Reading Akkadian cuneiform using natural language processing

Shai Gordin, Gai Gutherz, Ariel Elazary, Avital Romach, Enrique Jiménez, Jonathan Berant, Yoram Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In this paper we present a new method for automatic transliteration and segmentation of Unicode cuneiform glyphs using Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques. Cuneiform is one of the earliest known writing system in the world, which documents millennia of human civilizations in the ancient Near East. Hundreds of thousands of cuneiform texts were found in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries CE, most of which are written in Akkadian. However, there are still tens of thousands of texts to be published. We use models based on machine learning algorithms such as recurrent neural networks (RNN) with an accuracy reaching up to 97% for automatically transliterating and segmenting standard Unicode cuneiform glyphs into words. Therefore, our method and results form a major step towards creating a human-machine interface for creating digitized editions. Our code, Akkademia, is made publicly available for use via a web application, a python package, and a github repository.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0240511
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume15
Issue number10 October
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2020

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