Rates of exchange

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Matthew Kehrt writes:

In the continuing saga of "Austria == Ireland" (see also "Made in USA == Made in Austria|France|Italy…"), apparently rubles are Australian dollars:

Interestingly, Google knows, even if Google Translate doesn't:


  1. Sockatume said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 6:14 am

    Out of idle mischief I tried translating:

    "This quick example text was written in English in England"

    From Spanish to English gives:

    "This quick example text was written in Inglés in England."

    How bizarre! French, meanwhile, changes the capitalisation:

    "This quick example text Was Written in English in England."

    I'm sure that most of these errors arise from Google data-mining multiple language versions of the same web page to understand how to translate words. When English words appear on a page identified as being in another language, they are added to *that* language's corpus and then correlations between those words and the actual English version are discovered.

    Strange correlations as it turns out.

  2. Sockatume said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 6:15 am

    (If you tell it that the source text is in Polish, you similarly get the Polish "Angielski" substituted for "English".)

  3. Sergey Kirienko said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 7:12 am

    In the past, Google translated Donetsk from Ukrainian to English as Chicago: http://www.slovomania.ru/dnevnik/2011/05/23/chicago/

  4. Gunnar H said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 8:37 am


    Of course, it seems pretty clear how this happens: Google's multilingual corpora tend to translate monetary values into the local currency, and apparently there are a lot of Russian-Australian parallel texts. The numeric value is probably just passed through unchanged (or possibly, there are enough instances of one-to-one conversions of numbers in other contexts to establish that "translation").

    The oddest Google Translate bug I've come across is this.

  5. Dre said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 8:39 am

    I was surprised some time ago to see that Facebook's (Bing-based) translator decided to translate "Slovenska prijatelji" as "English friends" rather than "Slovenian friends".

    It seems that this quirk doesn't currently manifest on Bing, and a test post on FB won't give me the "translation by Bing" option for some reason. Nor can I find the original post that I was originally motivated to have it translate. Oh well.

  6. Avinor said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 9:24 am

    It used to "translate" Tingsryd (tiny place in Småland, south Sweden) into Saskatoon. Always amused and puzzled me, but now, googling both names at once, I realize what the connection is. They both have minor/junior league ice hockey teams! Probably mis-parsing of results and player biographies.

  7. Sam Foster said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 11:08 am

    @Gunnar H That one is amazing! What on earth…

  8. Daniel Barkalow said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

    It's just silly when you ask Google Translate directly, but it gets kind of disturbing when you have it translate a store web site, since you get a page listing insanely high prices for normal items without any indication that it just swapped currency symbols. Also, translating "kr" from Swedish into English gives "£", which is less obviously strange in prices than AUD.

  9. Tom V said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

    @Gunnar: odder yet, I get different results when I paste the url "http://translate.google.com/#fr/en/FV%3A%20Non." into an email (in MS Outlook) then click on the link. In that case "non" means "no".
    Pasting the link into another browser gives the original translation "yes".
    This works the same way for "FV: Nein." translating German to English, or if I use Yahoo Mail as the email client (again, "no").

  10. MaryKaye said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 2:14 pm

    Perhaps the yes/no examples are related to a (possibly defunct) bug in the grammar checker in MS Word. The printed example I saw was taking a sentence beginning "Loans will not be given under the following conditions:" and suggesting as a correction "Loans will be given under the following conditions:". I was skeptical, as that example didn't malfunction on my version of Word, but I eventually found an analogous one in a paper of my own that did trigger the bug.

  11. John said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

    My favorite Google Translate quirk is when it translates Chinese 仇家 ("nemesis") into English "CIA." I can only imagine what parallel texts they were working out of to get this.

    (I just checked, and the quirk is still there.)

  12. Peter said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

    Eugene Ionesco supposedly said that “the French for ‘London’ is ‘Paris’”. This seems to be an algorithmic re-discovery of very much the same phenomenon.

  13. mdm said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 5:35 pm

    Apple's reminders app used to try to be clever about what you typed in, for example "lunch at noon" would give you an entry for lunch at 12pm. But it wasn't sensitive to the dominant language you used, so any potentially foreign words that indicated temporal expressions would give you a reminder associated with that particular day or time. E.g. "buy a midi cable" would happen at noon because midi = noon in French. It used to be like this for many languages:

    However, it seems much stricter now and only tries to parse out explicit time expressions like '12pm'.

  14. Duncan said,

    February 19, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

    Back in 1980 or so when I was still in grade school, I had a handwriting (of all things) assignment that had me convert the idiom "10 gallon hat" into (metric) liters. That was of course before the net and computers were widely accessible (I run a KDE desktop here and just entered 10 gallon in krunner to get the conversion I use for this post), so I had to look it up, and duly put down ~37.85 liter hat.

    After completing the assignment and handing it in, out of curiosity I looked it up in the teacher's edition (which we had access to, it was handwriting, after all, kinda hard to cheat by looking at the answers on that!) to see what /it/ said. Imagine my surprise and disappointment to see all my lookup effort had been in vain — it's answer was a direct "10 liter hat"! I was being far too literal — it wanted an idiom translation, not a direct math conversion.

    Google translate must be using similar idiomatic material.

  15. M said,

    February 20, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

    Sergey Kirienko: Huh. My working theory would be it's because both Donetsk and Chicago are famous for their mafia.

  16. mira said,

    February 21, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

    A few years ago, there was a meme going around the Czech internet: if you put "Miluji Česko! miluji česko, miluji Česko" ("I love Czechia") into Google Translate, it would come up as "I love Ireland! I love the USA, I love Africa". Chicago seems to be popular on Google Translate as well, its Czech translation was "Brno".

    These have all been fixed, unfortunately.

  17. FM said,

    February 22, 2014 @ 11:02 am

    My working theory was that it was because the original punctuation was wrong for Russian, but when you enter the correct version "1,00 руб", you still get "1.00 AUD".

  18. blahedo said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

    There's a vlogger on Youtube who is a native German speaker that teaches high school in Germany. She teaches German, both composition and literature, and she's doing the Youtube stuff to practice her English (which she does not teach, although her English is idiomatic and easy to understand).

    When she describes her job in English, she says she's an English teacher, because when you say "German teacher" in English, people think "foreign language instructor", not "composition and literature".

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