Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda

Language Technologies for Multilingual Europe:
Towards a Human Language Project


This Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda presents the vision of the Human Language Project. It also presents ideas, approaches and solutions in order to make the Digital Single Market, a flagship initiative of the European Union, multilingual. The current version of the document, “Language Technologies for Multilingual Europe: Towards a Human Language Project”, was unveiled at META-FORUM 2017 on 13/14 November 2017.

Current version:

Older versions:

Executive Summary

All 24 official EU member state languages are granted equal status by the EU Charter and the Treaty on the European Union. However, omnipresent language barriers still hamper cross-lingual communication and the free flow of knowledge and thought across languages. Multilingualism is one of the key cultural cornerstones of Europe and signifies what it means to be and to feel European. But at the same time Europe is facing multiple challenges. First, its multilingual setup is also one of the main obstacles of a truly connected, language-crossing Digital Single Market as well as Communication and Information Space. The European Language Technology community – including research, development, innovation and other relevant stakeholders – is committed to provide robust and novel technologies in order to successfully turn a fragmented into a truly unified and inclusive Europe, supporting our rich and diverse linguistic heritage. Second, European research in Language Technology is facing increased competition from other continents, especially with regard to recent breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence. These scientific breakthroughs have lead to commercial successes in the respective regions, which is why many European scientists including young high potentials, are leaving Europe to continue their research abroad.

We recommend setting up the Human Language Project (HLP), a large-scale European Language Technology research, development and innovation flagship programme with the goal of achieving the next scientific breakthroughs for the automatic processing and generation of natural language (both written and spoken). With the rapidly increasing predominance and penetration of Artificial Intelligence in everyday life, the challenge is nothing less but to tackle Deep Natural Language Understanding and Generation by 2030. The HLP is foreseen to be a collaborative endeavour of 10-15 years, coordinated on the European level in close collaboration with the Member States and industry, resulting in numerous service platforms and applications that benefit European society, industry and politics, the Digital Single Market and also European research and innovation. Application areas include: (1) Multilingual E-Commerce, (2) Content, Media, Verticals, (3) Translation, Language, Knowledge, Data. The HLP aims to tightly intertwine basic research, applied research, innovation and commercialisation. Important research themes are (1) Crosslingual Big Data Language Analytics, (2) High-Quality Machine Translation, (3) Meaning, Semantics and Knowledge as well as (4) Conversational Technologies. Public procurement and a policy focus towards “Language Technology-enabled Multilingualism“ are crucial and necessary prerequisites for an effective implementation.

The study “Language Equality in the digital age – Towards a Human Language Project“ (March 2017), commissioned by the European Parliament, and a recent survey, which represents voices of 634 respondents from 52 countries (including 37 European countries and 27 EU Member States) working on Language Technology, highlight and emphasise the necessity of a HLP tailored specifically to Europe’s needs and demands. With constant political changes posing challenges to a strong Europe and an increased competition from the US and China, it is more important than ever to turn challenges into opportunities.

European Commission VP Andrus Ansip and Director General Roberto Viola (DG Connect) have made several appeals for the need to strengthen multilingualism through technological innovations. Current EC initiatives, such as the eTranslation building block of Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), and ongoing investment in machine translation do contribute to continuous progress. Language Technology for Europe made in Europe is the key. Not only will it strengthen Europe’s place in the pole position of research excellence, but it will contribute to future European cross-border and cross-language communication, economic growth and social stability.