Google announced during its Google I/O 2022 conference in May that it would add 24 new languages to its Google Translate tool, including Aymara and Quechua, native languages widely spoken in Peru.
Both languages predate the Inca Empire, and millions of descendants of the Aymara and Quechua peoples speak dialects of these languages today – so much so that countries like Peru and Bolivia include them alongside Spanish. as official languages.
Google estimates that Quechua is spoken by approximately 10 million people in Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and neighboring countries; while the Aymara language is used by around 2 million people in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.
We spoke with a Peruvian linguistics expert to find out how the community reacted to having their native languages added to a tool from one of the most powerful search engines in the world.
“It was a huge surprise that Google developed a translation system for indigenous languages, including Quechua and Aymara,” said a Peruvian linguist, teacher and researcher in Quechua. Carlos Molina Vital told Peru Reports.
Molina, who is a professor of Quechua at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said Google’s announcement “was unexpected because no one had heard talk about this project among those of us who work with Andean languages.
“However, this is a project that has developed over several years. Google has developed a machine learning system that translates into another language without ever having seen an example before,” the instructor said. “They have reached a point where a machine can infer rules for understanding (and translating) a specific language, using other different languages that have translations as models. This is a huge step in computational linguistics.
The quality of Google translations
According to Mr. Molina, “the level of translation is good” and “it is definitely more than acceptable”.
“Google is able to translate entire paragraphs from different sources written in Southern Quechua (the spoken variety of Huancavelica in southern Bolivia). Of course, there are still problems, flaws and inconsistencies, but most of the time, it works well, ”he assured.
For Mr. Molina, one of the advantages of the translator “is that he is very flexible with the spelling”. He explained that “a language with little written tradition like Southern Quechua has different spellings, but the translator accepts many variations for the same word”.
According to the expert, it “helps people who are not expert in official writing to be able to use this translator without problems”.
How can indigenous peoples benefit?
Mr. Molina believes that this translation tool will be useful to native speakers in several ways.
“The technology behind machine translation could be extended in the future to other languages with fewer written sources, including Ancashino Quechua, Huanca, Huanuqueño, as well as the languages of the Amazon,” he said. -he declares.
He also pointed out that a translator like Google’s can make Spanish texts “quickly available in Quechua.”
“The translator can also be used to facilitate the reading of electronic texts distributed to students in rural schools. The same thing can happen with public health services, police stations, courts. The list is huge, and this translator is a “game changer,” Mr. Molina enthused.
For the linguist, it was important to remind readers that “technology is not made for a few languages, but can cover all languages”. And the contributions to society of the millions of Quechua and Aymara speakers should not be hampered by technology.
“Quechua men and women are in today’s modern world… they study in the best universities, they are present on social media, they are opinion leaders,” Molina said.
“For this reason, every Peruvian has the right to access what others say or write in Quechua. Likewise, it is a right of the Quechua population to be able to access information effectively and clearly. This translator is a big step towards the democratization of knowledge from an intercultural perspective.