Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Google should not be used to translate the Bible…

One tool that a linguist uses to check the accuracy of a translation is to do a back translation. For example, say someone translated Huckleberry Finn (a book originally written in English by the illustrious Mark Twain) into Spanish. A back translation would occur when another bilingual speaker would translate the Spanish Huckleberry Finn into English again. This English translation is then read and examined to see if the original meaning survived the two translations. If so, then there is a good chance the Spanish version of Huckleberry Finn conveys the text correctly. This same process is used when translating the Bible

Back translations can produce funny results. Especially when Google does it. And uses 56 different languages.

Take this simple (and sadly accurate) statement about today’s weather: "If it warmed up 50 degrees outside, the temperature would still be below freezing."

Put it in the little text box on this website:

And 56 translations later we get: "Temperatures below 50 Degrees."  Well, it’s true... but not quite my original sentence.

And again: "Thankfully, my car decided to start this morning before I went to work."

...56 translations later: "Before you decide, I hope that one day the car will not start"

Not quite…

This could get addicting—what do your translations turn out like?