Much as we like to think it is, Google isn’t perfect. As it tries to make all of the world’s information accessible and searchable, certain things can fall through the cracks. Like when it tries to translate the word “underdog” in Hindi.
This is not right!!! pic.twitter.com/2ncllP7zlx
— nitininit (@nitinmisra) July 9, 2016
The gaffe was discovered by Twitter user Nitin Mishra, who was trying to translate underdog into Hindi on the search engine. “Underdog” is a perfectly innocuous word and means “a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.” However, Google seems to think its Hindi translate would be Dalit vyakti, which means a person from the Dalit caste.
What makes this doubly unfortunate is that Dalits have been a long-marginalized community in India. They’ve been discriminated against for centuries, and while laws passed during independence prohibited discrimination on the basis of caste, Dalits, especially in rural India, still bear the brunt of this age-old prejudice.
We tried out some other Google translations and they seem to work ok – scheduled caste translates quite correctly to अनुसूचित जाति, and scheduled tribe translates to अनुसूचित जनजाति. Under translates to नीचे, and dog faithfully translates to kutta. Underdog, quite unfortunately, throws up the howler.
This gaffe is most likely unintentional. Google’s translation is not input by humans – the company attempts to analyze large volumes of text and uses complex machine learning models to translate text into different languages. But the fact that that the machines could throw up a result like this is a disconcerting reminder that even 60 years after independence, references to caste can often show up in unexpected ways.