benefit the Irish community as a whole especially for those who use Irish in their work, for developers of language and educational software and applications and for people with certain disabilities who wish to take part in activities through Irish. These technologies will have a major impact on the ability of the State and the ability of the business sector to provide services digitally and of high quality - this is a central goal of the Government under the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish language and under the Official Languages Act.”
Professor Ailbhe Ní Chasaide from Trinity College said:
“With Irish language digital technologies in the hands of the public, there are countless possibilities available to us to further the spread of the language in every aspect of life, for the teaching of Irish and to make the world of Irish language available to those with disabilities. As a part of this significant Government investment in Irish language linguistic technologies, we must focus on training our graduates and postgraduates, to develop the relevant skills in computational linguistics and speech processing, along with high competency in Irish. This central to the sustainability of the work under the Digital Plan as these technologies are continuously developed and refined.”
Dr. Teresa Lynn, ADAPT Centre, Dublin City University said:
“The publication of the Digital Plan today represents years of academic research and development, and can be considered a roadmap towards making the Irish language relevant in the future in the context of the role of technology in our daily lives. “
A five-year period – 2023 to 2027 – is mentioned in the Digital Plan for the Irish language. It will be formally reviewed at the end of that period, and a close eye will be kept for the duration of the Plan on what is happening in the field of technology so that the activities are in line with the latest developments and the digital needs of the Irish language community.