4 times Google Translate totally dropped the ball
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
- Google Translate is one of the most popular online translators in the world, but it occasionally drops the ball
- People have gotten bizarre and humorous results when they type in certain characters
- Sometimes the translations are strangely poetic.
Machine translators have made impressive strides since they first gained popularity online in the early 2000s.
The most popular translating service, Google Translate, upped the ante in 2016 when it introduced a system that translates whole sentences at a time, rather than taking them fragment by fragment.
But despite the advancements in technology, there are still plenty of moments when Google doesn't quite nail a translation, whether because of a glitch, an ambiguous choice of words, or human trickery.
Look what it did with this list of 30 countries
A reader of the linguistics blog Language Log noticed in April that a bizarre thing happened when he entered a list of countries for Google to translate into Spanish.
Ten of the 30 countries got cut from Google's version of the list, and for some reason, Honduras is repeated four times, while Guatemala and the United States appear twice.
It also seems the online translation made some attempt to retain the alphabetical order of the original list, but didn't quite get the job done.
Then there's the case of the 'decearing egg'
One of Google Translate's most spectacular fails went viral in April after a user filmed his attempt to translate two Japanese characters.
The video, viewed nearly 4 million times, shows the user entering the two characters repeatedly and noting the increasingly bizarre translations Google comes up with each step of the way.
The first set of characters is translated as "return." Then there's "regret," "eco-production," "Eiffel Tower," and several instances of the perplexing nonsense phrase "decearing egg."
Things go completely off the rails when he gets back translations like "Transportation Eastern maple Egg bag," "Delicaceness of deep-sea squeeze trees," and for good measure, "DECEARING EGUEEGEGUGE deep-sea EEGEGEGYE EGGTAG."
Sometimes Google is strangely poetic
Linguist Ben Zimmer noticed that other sets of Japanese characters, when repeated over and over, yield strangely poetic results. For example, when he repeatedly entered two characters (pronounced e tsu), Google gave him the following work of art:
Escape to the world
Electric roof top
A terrible experience
I miss you for a friend
I'm afraid to use it
I loan it for you
I miss you for a ___ ___ 0
IMPORTANT NOT LIABILITIES
I felt it was a big experience.
Meanwhile, it is a must do for you
Meanwhile I can say that I am a
Meanwhile, we are a
Meanwhile, we are a
Take a look at the top of the page
I miss you for a moment.
IMPORTANT: I can not go wrong.
And typing every single letter in order apparently means something too
Perhaps the weirdest Google Translate quirk yet involves the Vietnamese alphabet. As another Language Log user observed, when you type each letter of the Vietnamese alphabet in order as they appear on a keyboard, Google spits out a vaguely coherent sentence riddled with legalese:
I tried the same thing with a slightly different set of letters, and started deleting characters one by one, with interesting results:
While Google Translate has certainly come a long way, there are clearly a few wrinkles it still needs to iron out.
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