I’ve been learning Arabic for a few years now, after one of my previous startups had a large team of developers in Egypt. Even though I’m just a novice, I noticed something really bizarre in today’s keynote at Google I/O: some of the languages on the slide are… wrong?
The text in Arabic reads “Sudanese Language” but is written the wrong way and with a script that makes Arabic speakers raise an eyebrow or two. Swiss German (usually written as “Schweizerdeutsch”) is written in what appears to be a local accent trying to mimic an accent (not unlike if you write “what’s all that going on” to try and mimic a Canadian accent) to imitate – you can, but it’s not typically a foregone conclusion), and a lot of other languages in non-Latin script are unrecognizable beyond recognition: the Urdu translation makes little sense, and there are a number of other facepalm moments as well.
It’s unclear if the Google Translate team was trying to get smart and showcase some local knowledge here by bending the writing into local accents, but that seems… odd. Either way, putting any of these translations into Google Translate results in translations that are more accurate than what landed on Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s slide. Downright astounding.
Ramic says it well:
If Google wanted to get it right, it should have gone with something along the lines of لهجة سودانية – meaning “Sudanese dialect” or “Sudanese slang.” It is clearly a world of difference from the one that ended up on the slide.
Google Translate is undoubtedly a powerful tool for understanding the gist of an article or few words, but it’s pretty bizarre to see a whole bunch of mistakes in a single part of the presentation. If you want to see the moment in the Google IO presentation for some excellent mind-bending linguistic action, YouTube is behind you†
Thanks to my friend ashraf for additional help reporting this piece.