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The Galician Language in the Digital Age — Executive Summary

Language is the primary means of communication between humans. It allows us to express ideas and feelings, helps us to learn and teach, is essential for living, is the primary vehicle for the transmission of culture, and is a symbol of identity.

With our current level of globalisation, we have many ways to easily communicate with people from all over the world. For example, the new information and communications technologies have enabled the development of social networks that have encouraged and enhanced interaction between people from virtually all countries and cultures. Also, in recent years, we have seen large movement of foreign people between our countries, i.e., tourism or immigration, that creates the necessity for communication among different languages. This cross-lingual communication problem is often solved through the use of a lingua franca.

The countries of Europe provide a clear example of linguistic and cultural diversity despite the fact that, during the last 60 years, Europe has increasingly become a distinct political and economic entity. This means that from Galician to Greek and from Italian to Icelandic, language challenges are inevitably confronted by people in everyday life as well as in the spheres of business, politics and science. The European Union’s institutions spend about a billion euros a year on maintaining their policy of multilingualism, i.e., translating texts and interpreting spoken communication. In parallel, English is becoming a lingua franca in the communication between European citizens.

In Spain, as a case in point, we find the same scenario. Spain has an official language, Spanish, also known as Castilian, and three co-official languages: Galician, Catalan, and Basque. Preserving multilingualism in Spain has not been an easy task. It is the result of a complex process to intentionally preserve cultural and linguistic identity within and among the various regions and peoples of Spain. Similar to the use of English in the European case, direct communication between citizens of different language areas of Spain, often need to use Castilian as a lingua franca.

At both, the European and the Spanish levels, multilingualism is a cultural heritage to be preserved. Globalisation should not become a mechanism that promotes the abandonment of our rich linguistic and cultural heritage as it invite us to abandon the use of our own language in favor of a lingua franca. In a global communication environment, we should find ways to communicate broadly with the world while preserving our own language and, with it, our cultural identity.

Modern language technology and linguistic research can make a significant contribution to bridging these linguistic borders. When combined with intelligent devices and applications, language technology will in the future be able to help citizens talk easily to each other and do business with each other even if they do not speak a common language. Language technology solutions will eventually serve as a unique bridge between different languages. However, the language technologies and speech processing tools currently available on the market (ranging from question answering systems to natural language interfaces – including translation systems and summarisation tools, among many others), still fall short of this ambitious goal.

As early as the late 1970s, the EU realised the profound relevance of language technology as a driver of European unity, and began funding its first research projects. At the same time, national and autonomic projects were set up that generated valuable results but never led to concerted European action. The dominant actors in the field are primarily privately owned for-profit enterprises based in Northern America. The predominant language technologies today rely on imprecise statistical approaches that do not make use of deeper linguistic methods and knowledge. For example, sentences are automatically translated by comparing a new sentence against thousands of sentences previously translated by humans. The quality of the output largely depends on the amount and quality of the available sample corpus. While the automatic translation of simple sentences in languages with sufficient amounts of available text material can achieve useful results, such shallow statistical methods are doomed to fail in the case of languages with a much smaller body of sample material or in the case of sentences with complex structures. Analysing the deeper structural properties of languages is the only way forward if we want to build applications that perform well across a wide range of languages.

The solution to the cross-language communication problem is therefore to build key enabling technologies. To achieve this goal and preserve Europe’s cultural and linguistic diversity, it is necessary to first carry out a systematic analysis of the linguistic particularities of all European languages, and the current state of language technology to support them. This is the purpose of the present book concerning the Galician language.

This volume shows a detailed analysis of the language technologies, applications and solutions for Galician. We find a quite reduced number of products, technologies and resources designed for the Galician language. There are some application tools for speech synthesis, speech recognition, spelling correction, and grammar checking. There are also some applications for automatic translation, mostly between Spanish and Galician.

As the whole series of white papers demonstrates, there is a dramatic difference among countries and their languages in their state of readiness for language solutions based on language technologies. One of the major conclusions is that Galician is one of the EU languages that, while still needing further research before truly effective language technology solutions are ready for everyday use, holds great potential for achieving an outstanding position in this important technology area. This development of high-quality language technology for Galician is urgent and of utmost importance for the preservation of a minorised and minority language such as Galician.