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Ukrainian media were yesterday reporting some odd Russian translation from Ukrainian that seemed to be politically motivated rather than mis-translations by the machine translation system. Wrong translations for words like “Russians”, “Russian Federation” and “Lavrov” – the name of the Russian Foreign Minister seemed to be political statements rather than problems with the translation algorithms.

The examples reported included “Russian Federation”, where the Russian translation from Ukrainian was given as “Mordor,” a fictional region in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. Given that Mordor was controlled by the evil wizard Sauron, it’s a clear dig at Russia.

“Lavrov” is the surname of Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s long-serving foreign minister who has been very visible in the political crisis between Ukraine and Russia since the Russian invasion of the Crimea in 2014. On Monday it was being translated in Google Translate as “sad little horse.”

Ukrainian to Russian mis-translate 2

“Russians” (росіяни) was translated as “occupants,” another clear political comment (below). This has been taken down now.

Ukrainian mis-translation

Google Translate has had problems with politically motivated mistranslations from Ukrainian to Russian in the past. In November 2015 it gave “All-Russian” as the translation for “All-Ukrainian” (загальноукраїнських). In mid-2015, the “Revolution of Dignity”, a Russian name for the uprising that overthrew pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, was translated into Russian as “political crisis in Ukraine”.

The Ukrainian media is clearly enjoying the fun, and whoever is changing the settings in the Google Translate offices is also probably enjoying the controversy they are stirring up. It’s certainly less entertaining for Google, as the translation errors are being publicised in Ukraine and more widely. It reflects on Google’s oversight of their translators/ translation systems, and as the wrong translations are politically motivated there is increased embarrassment. Usually the problem translations are taken down within a day or so, even so it is a situation Google would surely rather avoid.