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From Baseldytsch to Wallisertiitsch: Can AI translate all the Swiss German dialects?

343 hours of spoken Swiss dialect, one AI model, many questions. How different are Swiss dialects from each other? And can they be translated from Swiss German to Standard German with AI? “Yes, we were surprised how well that worked” says Jan Deriu from the Centre for Artificial Intelligence at ZHAW.

Switzerland has a rich diversity of different dialects, and they are considered important markers of regional identity. In German speaking regions, Swiss German dialects are spoken in everyday situations – formal and informal ones and written mostly in informal contexts. A recent SNF project divided the Swiss German landscape into seven dialect regions: Basel, Berne, Central Switzerland, Eastern Switzerland, Grisons, Valais, and Zurich. Researchers from ZHAW and FHNW compiled a large corpus of these dialects and trained an AI model on it that translates Swiss German speech into Standard German text. The project provided insights into the challenges of building Swiss German speech translation systems, specifically focusing on the impact of dialect diversity and differences between Swiss German and Standard German. The paper of the project team was accepted at the Findings of the Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP 2023) in Singapore. Johanna Seiwald speaks with Jan Deriu, researcher at the Centre for Artificial Intelligence, about the key insights.