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Computer program resurrects 'lost' languages

A new computer program has successfully decoded a written language last used in Biblical times.

world Updated: Jul 20, 2010 15:11 IST

A new computer program has successfully decoded a written language last used in Biblical times.

The success could lead to "resurrecting" ancient texts that are no longer understood.

Created by an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) team led by Regina Barzilay, the program translates written Ugaritic, which consists of dots and wedge-shaped stylus marks on clay tablets, and was last used around 1200 BC in western Syria.

Through repeated analysis, the program linked letters and words to map nearly all the Ugaritic symbols to their Hebrew equivalents in a matter of hours. The program uses Hebrew as reference and compares symbol and word frequencies and patterns in Ugaritic.

"It's not always going to be the case that there are closely related languages that one can use," National Geographic News quoted Richard Sproat, an Oregon Health and Science University computational linguist, as saying.

But Barzilay thinks the decoding program can overcome this hurdle by scanning multiple languages at once and taking contextual information into account-improvements that could uncover unexpected similarities or links to known languages.