From Iceland — Study Finds Google Translate Is Sexist

Study Finds Google Translate Is Sexist

Published June 8, 2022

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translate google/Wikimedia Commons

A study finds that using Google translate for English to Icelandic translations has gender bias, reports Frettablaðið.

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Given a pair of opposite adjectives, the positive adjectives were typically translated as masculine and the negative adjectives were typically translated as feminine. The results of the study were shared in Ritinu and the article can be accessed here.

Positive adjectives were more likely to be masculine in Icelandic, with them being translated as feminine only 23% of the time. Negative adjectives were translated as feminine 60% of the time.

English sentences do not indicate the gender adjectives should take when translated into Icelandic.

“The pattern therefore suggests that it is the meaning of the adjective that controls which gender it takes on, with the result that words that refer to negative personality traits take on a female inflection,” states the article.

Words that described physical appearance were more likely to be translated as feminine. This follows a tendency for society to focus on women’s appearances rather than other positive traits.

“One example is the reporting on Icelandic female scientists who have been in the media spotlight because of their work, where their appearance becomes the main topic of discussion rather than their important work in science,” states the article. “For example, there is a discussion about the clothes worn by Alma Möller, the country’s chief medical officer, and the glasses worn by Kristín Jónsdóttir, a volcanologist and seismologist.”

A separate study found that even when sentences in the original language contained gender-neutral language, the translated sentence contained gendered language based on stereotypes. Even though this pattern occurs within the app’s internal systems, the app’s data is based on real language data and reflects the gender gap that is present in society.

“The sexism in the documentation is part of the story in the way that written records preserve old ideas. If left unchecked, the unconscious gender biases of the past could amplify gender inequalities in the future,” states the article. “Technology is playing an ever-increasing role in people’s lives, and it is therefore dangerous for it to work against the struggle for justice that has been taking place in recent times,”

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