It is a fact that Latin is considered a dead language, one that is no longer evolving or changing; you would assume that programs like Google Translate would quickly and easily decipher any messages written in it. However, when you try and use Google Translate for Latin, the text becomes messy and difficult to read. While you can make sense of what is being said most of the time, Google Translate cannot give you an entirely accurate Latin translation.
The difficulty that Google Translate has with Latin is almost jarring when compared to its accuracy in other places. This has led many to question just why Google has so much difficulty with the mother tongue of much of the western world.
In this article, we are going to briefly look at the Latin language, its unique history and role in the world today, and why Google Translate struggles to work well with it.
The Latin Language Then and Today
Latin is a language that is easy to become fascinated by. Linguists, historians, and even scientists all have a reason for wanting to learn more about this ancient tongue. From political debates during the Senate of the Roman Empire to the naming of heavenly bodies light-years away, Latin has remained an integral aspect of western human civilization for thousands of years.
The nearest solar system to us at a distance of 4.37 light-years is Alpha Centauri. This star has since been more popularly referred to as the Latin 'Proxima Centaurus', meaning 'the nearest of Centaurus.'
Starting as the native tongue of a small city on the banks of the Tiber River, Latin grew along with the Roman Empire and through conquest and assimilation, was spread from Syria and Southern Egypt to Ireland and Scotland. Even Latin coins and religious structures have been discovered amongst ancient China, showing that Latin was known of, if not spoken by people across all of Eurasia.
When the Roman Empire fell, large regions split off and formed their own countries, while Invaders overran other locations. Regardless of the reasons, eventually, the predecessor cultures of modern France, Italy, Spain, and many more would begin to form and define themselves in the absence of a unifying force. Latin in each of these locations evolved into the modern Romance languages that we speak today. Latin in France become French, Italian in Italy, Romanian in Romania, Spanish in Spain, and so on.
The decedent languages of Latin have millions of speakers across the globe today. Some languages, like Spanish, have become the defacto tongue for an entire continent.
While these Western countries separated politically, many aspects of them, especially in religion, the arts, and sciences, remained heavily intertwined. The Catholic Church, as well as early scientists, utilized Latin as the remaining constant between the European nations. Church sermons and scientific categorizations were both done in Latin (and remained entirely in Latin until very recently) and thus ensured that Latin would remain an integral part of western culture in some fashion -even as a “dead language.”
Even English, which is not considered a Romance language, has roughly 60% of its vocabulary rooted in Latin. Many of our most important scientific and philosophical texts were initially written in Latin and can only be fully and correctly understood in their intended context.
Interestingly enough, the ATM at Vatican City is the only ATM in the world with a Latin option, but this is likely more than merely a fun gimmick. By offering Latin, the Vatican ensures that any seminary-trained priest in the city, no matter where in the world they come from, will be able to understand and use it.
But why study the language today? With so many kids struggling with math and science, why should we spend the time to teach them a dead language? If introduced early, Latin may be a massive boon to helping students learn and understand Math and Science.
A student who is proficient with Latin will understand why the plural of a bacterium is bacteria or understand that trees that lose their leaves are deciduous in the same natural way we know the ones that don't are "evergreen." Latin makes the worlds of science and math much easier to understand, navigate, and memorize. A considerable percentage of our scientific, legal, and historical worlds are Latin based.
Roughly 90% of the vocabulary for Spanish, Italian, and French come from Latin, and a study of Latin can make learning all of these languages much simpler.
So Why Does Google Struggle With Latin?
With Latin still being so important, why does Google Translate struggle so much with it? The first issue is that most of Google Translate shifted over to a more effective Neural Machine Translation Model for the most used languages. Without getting too deep into the details, the Neural Machine Translation method is superior but requires active use by native speakers, and thus was not able to be utilized for Latin.
Google Translate trains its Latin using The Bible and The Vulgate and has a somewhat limited amount of source text to pull from. Using the Phrase-Based Machine Translation Model, Google Translate attempts to guess the meaning of a sentence based on word usage and placement. Without native speakers with which to gather more data and troubleshoot the current use on a broad scale, it is unlikely that this method will ever be able to produce results past a slightly coherent mess —unless you are translating exact Bible quotes.
You get an excellent example of all of this in action with the original Google blog post announcing their ability to translate Latin in the web browser. The original post was ten years ago, and when you translate that Latin today, it is still grammatically a mess. I enjoyed this phrase when you Google Translate Latin to English on the page, "The Latin is unmatched because many Latin books have already been written, and few new shall be hereafter."
I am not sure if this is an improvement over where it was ten years ago, but it allows you to see the shortcomings Google Translate has with Latin yourself.
Ensure You Can Communicate With Confidence
Whether you are trying to create a new motto in Latin or simply translate a birth certificate from Spanish, you want to ensure you are using trusted foreign language translators. Applications like Google Translate are great for casual conversations and can be a real-life saver when you are in a jam overseas, but when it comes to professional needs or official paperwork, it still falls well short of the needed mark. The Spanish Group offers Latin language translation services that are fast and easy to use.
The Spanish Group uses only the best translators with proven results. If you need any form of language services, don't hesitate to contact them today and get an online language translator within minutes.