Erm, Google, That’s Not How You Write Arabic

Erm, Google, That’s Not How You Write Arabic

Since one of my previous firms had a sizable staff of engineers working in Egypt, I’ve started studying Arabic. Despite my inexperience, I did notice something quite odd during today’s presentation at Google I/O: Numerous languages on the slide are incorrect? The Arabic text says “Sudanese Language,” however it is spelled incorrectly and in a style that causes Arabic speakers to squint a little. Similar to writing “what’s that all aboot” to try to simulate a Canadian accent — you may, but it isn’t normally the one thing — Swiss German (often written as “Schweizerdeutsch”) is written in what looks to be a local dialect trying to emulate an accent.

By writing in regional accents, the Google Translate team may have been attempting to get the smart and demonstrate some local expertise, but it sounds… weird. Whatever the case, using Google Translate to translate any of them results in translations that are more accurate than those that ended up on Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s PowerPoint. Utterly perplexingIf Google had wanted to get it right, it should have gone with something along the lines of لهجة سودانية — which means “Sudanese dialect” or “Sudanese slang.” It’s clearly a world of difference from the copy that ended up on the slide.

Additionally, it appears that several additional non-Latin scripted languages are completely jumbled: There are several additional instances where you could face palm, and the Urdu translation is particularly illogical. Sam clarifies it in the following tweet: Google Translate is clearly a useful tool for understanding the essence of a text or a few phrases, but it’s odd to have so many errors concentrated in one area of the presentation. 

YouTube has you covered if you want to watch the part of the Google IO presentation that had some fantastic linguistic puzzlement. I annotated something for everyone’s benefit. Every single one that is not based on Latin or Cyrillic is incorrect (at least a little bit). Although I had some difficulty, I was able to show the Bengali script more successfully than this “Google” startup.