Very interesting!

My Spanish isn’t very good, but my French is, and I used to participate in the Google translate crowdsourcing application. I’d spend maybe 15 or 20 minutes a day letting Google throw translations at me, and I would rate them or correct them.

I ran into exactly the same problems with the gender of possessive pronouns in queer contexts.

French works the same as Spanish does of course, with possessive pronouns' gender being determined by the object and not by the subject.

So with French words like husband/wife (mari/marie, époux/épouse) and boyfriend/girlfriend (copain/copaine), Google always gets the gender wrong when translating sentences about same-sex couples into English.

It would seem to me like there would be a fairly simple algorithmic fix. If no third-party is evident in the sentence, translate the sentence with the gender that it should have on its face.

Jérôme se lève et dit bonjour à son mari qui s’occupe à faire le café.

Jerome gets up and says good morning to his husband, who’s busy making the coffee.

Since no woman is present in the text, it doesn’t seem reasonable to default to “her husband,” but Google always does. And no matter how many times I tried correcting translations like that, I never seemed to be able to make an impact.

If there’s a way to communicate with Google about this, I haven’t found it. Google Translate is pretty “black box.”

If you hear anything back, I’d definitely be interested in what you find out!

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Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot.

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