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Google Translate recently (a few days ago I believe) updated its translation model for Latin and the results seem quite impressive to me. However, I am by no mean fluent in Latin and I would like to have the opinion of this community on the quality of its output.

Here are some examples of random sentences from English to Latin:

I have only two sons, one of which is a soldier. → Duos tantum filios habeo, quorum unus est miles.

My favourite Latin author is Cicero. → Meus ventus Latinus auctor est Cicero.

I think the man who said yesterday that you could not speak English never heard you. → Puto hominem qui heri dixit te Latine loqui non posse te numquam audivi.

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    where did you get the information that Google updated this? Sep 3 at 3:10
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    I had the project to build a machine translation system for Latin so I check GT quite regularly, there was also a post on r/latin.
    – user9785
    Sep 3 at 8:00
  • @Discipulus, that's interesting. May I ask what tool did you use to lemmatize words (i.e., canem -> canis, acc.)?
    – d_e
    Sep 3 at 11:11
  • Sure, I was planing to use a macroniser and then the wiktionnary API
    – user9785
    Sep 3 at 12:31
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This feels better than before, but there are still some errors.

  • Ventus as "favorite", for example, is wrong. I'm guessing they saw "favorable wind" as a meaning of ventus and went with that, but there is no precise word for favorite in Latin. So something weird happened.

  • Latinus auctor would imply that Cicero is a "Latin," but I think, despite coming from Arpinum, he might have taken offense at that. Cicero is a Roman author who writes in Latin. I would expect it differentiate between ethnicity and writing, such as in English, "My favorite author who wrote in Latin is Cicero."

  • audivi in the third sentence is wrong. The form as is 1st person perfect active, but it should have been an infinitive. The structure is "I think (puto) the man (hominem) never heard (numquam audivisse)." Since the main verb is present and the action is in the past, you want a perfect infinitive: audivisse.

  • It's not wrong per se, but a relative clause inside reported speech is usually in the subjunctive, so dixerit instead of dixit. Cf. the example from Woodcock:

Dicit se librum quem heri legerit tibi daturum.

He said that he will give you the book which he read yesterday.

Overall Google Translate isn't as awful as before. The real key will be to test some unusual Latin and how English would render it, or even throw it a mistake or two. You can see how it treats this passage from the Historia Augusta:

Latin:

Occisus est eo tempore etiam Claudius quasi a latronibus, cuius filius cum pugione quondam ad Commodum ingressus est, et multique alii senatores sine iducio interempti, feminae quoque divites.

Google Translate:

At that time also Claudius was slain, as it were by robbers, whose son had once entered Commodus with a dagger, and many other senators had been slain without a trial, even the rich women.

Loeb:

At this time Claudius also, whose son had previously come into Commodus' prescence with a dagger, was slain, ostensibly by bandits, and many other senators were put to death, and also certain women of wealth.

Someone who would read the Google translate might have very different ideas about what was going on with Commodus and Claudius' son!

Oddly, Google translate entirely glosses over idicio and treats it the same as iudicio, but doesn't alert the user that it's an error that should be fixed.

I then tried feminae quque divites instead of quoque, and the translation then read, "and all the rich women." So it seems it still has some trouble figuring out mistakes.

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  • Thank you for your answer, it's very clear
    – user9785
    Sep 2 at 23:03
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    I wonder if your chosen example is giving an overly positive impression, since it is precisely this kind of text (i.e. one with an available parallel English translation) that it is trained on.
    – brianpck
    Sep 3 at 16:28
  • @brianpck I am under the impression that the examples OP used are English to Latin of his own creation. Is that incorrect?
    – cmw
    Sep 3 at 22:01
  • Note that Google Translate is intended (I believe) to translate foreign text into a language you know, so that you can correct any errors of case of preposition usage etc. Thus the sort of errors you have identified here are entirely to be expected — although as you say, there are fewer than there have been. It's not intended to be a professional translator and translate your text into a language you don't know. Sep 4 at 8:14
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    @AndrewLeach That's not Google's pitch anymore. They tout having a "bilingual conversation" on their website. Their video is all about translating into a language you don't know in order to facilitate communication.
    – cmw
    Sep 4 at 12:12
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I included examples in a question on the old Google Translate. Let me repeat the exercise and have the new version (although I see no indication of an update on the site itself) try the same ones:

Original Old translation New translation
1. Puer canem amat. ✗ The boy dog loves. ✓ The boy loves the dog.
2. Canem puer amat. ✓ The boy loves the dog. ✓ The boy loves the dog.
3. Puerum canis amat. ✓ The dog loves the child. ✓ The dog loves the boy.
4. Canis puerum amat. ✓ The dog loves the child. ✓ The dog loves the boy.
5. Puer canis amat. ✗ The boy dog loves. ✗ The boy loves the dog.
6. Canis puer amat. ✗ The dog loves the child. ✗ The dog loves the boy.
7. Canis pueri amat. ✗ The dog loves children. ✗ The dog loves the boy.
8. Pueri canis amat. ✗ The dog loves children. ✗ The boy loves the dog.
9. The boy loves the dog. ✓ Puer canem diligit. ✓ Puer canem amat.
10. The dog loves the boy. ✓ Canis puerum amat. ✓ Canis puerum amat.
11. The boy of the dog loves. ✗ Puer canem amat. ✗ Puer canem amat.
12. The dog of the boy loves. ✓ Canis pueri amat. ✓ Canis pueri amat.
13. The boy and the dog walk together because it does not rain. ✗ Puer et canis ambulare quia non pluet simul. ✓ Puer et canis simul ambulant quia non pluit.

The translator still seems confused with canis not being just the nominative. It can be the singular genitive or perhaps the plural accusative1; either would much make sense in 5 and 6 than a "dog-boy" with both canis and puer understood as nominatives. In 8 the translator takes pueri to be a singular nominative.

Based on these examples there is improvement but the system still struggles with the very basics. The most impressive improvement is 13, where the composition starts to work. The tool gets some things right, and more so than before, but it also fails on elementary tasks. I therefore have to conclude that Google Translate is still unreliable with Latin.

You can certainly gain more insight by studying how Google Translate fares with other sentences. My only point here was to compare the current system to the old one, and the only source on the behaviour of the old one I happened to know is the old question I linked to. I would be happy to change some of the sentences to something else, but I can't do it retroactively for the old translator.


1 With some third declension words the plural accusative ending can be -īs in addition to the usual -ēs. I am not sure if canis behaves this way, and I believe it does not. My point is just that reading it as a plural accusative is more plausible than reading it as a singular accusative. Google Translate seems to read canis as a singular accusative in 5 and 8. My only point with this is that even if I allow the tool to see canis as a plural accusative, the translations of 5 and 8 still don't make sense.

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