Google Translate (2007- ) is a computer program on the Internet that translates between 103 different languages. It even has Maltese and Xhosa! Like the Black president, it is one of those things I did not think I would live to see.
It is far from perfect, but it is quick and, if you do not know a language, way better than nothing.
Example: If we Google Translate this paragraph from my blog:
“Nichelle Nichols is credited with another first: the first interracial kiss on US television, or at least the first one between a Black woman and a White man. That was in 1968 on the “Star Trek” episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” where she kisses Captain Kirk (William Shatner). Even though it was not a romantic kiss – it was done under alien mind control! – it was blocked by some television stations in the South and in England.”
“Nicholas Nichelle alio creditur primum Interracial oscula prima US molestie, vel inter primam et mulier Aethiops albus homo. Quod erat in MCMLXVIII “Ave ” episode ” Plato privignis ” ecclesiam ubi Captain oscula ( William Shatner ) . Etiam non dolor osculum – factum sub aliena potestate mentis ! – Eam saeptam aliquam molestie stationes ad meridiem et in Anglia.”
and then back into English, we get this:
“Nicholas Nichelle first person believed to be the first US television Interracial kiss or the first black woman and a white man. That was in 1968 ” Hail, ” episode “Plato stepson ,” the church where Captain kisses ( William Shatner ). It’s not the pain of a kiss – a strange woman , made under the power of the mind ! – It was a precaution to the south, and some television stations in England .”
It looks like a bad case of Chinese whispers. Yet if you do a Google search on the first 13 words:
“Nicholas Nichelle first person believed to be the first US television Interracial kiss”
it lists the Wikipedia pages for “First interracial kiss on television” (there are other contenders) and “Plato’s Stepchildren”!
Google Translate has no idea of grammar or what words “mean”, but it does know how to use statistics. It views the Internet as a huge Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone that Napoleon’s army found in Egypt had the same piece of writing in Ancient Egyptian, Demotic and Greek. The Internet, as it turns out, has tons of Rosetta stones, like the Bible, EU laws and UN reports, where the same piece of writing has been put into different languages.
It helps that people tend to say things that have been said before and mostly want translations between languages that have been done to death.
But how does it translate between, say, Xhosa and Maltese? The answer: badly. Apart from the Bible, there are probably few if any Rosetta stones on the Internet between those two languages. In a case like that, it looks for a pivot language: the language both have been translated into most often (probably English in this case, thanks to the British Empire) and translates by way of that.
– Abagond, 2016.
Source: mainly “Is That a Fish in Your Ear?” (2011) by David Bellos.
- Google Translate – its website
- Nichelle Nichols
- The brief history of a paragraph – the same paragraph as was translated.
- Rosetta Stone
- My Black Media Month – wherein I discover Google Translate was more amazing than I thought.