Dulce et decorum est pro Google to add Latin to its inter-lingual translation tool. Is it a schoolkids delight, to get assistance with tricky homework? For sure. But it’s also a hugely useful tool for academics and educators in science, philosophy and mathematics.
Google translate is powerful–and though it’s not fool-proof and we’re all used to seeing humorously inaccurate Google machine translation efforts used where a real human translator should’ve been, it’s penetrating many people’s lives on a daily basis because it’s so accessible and so damn useful. So now Google has taken what may be the ultimate translation step, and launched a facility to translate into and from a dead language: Latin.
Google titled its blog post announcing the news “Veni, vidi, verba verti” (I came, I saw, I translated the words) and the rest of the body is in Latin too. Google notes that only a few people speak Latin on a daily basis, and that it makes use of the enormous repository of published works in Latin–some of which are in Google Books–to aid in its own translation efforts. This is possible because millions of Latin texts have already been translated into many modern languages, and these were used to train the Google system.
Who’ll use it? Over a hundred thousand U.S. schoolkids receive the National Latin Exam, along with millions more students around the world. They’ll use it, as will their teachers (who’ll no doubt get used to slapping homeworks with big red “F”s when they see it’s actually a bad Google translation cut-and-paste). But there are also thousands upon thousands of ancient texts in philosophy, physics, maths alongside numerous novels and other writings–some of which may not have been translated, or have translations that are long out of print.
Tutela hoc nuntio et plus sicut sequitur me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.