Google Translate has inadvertently strayed into the political choppy waters with an inaccurate translation.
Anyone who uses the site knows that Google translations can sometimes be imprecise or hard to understand. Senior figures at Google itself recognise this, as I have discussed before: Google: “Translations aren’t perfect”
But it is even worse when the translation is the complete opposite of the intended meaning.
The Taipei Times recently elaborated on a rather sensitive mistranslation by the world’s leading machine translation tool. It reported that if you type the phrase “Taiwan is not a part of the People’s Republic of China” into Google Translate, it comes up with a Chinese translation that says “Taiwan is a part of the People’s Republic of China”.
This is more than a little unfortunate. The political and legal status of Taiwan – in particular, whether it should exist as a separate country or become unified with the People’s Republic of China – has been a controversial issue for decades.
The article reports online users as blasting the blunder, with some going so far as to accuse Google of being “hacked by China”. It seems more likely that this is a result of crowd-sourced translation or an algorithmic problem.
No doubt in reaction to this criticism, Google was quick to correct the mistranslation. But in doing so, it failed to take into account alternative forms of the sentence.
As the screenshot shows, when you add quotation marks or even a full stop at the end of the sentence, the Chinese translation omits the third character, 不. This missing “not” means the Chinese still reads “Taiwan is a part of the People’s Republic of China”. The problem occurs in both Simplied or Traditional Chinese.
Google really should fix this soon, but in the meantime you can try it for yourself by adding a full stop to the end of this English for translation.