Google’s AI recently made Translate more powerful and capable than ever before.
The cloud-based system can now accurately decipher entire sentences based on the context of the language, but while the service will give you the correct words, and for most countries an audio clip of the phrase, there’ll still be regional accents and unfamiliar sounds you’ll need to contest with.
David Ding, a former Microsoft software engineer, has created Localingual to showcase the full range of these voices and highlight the globe’s language diversity.
Its premise is simple: a world map shows each country and breaks it down to regions as you zoom in. When you click on a region, if sound has been uploaded the dialect and voice from that location will play.
The website launched on January 8 and has already had around 500,000 visitors recording 18,000 different voices. Anyone, on Android or desktop, can click on their region to record their voice if it’s missing. The iOS APIs don’t allow it to work on Apple devices.
“I was wandering around Ukraine when the idea came to me to put all the different languages and dialects I was hearing on the web,” Ding told WIRED. “One of the more difficult aspects of the project was acquiring the flag and emblem image for every region and city in the world. I had to write a primitive data-mining bot that scoured search engines and Wikipedia for these images.”
Due to its infancy, Ding has plans to continue developing the website to let people post linguistic questions about the dialect in a specific region, for example. If you want to know what the Danish slang is for getting a drink, a native speaker will be able to answer. Eventually, Ding wants Localingual to become a “Wikipedia of languages and dialects spoken around the world”.
Since the map’s launch, its potential to be abused has been highlighted. Twitter users have pointed out some countries have multiple fake or impersonating voices recorded.
“There [have] been quite a few trolls recording inappropriate phrases for certain countries,” Ding said. Germany and Israel had been “hit particularly hard” within the website’s first weeks, he said. However, he has introduced a crowd-sourced monitoring system.
“I’ve implemented the reporting system popup, which can be activated by down-voting (thumbs down) a recording. Once a threshold is reached, the recording will be deleted. It seems to be working so far, since Germany and Israel have mostly relevant recordings now.”
While Ding is focusing on voices, he’s not the only person gathering sounds from around the world. Sound artist Yuri Suzuki has created the Global Modular synth, an interactive electronic musical instrument that can mix 80 environmental sounds from the planet.
“We’ve received more than 500 submissions from 40 countries,” Eric Church, an engineer from Moog who worked on the Synth told WIRED last year. Explore Church’s mapping project here.