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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Junior recognized for using computational linguistics to keep endangered languages alive

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Bank of America
Junior Zeyneb Kaya poses with her award along with representatives of the Bank of America. 

At a young age, Zeyneb Kaya realized that technology can be used for much more than people realize, such as documenting endangered languages to keep them alive as the number of speakers worldwide decrease over time. With this cause in mind, she has worked to develop an organization specifically to promote diverse voices. 

During the weekend of March 11, the junior flew to North Carolina for the awards ceremony of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Award for Aspirations in Computing. Kaya was one of 40 students selected nationwide for this award, which recognizes individuals for their achievements in the field of technology and computing. 

In her application for NCWIT, Kaya was required to explain her passion and how she specifically used technology to make an impact with that passion in mind. 

“For me, that was looking at the intersection of language and technology, and working to promote diverse voices and minority languages by taking advantage of the current digital age,” Kaya said. 

One of Kaya’s significant efforts was creating a nonprofit organization called Romeyka Everlasting that works to keep the language Romeyka alive. Romeyka, a Pontic Greek dialect spoken in areas near the Black Sea such as Turkey, has only several thousand speakers left, Kaya said. 

Kaya describes Romeyka Everlasting as a digital Rosetta Stone, using Natural Language Processing (NLP), a branch of  artificial intelligence that implements computational linguistics to enable machines to interpret languages as humans do. She has spoken with researchers and speakers who have also been working with Romeyka, and so far she has documented five hours of people speaking the language. 

Being a winner means that Kaya was recognized for her passion and the work she has done to preserve Romeyka. She was in disbelief that all her effort paid off in the award. 

“It was really, really shocking,” Kaya said. “I had to read the email five times because I’d seen some of the people who had won in previous years, and I was really intimidated.” 

As a winner, Kaya received an engraved award, a medal, a certificate, scholarship and internship opportunities, merchandise and various other prizes. 

The awards ceremony itself was a new and exciting experience for Kaya, and travel was completely paid for. The weekend was also filled with workshops where winners could meet and discuss their individual passions that all stem from computing. She also got to explore the city, get to know previous award winners and meet Bank of America representatives.  “Everyone else was super different because they’re all interested in different parts of computing, but we were all passionate and had this common thread,” Kaya said. “Honestly, [getting that recognition] is nothing like I’ve ever felt before.”

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