Machine translation bug of the week

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Google Translate gets this one right:

(h/t David Masad‏)


  1. Tom Davidson said,

    May 8, 2017 @ 10:45 am

    examples abound in machine transwlations of Chinese. Just check any TCM website and hit google translate for laughs. Found one the other day which suggests eating people as a treatment……….

  2. Tom Davidson said,

    May 8, 2017 @ 11:00 am

    Can anyone please translate this into correct English?
    For the last three characters, Google m/c xlation is "good down."

  3. J Greely said,

    May 8, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

    @Tom Davidson, that example is really interesting, since if you tell Google translate to parse it as Japanese, it comes back with "Beef Knee Good Low Line", despite the fact that 牛膝, 性善, and 下行 are words that would more or less match the translation it gives for Chinese, "Achyranthes good down".


  4. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 8, 2017 @ 12:55 pm

    "Ox knee (牛膝; Achyranthes bidentata Blume) by its nature (性) is beneficial for (善) downward/outward (下) circulation (of the blood) (行)"? Perhaps those with knowledge of TCM can take it from there…

  5. S Frankel said,

    May 8, 2017 @ 4:53 pm

    "Nous sommes tous Américains"

  6. Jenny Chu said,

    May 8, 2017 @ 7:21 pm

    @S Frankel – no doubt soon to be translated by Bing as "Ich bin ein Berliner"

  7. John said,

    May 9, 2017 @ 3:52 am

    Reminds me of how I recently discovered that Google Translate has begun rendering 我國 ("our country") as "China."

  8. Ninetto said,

    May 9, 2017 @ 3:57 am

    @ Jenny Chu
    although it must be noted JFK's remark is rather awkward, since actually the correct statement in German would have been:

    "Ich bin Berliner".

    Can't blame that one on BING.

  9. Vilinthril said,

    May 9, 2017 @ 7:11 am

    @Ninetto: No, that is an urban legend. “Ich bin ein Berliner” is perfectly fine in German.

  10. S Frankel said,

    May 9, 2017 @ 8:08 am

    @Ninetto – what Vilinthril said. "Ich bin Berliner" would mean he actually came from Berlin rather than he was, so to speak, one with them.

  11. Christian Weisgerber said,

    May 9, 2017 @ 10:31 am

    Why keep harping on machine translation when human translation is already poor?

    Today on the BBC news:

    A high-ranking lieutenant, he was allegedly part of a plot to stage a gun attack and make it look like the work of Islamic militants.

    What is a "high-ranking lieutenant" supposed to be? This isn't figurative. Apparently somebody without understanding of military ranks had to translate German Oberleutnant, i.e., first lieutenant.

  12. Ethan said,

    May 9, 2017 @ 12:43 pm

    @Christian Weisgerber: I see no error in the BBC translation. "First lieutenant" is jargon; unless you have learned the rank-order for the appropriate military service you are left wondering whether it is higher or lower than, say, "third lieutenant". "High-ranking lieutenant" explains it nicely.

  13. franzca said,

    May 9, 2017 @ 3:48 pm

    To go back to the Macron tweet: at least the Bing translation is immediately detectable as a mistake and, in any environment where there is a human editor that goes through the translation before it's published, it would be immedidately corrected. Also: it's funny.

    The Google version ("My dear compatriots"), on the other hand, mimics the sort of lame, word-for-word translation an inexperienced human translator might go for, and therefore might well survive human editing intact — even though it's hard to imagine an English-speaking politician ever using it a speech or a tweet. ("My fellow citizens" would do it.)

    It's easy to see how the Bing error happened: "Mes chers compatriotes" is an excellent translation of "My fellow Americans", just not the reverse. But am curious how Google got its result.

  14. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    May 9, 2017 @ 6:15 pm

    I increasingly see 'compatriot' used to mean 'comrade' or 'companion'. Dictionaries seem still to think that it means 'fellow-citizen', as the French word clearly does, but I wonder how long this will continue.

  15. Dan Lufkin said,

    May 9, 2017 @ 9:53 pm

    La France est la deuxième patrie de tout le monde, n'est pas?

  16. raempftl said,

    May 10, 2017 @ 1:04 am


    Vilinthril and S Frankel are correct. This is indeed a myth.


  17. George said,

    May 10, 2017 @ 3:30 am


    While I agree with you that the terminology of military ranks is a jargon that one shouldn't assume to be transparent to the general public (particularly the general public in a country like the UK where compulsory military service disappeared long before it did in most of continental Europe), I don't think that "high-ranking lieutenant" does the job of making things easier to understand.

    Firstly, "high-ranking lieutenant" is pretty much a contradiction in terms; a first lieutenant is still a very junior officer. The use of "high-ranking" could give the impression that this plot involved more senior people than it actually did (which is not to minimise the problem of far-right infiltration in the Bundeswehr), particularly if the reader is ignorant of the jargon of military ranks.

    Secondly, "first" would, I think, be assumed by most people to be senior to "third". Nicola Sturgeon is the First Minister of Scotland. A first-class honours degree is better than a third-class honours degree, etc.

  18. George said,

    May 10, 2017 @ 4:04 am

    Interestingly (and sorry for staying OT), Deutsche Welle's English-language website is also using the term "high-ranking lieutenant". I wonder where it started….

  19. Eleanor said,

    May 10, 2017 @ 4:04 am

    @Andrew – maybe partly due to a mishearing or association with 'compadre'?

    My Oxford thesaurus lists 'compatriot' under 'companion', but not vice versa.

  20. J. Goard said,

    May 10, 2017 @ 6:10 am

    Vilinthril and S Frankel are correct. This is indeed a myth.

    He does seem to say he's a BIER-liner, though. ;-)

  21. John Swindle said,

    May 10, 2017 @ 5:44 pm

    The problem with “a high-ranking lieutenant” is that it’s unclear. It could mean that the accomplice was high in the plot leader’s ranks of associates, or that he was the plot leader’s aide who held high rank in the community or elsewhere, or that he held some military rank of super-duper-lieutenant, or that persons of the military rank of lieutenant are thereby high-ranking. The fact that the plot was within the army suggests one or the other of the two last, faintly ridiculous readings.

  22. Martha said,

    May 10, 2017 @ 8:01 pm

    "High-ranking lieutenant" makes me think of some important guy in some crime organization.

  23. Rodger C said,

    May 11, 2017 @ 10:53 am

    I'm probably showing my age and nationality when I wonder why "first lieutenant" is considered unfamiliar.

  24. mg said,

    May 11, 2017 @ 5:24 pm

    Reminds me of FB translating the Hebrew "חַג שָׂמֵחַ" (happy holiday) as Merry Christmas, much to the distress of Jewish FBers – even though both Google and Bing got it right. And rather than correct it, they decide to just refuse to translate it any more.

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