UCLA’s Division of Humanities announced recently that the Machine Translation and Automated Analysis of Cuneiform Language (MTAAC) project, developed in part by UCLA Near Eastern Languages and Cultures professor Robert Englund, is now funded through the American National Endowment for the Humanities, the German Research Foundation and the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

As part of Trans-Atlantic Platform’s Digging into Data challenge and grant program, these leading research funders and others sponsor international research teams that address how big data changes the research landscape for the humanities and social sciences.

MTAAC is a collaboration among ancient studies scholars, linguists and computer scientists to develop computational techniques for translating ancient administrative records stored on cuneiform tablets. More specifically, the project’s objectives are to:

  • formulate, test and evaluate methodologies for the automated analysis and machine translation of cuneiform documents, and to make the technology thus developed available to specialists in the field;
  • make available the translation of a specific and representative set of cuneiform documents to scholars in related disciplines and to a networked public;
  • provide new data for the study of the language, culture, history, economy and politics of the ancient Near East by harvesting the linguistic byproducts of the translation and information extraction processes;
  • and formalize these new data and foster the standardization of practices integral to projects in digital humanities and computational philology.

Heather Baker of the University of Toronto is principal investigator of the MTAAC research team. Co-principal investigators include Cuniform Digital Library Initiative principle investigator and UCLA professor Englund and Christian Chiarcos of the University of Frankfurt.