LINGUIST List 30.3542

Fri Sep 20 2019

Media: Teach You Backwards

Editor for this issue: Everett Green <>

Date: 18-Sep-2019
From: Martin Benjamin <>
Subject: Teach You Backwards
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This book, free at, tells the story of Google Translate, the world’s most-used service to convert words among languages. Google claims to serve 103 languages, but nobody has ever before investigated what actually happens when you put in text for translation. Sometimes your results will be spot-on, sometimes they’re spotty at best, and sometimes they’re as intelligible as a red-spotted toad. What are those times, and why such variable results? Are some languages better than others? Do some things translate better than others? Can Google Translate be trusted?

The pages that follow dive into the question of how well Google Translate accomplishes the job it says it does. This started out as a technical research study, with measurements designed with academic rigor to compare translations from English to the other 102 Google languages. Along the way, though, it became evident that there was a much bigger story than whether Google found the right words in one language or another. The story involved human psychology, media gullibility, and corporate mendacity – a rich mixture of hope and hubris, built on a platform of data and deceit.

Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics

Page Updated: 20-Sep-2019