Google Translate and Gaelic

Google Translate has expanded again! It now supports 103 languages, including, as of today, Amharic, Corsican, Hawaiian, Frisian, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Luxembourgish, Pashto, Samoan, Shona, Sindhi, Xhosa… and Gaelic!

That was a long time coming. Google Translate usually adds families in language families, because once they’ve got the software for one grammar it’s easier to transfer to similar languages. We’ve had Irish since 2009.

I’m a little concerned, as Loving Language was, with how they choose the languages. I’m not sure whether to be insulted that Gaelic’s now as much a regional “dialect” (no offence anyone, but you were until recently) as Corsican, Frisian, or Luxembourgish, or pleased that we’re as “exotic” (to Europeans) as Kyrgyz, Pashto, or Xhosa.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, to be honest. On one hand, you know, finally, but on the other, it’s fun to joke about how we might say anything on FaceBook and people can’t pretend to understand like they can with other languages. That’s gone now. The Scottish Gaelic FaceBook group is now no longer completely private.

Although, I did run a few phrases through it, and the results weren’t promising. I tried between Gaelic and Irish first, figuring it should come out pretty close.

tha gaidhlig agam

“tha Gàidhlig agam” should translate as “tá Gaeilge agam” or, at the very least, “tá Gaeilge na hAlban agam”

ciamar a tha sibh

I can almost let this one slide, because the translation is meant to be “conas atá sibh?”; “ciamar a tha thu?” should render this result. The meaning is mostly the same, they’ve got that right, but apparently we’re addressing everyone as a singular, informal being now.

's ann gle sgith a tha mi

I honestly have no idea.

Anyway, then I tried with English.

's ann gle sgith a tha mi eng

This is close. You understand the meaning, right? It’s “I’m very tired”. I chose this phrase because the grammar is very unusual. To emphasise something in Gaelic, rather than saying it louder or slower or whatever, you move what you emphasise to the beginning of the sentence at add “‘s ann…” (“it is in”). So “tha mi sgith” becomes “‘s ann gle sgith a tha mi” – literally “it is in very tired that I am”. So, basically, I’m not surprised Google Translate got that wrong.

tha gaidhlig agam eng

Not even close. It’s “I speak Gaelic”. Again with above, it’s being a bit too word-for-word, realising it’s wrong, and then changing the words so they don’t quite make sense. It’s literally “Gaelic is at me”.

Interestingly, the Irish translation used “mo” (“my”) for “agam” (“at me”) as well. In fairness, the “tha… agam” construction is used for possession of objects, as well, but it seems like the Irish is being run through an English translation first.

ciamar a tha sibh eng

Finally! Success!

Still no Australian languages, though.

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One thought on “Google Translate and Gaelic

  1. […] Gàidhlig. At least two major things happened: the Gospel of John was translated and published, and Google Translate finally acknowledged the language’s existence, thereby making Gaelic social media accessible to non-Gaelic speakers accessible this year for the […]

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