A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, January 21, 2013

"The Google Translate Plague" and an Omani Linguistics Blog

The blog "Exploring Oman's Linguistic Treasures" (yes,there is one) has a piece some of you may find interesting: "The Google Translate Plague."

Apparently the blogger's English students are doing translation exercises from Arabic into English by simply cutting and pasting from Google Translate, with predictably awkward results:
I started my post with a rather strange appreciation of the skills needed to plagiarise. The reason is because a lot of students do not even bother about all skills mentioned. So if they don't use those skills and they don't produce their authentic work, then what do they do? They simply go to this tool which was created for great purposes, none of which I am sure is to help students cheat: www.translate.google.com . They simply paste their Arabic text in there and get a ready made piece of writing in English.
The messily-translated chunks of language submitted can be outrageous but hilarious at the same time. And I say it's messy because as a machine translator it translates things literally in terms of meaning and discards any grammatical rules of the second language most of the time; it simply follows the word order of the translated language. The effect, my respected readers, can be speechless, as you realise. One student for instance, typed all the Arabic he wanted to express and clicked to translate it into English. Apparently the student wanted to translate the word 'feather' (singular) to English. Note that the Arabic word for feather and badminton (the sport) is the same. The student ended up submitting something that is along the lines of 'the badminton of the bird'...which is interesting if you think about it; but maybe in a fictional text rather than non-fictional prose?
The blogger doesn't post much but there are a few interesting posts on such minority languages as Jabbali, and on a subject we've discussed here a time or two, Cypriot Maronite Arabic. (Earlier posts by me on this curious dialect here and here.)


Jonathan Wright said...

For anyone interested in the workings of Google Translate, here's an interesting feature that deserves investigation. The other day I typed in an Arabic text continued the phrase 'al-lugha l-3arabiya l-fusha' (the classical Arabic language, roughly), and Google Translate came back in English with 'Mandarin'. I'd be most interested to know what the mechanism is that came up with that!

Michael Collins Dunn said...

I can sort of see a relationship (though Mandarin is not identical with Classical Chinese), but it certainly could lead to some hilarious results if you actually just copied it. "Mandarin, based on the language of the Qur'an ..." (Besides, in the PRC you're supposed to say Putonghua these days anyway. "Mandarin" is too class-ridden,)