Google Translate has become an extremely popular tool that is used by millions of people worldwide every day. Google’s translation app works by using “crowdsourced translations” provided by native speakers of dozens of languages all across the globe. Although far from perfect, and prone to creating awkward constructions when translating complex sentences, it is a useful too used by upwards of 500 million people regularly.
Crowdsourced translations can create problems, however, as language is innately cultural, and many words have multiple meanings in specific social contexts. Given that language reflects the beliefs of its speakers, the translations provided by Russians, for example, tend to reflect the homophobia that is deeply ingrained in Russian culture. Other languages and societies have similar beliefs, and this has led to Google Translate providing a significant number translations that can be seen as homophobic slurs in several language pairs.
These translations perceived as homophobic slurs began to get a lot of media attention after an LGBT organization started a petition urging Google to do something about the issue a couple of months ago. Google recently announced it has corrected the problem and apologized for the oversight.
Statement about Google Translate
Google released a statement apologizing for the mistranslations. “As soon as we were informed that some of our translations for certain terms were serving inappropriate results, we immediately began working to fix the issue. We apologize for any offense this has caused people. Our systems produce translations automatically based on existing translations on the web, so we appreciate when users point out issues such as this.”
The problem with Google Translate
The whole situation came about when a growing number of people noticed that when translating neutral words in foreign languages pertaining to homosexuality, many of the translations contained English slang terms that are commonly considered homophobic slurs among native speakers. On the other hand, translations of neutral foreign equivalents racial terms (words which would translate to “Asian”, “White” or “Black”) or gender terms (words that would translate to “female” or “male”) did not display racist or sexist slang.
The petition regarding the homophobic translations issue attracted a total of 51,634 signatures.