Current Affairs
MASRI project: The first technology for the automatic transcription of conversations in Maltese

A new Television Malta documentary analyses and evaluates the challenges the Maltese language is facing in the globalised era, such as the ever-increasing pressures by other languages and the use of words or phrases from English during conversations.

“Il-Malti: ilbieraħ, illum u għada” presents these challenges with a series of interviews covering different aspects from technology to music and theatre. This television production is being transmitted in collaboration between Television Malta and the ‘Akkademja tal-Malti’, on the first centenary of the latter’s foundation.

The first technology for the automatic transcription of conversations in Maltese is being developed at the Institute of Linguistics and the Language Technology of the University of Malta. Professor Albert Gatt and a team of experts from different sectors, including a Mexican academic, are working on the project nicknamed MASRI.

“The idea is to have systems that you naturally speak to and the system from your conversation goes to transcription. A test will correspond to the spoken words which then serve as an input to other things, that is you have the possibility of giving a voice command to the computer or a voice mobile command”.

The development of this technology in Maltese, which is similar to Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa or Siri by Apple, will be discussed during the documentary “Il-Malti: ilbieraħ, illum, għada” – a new TVM production that explores the challenges of the Maltese language in a globalised world.

Persons intervieed during the documentary stress that the Maltese, as a language, should remain relevant and protected not only by being fossilised, but by using it and allowing the language to evolve according to daily life. Despite the impression that the use of phrases and words from English in daily conversations may damage the Maltese language, Dr Olvin Vella says that the Maltese is not threatened as we may think.

“No, the codes changeover is a normal phenomenon in a bilingual society and is found in communities abroad. You do not change to Maltese English because you are monolingual. Our ancestors did not change over from Maltese to English because they only spoke Maltese”.

Asked about the future of the Maltese language, Dr Vella said: “If we stand by research it has a future because it will remain alive, however we have to guarantee that parents and grandparents pass it on to children and grandchildren”.

Through the participation of The Travellers band, the documentary looks at the main challenges of Maltese in the music sphere among youths, at the place of work and in public and social life, and also in the fields of books, theatre and broadcasting.

The first of three episodes of the documentary will  be transmitted on Sunday at 10.05pm on TVM.