Arresting news from both sides of the Atlantic

Two contrasting ways of leaping the language barrier when you’re busting crime. First old tech. In Norwich (UK), shopkeepers ganged together under project Siren. Part of this effort involved having foreign students speaking ‘East European’ languages ‘doing some translation work’ on flashcards that would contain warnings in various languages. The idea was to help Siren catch foreign (i.e. mainly Russian) shoplifters who flocked into town and emptied the shelves. No use of professional translators – who might have inquired into the literacy levels etc of the target readers and provided other services to Siren into the bargain. And no use of technology. Why bother when you’ve got all those students who wanted to go the U.S. but have settled for England as a second best?

Over in the in U.S. of course, the same sort of problem is being solved with high tech. Why? No handy student manpower, one can only suppose. In Burnsville, Minnesota, the local police have started sticking a VoxTech Phraselator in their holster to offset the difficulties of getting hold of an operational interpreter (or foreign student) when making arrests or giving warnings to members of the various language communities. The Phraselator can display/speak police type messages in 15 languages, and instruct the addressee to signal yes or no etc with their hands in reply. For a handy journalistic overview of the speech translator device scene in the U.S., read this.

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.

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