Appreciating Multilingual Writers

It’s easy to be convinced that Google is the omniscient computer than can do anything. And, for the most part, the technology is pretty advanced. But have you ever used Google translate for English? We have.

Here’s what happens when you translate the Preamble of the Constitution into multiple languages:

archives.gov

English: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

  • To Spanish then back to English: We the peoples of the United States, to form a more perfect Union, to establish Justice, to assure domestic Tranquility, to provide common defense, to promote General Well-being, and to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and to our Posterity, to order and to Establish This Constitution for the United States of America.
  • To Japanese then back to English: In order to establish a more perfect union, to establish justice, to guarantee domestic calmness, to provide common defense, to promote the general welfare, to secure blessings of freedom himself and future generations, Order people. We will enact this US constitution.
  • To Spanish then to Japanese then back to English: We will form a more perfect union of the United States, establish a justice, guarantee the calm of the country, provide for a common defense, promote the general welfare, To ensure the blessing of freedom for future generations, to order and establish this constitution for the United States.
  • To Japanese then Spanish then back to English: It will be to form a more perfect Union, to establish justice, to secure inner tranquility, to provide for common defense, to promote general welfare, in order to secure the benefits of freedom for posterity, and for the United States itself to ask for people. To enact the United States Constitution.
Yikes – some of those examples are basically word soup! Go home, Google.  You’re done for the day.
gifimagesdownload.com
Why did we try this exercise?
Two reasons:
  1. It shows that you can’t rely on Google for everything. Sometimes, you just need to do the work yourself – especially when translating an idiomatic language like English.
  2. But, even more importantly, the Preamble exercise reflects the extreme effort it can require for multilingual writers to express ideas in multiple languages. Can you imagine how smart someone has to be to explain themselves in so many different ways?  They’re doing something even Google struggles with – and they often make more sense! So, if you ever hear someone make fun of someone else for speaking “broken” English or speaking with an accent, think of Google.  And, offer to help – because you might learn something new yourself!
emaze.com

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