Friday, July 21, 2006

An Open Letter to Google

I sent a letter to Google today, after I found that their Language Tools translate "gay" as "اللوطي", a highly-offensive term. In Google's help section, they have this entry:
Do you know that your translation tool sometimes suggests inaccurate translations?

Although our translations are produced automatically by state of the art technology, unfortunately even today's sophisticated software doesn't approach the fluency of a native speaker. We recognize that the results may be less nuanced than what a human editor might provide, and we're continually working to improve the quality of our automatic translation. In the interim, we hope the service we provide is useful for most purposes.

Well, I don't know what kind of state-of-the-art technology used such arcane vocabulary. Here's the letter I wrote, and I encourage other people to do the same:

Dear Google,

I recently discovered your Language Tools for translation have included Arabic, and I was quite pleased. As someone in the Middle East, I think it's important that foreigners have an ability to read the Arab media, which often lists news stories not covered in the West. My happiness was short-lived, however.

When I put in the word "gay", I received "اللوطي" (al-luti) as a response. As you may know, "luti" is a religious and extremely derogatory term for gay people, equivalent to the English word "sodomite". Furthermore, it is more slang than standard Arabic. I have used Google for a long time, and find this discriminatory translation to be troubling and atypical of Google.

Even Arabic media has been shying away from using "luti". Al-Arabiya, which is certainly not pro-gay in any way, uses "شاذة جنسيا" (shatha junsiya), an equivalent of "sexual deviant". This term, though not great, is still less offensive than "luti".

I was further distressed to see that gay-positive terminology adopted by the gay movement in the Arab World, such as "مثليون جنسيا" (mithliyoun junsiya), the semantic equivalent of "homosexuals", returns garbage in your translation tool.

I don't know where you got your Arabic dictionary from, but it seems antiquated. I sincerely hope you rectify the situation, or you may lose me as a customer. Gay people in the Middle East have been fighting hard for recognition and equality, and continuing the usage of derogatory terminology only makes the struggle more difficult. How can one fight for equality using the word "sodomite"? I would expect better from an enlightened company such as Google, which has strived to reach out to cultures across the globe.

-Al-Fil, Beirut, Lebanon


You can reach Google at:

Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
phone: (650) 253-0000
fax: (650) 253-0001

It's very hard to find somewhere to send an online complaint. But you can do it here or here.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats so fucked up! i appreciate this reaction to the negligence with such a common online dictionary source.

July 30, 2006 6:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

big-up! from montreal

November 13, 2006 10:08 PM  

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