Everybody Loves Us

This strikes me as very foolish.  A gay and lesbian crowdsourcing group called All Out has pressured Google Translate to remove any words that “gay” could be translated as which are offensive.  If I’m understanding this correctly, lesbians and gay men who encounter speakers of another language and rely on Google Translate will only receive politically acceptable words and phrases.

There are times, I admit, when it would be nice to live in the bubble of wonderfulness these folks envision.  But if someone from Saudi Arabia, say, is calling me a faggot, I’d like to know that.  It’s possible he would offer up other cues that would make the point, but all the same language matters, and sometimes it matters most when it is offensive.

10 Comments for “Everybody Loves Us”

  1. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Language matters, and sometimes it matters most when it is offensive.

    The marketplace of ideas demands that we protect offensive speech. I can understand that offensive speech is inappropriate in specific contexts (e.g. a business limitations on offensive speech in the workplace), but using blunt instruments (as in this case) to curb offensive speech impedes the flow of ideas.

    And what of conveying the offensiveness of offensive ideas? Does “God hates Homosexuals!” convey the level of hatred and rank bigotry that “God hates Fags!” does? If a non-English speaker is to understand why Westboro Baptist is scorned in this country, the rawness of their hatred must be conveyed translation?

    Or to put it another way (courtesy of Google translate): ¿Y qué de transmitir el carácter ofensivo de ideas ofensivas? ¿El “Dios odia a los homosexuales!” transmitir el nivel de odio y clasificar la intolerancia que “Dios odia a los maricones!” hace? Si una persona que no habla Inglés es entender ¿por qué Bautista de Westboro es despreciado en este país, la crudeza de su odio debe ser transmitida de traducción?

    I hope that Google doesn’t cave in to this nonsense.

    But if they do, it is just a matter of time before Google gets into a fix like WorldNewsDaily’s “Tyson Homosexual” flap after instituting an automated system that searched for the word “gay” in news stories and substituted “homosexual”.

    So how does Google translate “You can’t fix stupid, I wonder?”

  2. posted by Kosh III on

    “after it was discovered that the search giant suggested slurs such as “poof,” “queen,” and “faggot” as synonyms for gay:”

    It seems to be that this tempest in a teapot could be solved by accurately translating slanderous words in English such as fag into the equvalent in Spanish or whatever. Those languages do have terms of insult.

    Meanwhile serious issues abound but the only thing that draws attention on this site are so called non-conservative gays and their evilness.

    • posted by Houndentenor on

      So then would we have to rank the levels of offensiveness of different terms for homosexuals and try to find the corresponding ones in each language? That sounds like quite a task. Perhaps some queer studies class can take that on. Since slang terms and idioms are usually mangled in google translate anyway, I don’t see that it’s going to help much. Nor do I think we’re going to find enough consensus on which terms are more offensive than others. And of course those change over time (often without warning to the mainstream culture).

  3. posted by Don on

    I couldn’t help but think “hilarity ensues” when reading Stephen’s post. Wasn’t the plot formula for Three’s Company a misunderstood conversation for every single episode. The heard only part of something or misunderstood the pronunciation of a word. That show ran for years on this simple premise.

    I think this should be handled at the local level. Meaning one person speaking to another. Tone and inflection tell me 99% of what I need to know when someone is speaking to me. You can use all the right words and still manage to offend; ditto in reverse.

  4. posted by Houndentenor on

    Some general comments about Google translate. I deal with multiple languages on an almost daily basis. Italian, German, French, Spanish and Latin texts come up for me regularly. And in their poetic forms and often in archaic language (especially the Italian texts from before 1900). I’m not expert but more so than the typical American. Google translate is a useful tool for some things but only up to a point. Translating is not math. There is no formula that gets you from one language to another. In addition to words that have no direct correspondence in the other language, there are idioms and connotations. A good example is the German word “billig” which is often translated to English as “cheap”. But wait, doesn’t cheap imply that something is of substandard quality as well as being inexpensive? Yes. But the German word does not have that added baggage. Translations are tricky. And of course there’s the hilarious one of French people translating the word for dog as “bitch” which if it’s a female is correct but that’s not the word we’re likely to use unless the context is quite clear because that means something else in English. We could go on all day with such examples. I had a miss understanding once in German because the negation of “mussen” doesn’t mean that you must not but instead means that you don’t have to. That’s quite different and an easy mistake. Google translate translations are notoriously problematic and often humorously so. I don’t blame the company for not wanting to unintentionally offend readers. Many websites want to keep things PG-13 or cleaner. If you want to know what an arabic speaker really means your best bet is to either learn Arabic or have the text translated by someone who is fluent in both languages who can explain both the literal meaning and also the connotations of the word choices. Of course such translations are open to interpretation as most translations are of all but the most basic texts (and sometimes even then).

  5. posted by Tom Jefferson III on

    The Big G — as a private company (with more political rights then an actual human being)– can require some level of civility and politeness in the use of its own products /software/stuff. Some of that may be useful and some of it may end up causing something out of a sitcom.

    BTW….did I really need to know that Stephen has a thing for Arab men………;0)

    • posted by Jorge on

      Hey! What’s wrong with that?

    • posted by Barbara on

      David, you mean?

      • posted by Tom Jefferson 3rd on

        I am certainly not judging anyone who may have an particular and intimate interest in Arab (or Persian or Israeli men).

        Although one might get the impression that its sort of a love-hate thing or a ‘bad boy’ thing, but I am not a fully certified therapist. Although…I was not entirely sure how relevant it was to the topic at hand.

        If a relevant (above the waist) connection would be made within the Arabic and Persian languages……many of the more common words to describe gay people or transgender people translate as “pervert”, or something like “pederasty” or “pedophile” or the like (one more popular in Persian literally translates into something like, a “very effeminate man who is a sexual bottom (thus acting like a immoral woman) and prone to having sex in public” .

        Sometimes the Arabic word for Lot (Luti) is used like “queer” has been sometimes reclaimed or sometimes it is used as a insult. Back in 2006 Google got into some trouble when someone noticed that it translated ‘Luti’ to ‘gay’.

        Granted, their was a time in the US/UK where “homosexual” was the polite word to use, but “sodomite”, “degenerate” or “pervert” probably got used much more.
        Something similar is happening within the Arab-Islamic world.

        If civility or professionalism is a goal, then the language should reflect that.

  6. posted by Tom Jefferson 3rd on

    Slate had (some years back) an interesting article on this issue as it applies to Arabic-Islam language. I am not sure if I can post the URL here to the article…. But I will and see what happens.


Comments are closed.