At the crossroads of language, technology, and empathy | MIT News

Rujul Gandhi’s enjoy of looking through blossomed into a love of language at age 6, when she discovered a e book at a garage sale known as “What’s At the rear of the Word?” With forays into record, etymology, and language genealogies, the book captivated Gandhi, who as an MIT senior stays fascinated with text and how we use them.

Increasing up partly in the U.S. and typically in India, Gandhi was surrounded by a range of languages and dialects. When she moved to India at age 8, she could previously see how being aware of the Marathi language permitted her to join a lot more quickly to her classmates — an early lesson in how language designs our human activities.

In the beginning pondering she may want to examine imaginative crafting or theater, Gandhi 1st figured out about linguistics as its have field of review by an on the internet training course in ninth grade. Now a linguistics big at MIT, she is learning the structure of language from the syllable to sentence amount, and also learning about how we understand language. She finds the human aspects of how we use language, and the point that languages are consistently changing, specially compelling.

 “When you learn to respect language, you can then appreciate lifestyle,” she claims.

Communicating and connecting, with a technological assist

Taking edge of MIT’s World-wide Training Labs method, Gandhi traveled to Kazakhstan in January 2020 to train linguistics and biology to superior faculty college students. Missing a good grasp of the language, she cautiously navigated conversations with her college students and hosts. Nonetheless, she before long uncovered that doing the job to recognize the language, providing culturally relevant examples, and writing her assignments in Russian and Kazakh permitted her to have interaction additional meaningfully with her college students.

Technological know-how also assisted bridge the communication barrier in between Gandhi and her Russian-speaking host father, who spoke no English. With support from Google Translate, they bonded above shared passions, which include 1950s and ’60s Bollywood new music.

As she began to analyze computer system science at MIT, Gandhi noticed extra opportunities to hook up persons by means of both language and engineering, hence primary her to pursue a double main in linguistics and in laptop science and electrical engineering.

“The issues I fully grasp by means of linguistics, I can try to come across methods to by computer system science,” she points out.

Energized by ambitious jobs

Gandhi is decided to prioritize social impression though seeking for people solutions. By means of numerous management roles in on-campus organizations for the duration of her time at MIT, especially in the college student-operate Educational Experiments Program (ESP), she realized how much operating right with people today and getting on the logistical side of substantial initiatives energizes her. With ESP, she helps arrange events that convey thousands of substantial university and center school learners to campus every single 12 months for lessons and other routines led by MIT learners.

After her next directing program, Spark 2020, was cancelled final March since of the pandemic, Gandhi ultimately embraced the digital expertise. She planned and co-directed a digital software, Splash: 2020, internet hosting about 1,100 college students. “Interacting with the ESP group convinced me that an organization can functionality proficiently with a powerful commitment to its values,” she states.

The pandemic also heightened Gandhi’s appreciation for the MIT local community, as a lot of persons arrived at out to her featuring a put to keep when campus shut down. She claims she sees MIT as household — a position wherever she not only feels cared for, but also relishes the option to care for some others.

Now, she is bridging cultural limitations on campus through executing art. Dance is yet another 1 of Gandhi’s loves. When she couldn’t uncover a team to follow Indian classical dance with, Gandhi took matters into her individual hands. In 2019, she and a few of good friends started Nritya, a college student corporation at MIT. The group hopes to have its to start with in-person general performance this fall. “Dance is like its own language,” she observes.

Know-how born out of empathy

In her academic get the job done, Gandhi relishes exploring linguistics difficulties from a theoretical viewpoint, and then applying that know-how via arms-on activities. “The fantastic matter about MIT is it allows you go out of your ease and comfort zone,” she states.

For case in point, in IAP 2019 she labored on a geographical dialect survey of her native Marathi language with Deccan University, a center of linguistics in her hometown. And, by the Undergraduate Investigate Alternatives Program (UROP), she is at this time functioning on a investigation job concentrated on phonetics and phonology, focusing her attention on how language “contact,” or interactions, influences the sounds that speakers use.

The following winter season, she also worked with Tarjimly, a nonprofit connecting refugees with interpreters by way of a smartphone app. She notes that translating units have state-of-the-art promptly in phrases of permitting folks to talk more properly, but she also acknowledges that there is excellent opportunity to make improvements to them to gain and access even far more people.

“How are folks going to advocate for themselves and make use of general public infrastructure if they just cannot interface with it?” she asks.

Mulling about other ideas, Gandhi suggests it would be exciting to explore how sign language may possibly be a lot more properly be interpreted by way of a smartphone translating application. And, she sees a have to have for further enhancing regional translations to far better connect with the tradition and context of the regions the language is spoken in, accounting for dialectal dissimilarities and new developments.

On the lookout forward, Gandhi wishes to emphasis on planning systems that superior integrate theoretical developments in linguistics and on generating language technological know-how broadly accessible. She states she finds the get the job done of bringing alongside one another technologies and linguistics to be most rewarding when it will involve men and women, and that she finds the most which means in her initiatives when they are centered close to empathy for others’ activities.

“The know-how born out of empathy is the engineering that I want to be operating on,” she points out. “Language is fundamentally a individuals issue you just can’t disregard the men and women when you’re developing engineering that relates to language.”

Eleanore Beatty

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