Google Translate error mistranslates Galician vegetable food festival and makes town the world’s laughing stock
There are 11,000 inhabitants in Spain’s town of As Pontes, Galicia. This is the rainy, Atlantic North West. Portuguese language and Portugal herself broke away in the Middle Ages as a separate country, but Galician and what later become Portuguese are closely related languages. So close, it seems, that Google Translate was having a hard time telling them apart. And due to the naivety of some town officials, what was meant to be a culinary festival celebrating the local grelo, became the world’s joke. The leafy green vegetable similar to broccoli but without the large head, also popular in Italian cuisine, was mistranslated for a Portuguese slang word.
However, this small town has become rather famous because it has been marketing a very different kind of festival for the last few months. A Google Translate error turned the Galician word grelo into the wrong Castilian Spanish and it ended up inviting people to take part in a “clitoris festival”.
Local officials in As Pontes first wrote the announcement for their annual grelo festival in Galician language, which is also an official language in the region. Unfortunately, they used machine translation software Google Translate for the Spanish version of their text. This meant that suddenly the town’s “Feria do grelo” or “Rapini festival” that is held every February with tastings and awards for the best grelos became the “Clitoris festival”.
The translated announcement read something like:
“The clitoris is one of the typical products of Galician cuisine. Since 1981 … the festival has made the clitoris one of the star products of its local gastronomy.”
Customized machine translation has proven very successful when systems have been built for a purpose in mind and with the proper terminology for a field. The dangers of using general, uncontrolled and generalistic online machine translations are many. Town officials said it was likely the translation error was on the official website for several months before it someone noticed it earlier November and hit the headlines in the world’s press.
The officials believe that the online translation tool must have misunderstood the Galician word for the Portuguese one. “Grelo” means rapini, a green cruciferous vegetable that looks like a small broccoli but without the large head. Rapini is marketed the US as broccoli raab/rabe. In Portuguese vulgar slang, it can also refer to the clitoris. How Google used statistics to mistranslate the vegetable will make it to the annals of history’s funny machine translation errors.
The town is considering filing an official complaint with Google. According to British newspaper The Guardian, Monserrat García, a town’s spokeperson said: “They should recognise Galician [as a separate language] and translate it accurately.”
One cannot find any trace of this error in Google Translate. The company has manually changed the translation, and grelo now translates as “brote”, which is still not right (for it means “sprout”). Mrs García is still dissatisfied: “It’s still not the best way of describing grelo, as it is a vegetable from the turnip family.”
There has been, nevertheless, a positive aspect to the embarrassing error. The surge of interest in this year’s festival was unprecedented.
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