Popular LiTGloss Expands with Translated Texts in Swahili, Hindi, Sanskrit and Nahuatl, the Language of the Aztecs

Release Date: April 9, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Where once a little language stood in the way, readers -- including a few at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab -- now can dip into the work of fifth-century Indian poet and dramatist, Kalidasa, or "listen" to a 17th-century Mexican nun excoriate men who lay siege to a woman's honor, then condemn her as a whore.

These new and ancient tales are available because LiTgloss, the hugely successful text translation Web site (http://wings.buffalo.edu/litgloss) produced and maintained by the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, has announced a two-year expansion of its program to include the translation of works in African indigenous languages, and in Sanskrit, Hindi and other Devanegari-based texts.

The expansion will be funded by a $196,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and involve scientists at UB's Center of Excellence for Documentation Analysis and Recognition (CEDAR), whose newly developed Optical Character Recognition (OCR) tool enables the translation of Devanegari, a script originally developed in the 11th century to write Sanksrit, but later adapted to write many other languages.

LiTgloss was established in 2001 by Maureen Jameson, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the UB Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. It is a collection of texts of literary or cultural interest, written in languages other than English, and expertly annotated so as to facilitate comprehension by English-speaking readers.

The text appears online in its original language and as the reader clicks on the text expert translation appears. LiTgloss does not offer complete translation, but rather "assistance" in translating difficult passages, words and phrases. Each text is linked to a page that presents its cultural, linguistic and biographical context and to another page that suggest additional resources on the text or author.

The collection, which had 230,000 hits from 72 countries in March of this year alone, now consists of more than 100 texts in almost two dozen languages and is open to any Web user.

Jameson says that around the time that the Mars rovers "Spirit" and "Opportunity" began to send back data supporting the hypothesis of possible life on the red planet, LiTgloss began to get hits from pl.nasa.gov -- that is, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, which manages the project.

"Technically, we have no proof," she says, "but our tentative hypothesis is that there are intelligent beings on Mars, and that they like poetry."

Although French, Spanish and German are the best represented languages, LiTgloss currently includes translated texts in Korean, Chinese, Arabic, Catalan, Latvian, Polish, Portuguese, Nahuatl (language of the Aztec culture), Hungarian, Italian, Dutch, Latin, Romanian, Sanskrit, Vietnamese, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese and Hindi, and is expanding rapidly.

The first texts in indigenous African languages, in the first instance, Swahili, are being prepared by Musindu Kanya-Ngambi, UB lecturer in romance languages and literatures, and UB graduate student Abdarahmane Wone. The Swahili text currently is visible on the LiTgloss site without annotations at http://wings.buffalo.edu/litgloss/swahili/text.shtml.

Jameson says the NEH proposal was successful "largely because of the extraordinarily generous and long-standing support of students, colleagues, and administrators of UB whose contributions are gratefully acknowledged."

She emphasized the role played by UB students and alumni in the development of the site, adding that she welcomes volunteer efforts, not only from UB volunteers, but from other places and other countries.

"The site," she added, "is a community project, in the global sense of the word. One of the most exciting aspects of the work is the chance to work with UB's international students, alumni, and faculty, whether they're here or overseas," Jameson noted that those who want to contribute a text to the site can contact her at litgloss@buffalo.edu, or read the instructions for contributing texts on the Web site itself."

She added that an early feminist poem, "Sátira filosófica" by the great 17th-century Mexican poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, recently was prepared by graduate student Marina Bettaglio, who gave a presentation on her work at the research festival of UB's Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender. It can be found at http://wings.buffalo.edu/litgloss/cruz/text.shtml.

"New Korean poetry is being prepared for the site by Mikyung Park, a doctoral student in English at UB," she says, "and Italian Renaissance works used in upper-division history classes at UB are being prepared for LiTgloss by Giovanna Testa, a part-time lecturer in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures."

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