Universal Networking Language (UNL) is an artificial language that can be used as a pivot language in interlingual machine translation systems or as a knowledge representation language in information retrieval applications. It was created at the Institute of Advanced Studies of the United Nations University, in Tokyo, and it has been developed at the UNDL Foundation, in Geneva, Switzerland, along with a large community of researchers all over the world (the so-called UNL Society).
The UNL Programme started in 1996, as an initiative of the Institute of Advanced Studies of the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan. In January 2001, the United Nations University set up an autonomous organization, the UNDL Foundation, to be responsible for the development and management of the UNL Programme. The Foundation, a non-profit international organisation, has an independent identity from the United Nations University, although it has special links with the UN. It inherited from the UNU/IAS the mandate of implementing the UNL Programme so that it can fulfil its mission. Its headquarters are based in Geneva, Switzerland.
From the very beginning, a consortium of university departments from all regions of the world has been engaged in developing the UNL. That's the UNL Society, a global-scale network of R&D teams, involving about 200 specialists in computer science and linguistics, who are at work creating the linguistic resources and developing the web structure of the UNL System. The UNL Centre provides technological support and co-ordinates the implementation of the Programme.
The Programme has already crossed important milestones. The overall architecture of the UNL System has been developed with a set of basic software and tools necessary for its functioning. These are being tested and improved. A vast amount of linguistic resources from the various native languages already under development, as well as from the UNL expression, has been accumulated in the last few years. Moreover, the technical infrastructure for expanding these resources is already in place, thus facilitating the participation of many more languages in the UNL system from now on. A growing number of scientific papers and academic dissertations on the UNL are being published every year.
The most visible accomplishment so far is the recognition by the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT) of the innovative character and industrial applicability of the UNL, which was obtained in May 2002 through the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). Acquiring the patent for the UNL is a completely novel achievement within the United Nations.
Scope and Goals
The UNL is an effort to achieve a simple basis for representing the most central aspects of information and meaning in a machine- and human-language-independent form. As a language-independent formalism, the UNL aims at coding, storing, disseminating and retrieving information independently of the original language in which it was expressed. In this sense, UNL seeks to provide the tools for overcoming the language barrier in a systematic way.
At first glance, the UNL seems to be a multilingual machine translation system, i.e., a kind of Interlingua, to which the source texts are converted before being translated into the target languages. It can, in fact, be used for such a purpose, and very efficiently too. However, its real strength is to represent knowledge and its primary objective is to serve as an infrastructure for handling knowledge that already exists or can exist in any given language.
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