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The Slovak Language in the Digital Age — Executive Summary

During the last 60 years, Europe has become a distinct political and economic structure, yet culturally and linguistically it is still very diverse. This means that from Portuguese to Polish and Italian to Icelandic, everyday communication between Europe’s citizens as well as communication in the spheres of business and politics is inevitably confronted with language barriers. The EU’s institutions spend about a billion euros a year on maintaining their policy of multilingualism, i.e., translating texts and interpreting spoken communication. Yet does this have to be such a burden? Modern language technology and linguistic research can make a significant contribution to pulling down these linguistic borders. When combined with intelligent devices and applications, language technology will in the future be able to help Europeans talk easily to each other and do business with each other even if they do not speak a common language.

One classic way of overcoming the language barrier is to learn foreign languages. Yet without technological support, mastering the 23 official languages of the member states of the European Union and some 60 other European languages is an insurmountable obstacle for the citizens of Europe and its economy, political debate, and scientific progress.

The solution is to build key enabling technologies. These will offer European actors tremendous advantages, not only within the common European market but also in trade relations with third countries, especially emerging economies. 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 support for them. Language technology solutions will eventually serve as a unique bridge between Europe’s languages.

Language technologies and natural language processing of the Slovak language have been lagging behind a lot, compared with the situation in neighbouring countries. For example, there was a high quality natural language processing research carried on in the Czech Republic already in the mid-1990s, and the Czech language technologies have strong commercial backing. In Slovakia, the first foray into the field was in the beginning of this millennium, with the creation of the Slovak National Corpus.

The first two big government funded research projects with a focus on language technologies and resources in Slovakia were National Corpus of the Slovak Language and Electronisation of Linguistic Research in the years 2002–2006 and Integrated Computational Processing of the Slovak Language for Linguistic Research Purposes, both carried out at Ľ. Štúr Institute of Linguistics, Slovak Academy of Sciences, and their continuation as Construction of Slovak National Corpus and Electronisation of Linguistic Research in Slovakia (in the years 2007–2011), sponsored by the Ministry of Education of the Slovak Republic, Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic and the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

Another major project concerning the Slovak language processing was the project Automatic Transcription of Dictate for the Ministry of Justice of the Slovak Republic, coordinated by the Department of Speech Analysis and Synthesis of the Institute of Informatics of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, with participation of the Department of Electronics and Multimedia Communications of the Technical University of Košice, carried out in the years 2009–2011, funded by the Ministry of Justice of the Slovak Republic. The goal of the project was to create a complete system for transcribing spoken Slovak language, specialised for judicial domain and is currently being deployed in the courts of law in the Slovak Republic.

These three projects were so far the only major initiatives concerning natural language processing of the Slovak language. As this white paper series shows, there is a dramatic difference between the level of research and the state of language tools and resources for Slovak and other European languages. Therefore, a focused effort is needed to bring up the Slovak language technologies to a comparable level.

META-NET’s long-term goal is to introduce high-quality language technology for all languages in order to achieve political and economic unity through cultural diversity. The technology will help tear down existing barriers and build bridges between Europe’s languages. This requires all stakeholders - in politics, research, business, and society - to unite their efforts for the future.

This white paper series complements other strategic actions taken by META-NET (see the appendix for an overview). Up-to-date information such as the current version of the META-NET vision paper or the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) can be found on the META-NET web site: http://www.meta-net.eu.