Fun with Google Translate and Scottish Gaelic


‘…chluich e fhèin agus Eilidh. “Mè,” ars an t-uan, ‘s a h-uile rud a’ dol bun-os-coinn. … Bha Eilidh ag iarraigh falach-fead a chluich.’

–from Uan Eilidh, by Kim Lewis

‘…he played himself and Helen. “Me,” said the lamb, and everything went upside-height. … Helen was requested hide and seek played.’

–Google Translate

My new year’s resolution was to learn more Scottish Gaelic, in order to keep up with my preschooler who is now in her second year of Gaelic Medium Education. (To be honest, I’ll never catch up, but something is better than nothing.) Every day or two I study something, be it flashcards or the Gaelic4Parents website or the linguistically satisfying Scottish Gaelic in Twelve Weeks course. Today I decided to learn one of the books that my daughter has borrowed from her preschool. The preschool puts a reading of each book on YouTube so you can read along and learn the pronunciations. Since there’s no translation, and since I’m too lazy to use a dictionary for a whole book, I decided to type up the text and stick into into Google Translate, which added Scottish Gaelic just last year.

The results are highly amusing. Here’s the YouTube link to the book along with the text that I typed up (in the comment). As an aside, if you’re unfamiliar of the differences between English and Scottish Gaelic orthography, I recommend you look at the text and (try to) follow along with the audio.

Anyway, here’s what Google Translate managed with that text:

Wet day at spring lambing, lamb Helen father beside the stove. He then returned to the field to look for the mother lambs.

The lamb and Helen look together. “Me,” said the lamb, sitting up in the box. Helen was asking the lamb held until she looked after.

Because he was very wet, dried Helen the lamb. She tried to keep warm, because it was very cold. Fed him, because the hungry.

When the lamb dry and warm and get food, he played himself and Helen. “Me,” said the lamb, and everything went upside-height.

Then Helen took the lamb for a walk and he started jumping after her. Helen was requested hide and seek played. She closed her eyes and count to ten. “I come!” she cried.

Helen was looking for it in the stable. She looked him in the barn. She looked around the yard all.

She could not find the lamb in the house. He was in the box. He was in the dyke. “What am I going to do?” she cried.

She could not find the lamb anywhere. Helen did not want to play now. She wanted to return the lamb. Thought that it would be cold and hungry. “Where are you?” she cried.

A “Me” from the hay shed. Helen ran in and told her eye. That the lamb in a box of chicken, where the hens lay their eggs. He “Me,” and running to Helen.

“I thought that I had to lose,” said Helen, and she kept near her. I could not look after him alone. It had to be with his mother. But where was she?

Then Helen saw her father coming. Ewe lamb that was run before calling. “Me,” said the lamb. He made some effort to find out. Helen put it down and ran as fast as he could to his mother.

Helen went to the field the next day. When she yelled, came the lamb running. “Do you remember me?” asked Helen. The lamb and Helen look together. “Baaa,” said the lamb, wagging tail.

I’m sure I’m far from the first person to try to learn a language this way and to be amused by the process. If I was a better linguist, and an actual speaker of Scottish Gaelic, I would now give you a rigorous explanation of why some sentences are translated ‘perfectly’, and why some are just a bit off, and why others are a bit perplexing (shouldn’t “He was in the box” be “He was not in the box”?). I will say that one practical thing about the ‘mis’-translations is the clues they give about aspects of Gaelic syntax that might be especially challenging or unfamiliar to English learners, as well as some clues to idiomatic expressions (“told her eye”).

But as a sad monolingual, posting this at the end of a long week, that’s all I’ve got, for now. I’ll leave you instead with this person’s option, and get back to my studies.

Mòran taing airson a ‘leughadh!


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One Response to Fun with Google Translate and Scottish Gaelic

  1. This was fun to read. I always knew that my students had cheated and used google translate because of the “gobble-de-goop” nonsense short compositions that they would turn in! I think, simply, that google translate is a very poorly done site! It will do Arabic correctly but only the most simple of sentences. Otherwise, it’s nonsense!

    Love, Melissa

    Sent from my iPhone


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