At the launch of the new Digital Plan for Irish in Dublin yesterday (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 speech recognition technology that will enable the Irish-speaking community to read out their identification details on digital telephone answering services such as tax, social welfare or banking services. 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 their native language and improve their quality of life as a result.
The ADAPT Center at Dublin City University and the Phonetics and Speech Laboratory at Trinity College Dublin 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.
To date, Trinity College has provided the first draft of speech recognition technology through which Irish sentences can be spoken into a microphone and the technology is then able to turn that speech into digital 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.
Significant development has also been made 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 account of the Irish grammar system, which allows the technology to better understand the structures of the language and recommend more accurate translations for the translator as they are working on translating a text.
Educational software and applications will emerge from this linguistic work and 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 whose native language is 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 Teresa Lynn, ADAPT Centre, Dublin City University said: “The publication of the Digital Plan today represents a sound result of years of academics, research and development and is a map of the structure required for the Irish language to be relevant in the future in the context of the role of technology in the education and State administration sectors.”
Professor Ailbhe Ní Chasaide from Trinity College said: “This significant Government investment in Irish language technologies will be an integral part of the effort to accelerate interest in e-linguistics. We need more e-linguistics graduates and researchers with advanced Irish language skills so that the work under this Digital Plan is viable. These technologies will continue to be developed and improved.”
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.