Giving Facebook some credit where it’s due

I’ve repeatedly picked on Facebook, and partner-in-crime Bing, for their repeated failure to translate the most basic elements of Hebrew (e.g. holidays, numerals, slam dunk transliteration, negatives, religious figures, and proper names) into English. But after I posted that last example, a friend sent me another, and forced me to alter the usual narrative. Here’s her damning screenshot:

Bing translate pirkei avot

“לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין לבטל ממנה”, for those who are unfamiliar, comes from the second chapter of Pirkei Avot. Here’s a reasonably accurate, perchance excessively florid rendering, courtesy of Chabad: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.” As you can see, Facebook/Bing did a serviceable job with the former clause (“No need to finish the job”), but got the latter completely backwards (as you are not, in fact, free to cancel it).

At this point in my previous posts, I would typically turn to Google as an illustration that translation is possible to get right. But while Bing may have been bad, it was at least better than Google Translate:

Google translate pirkei avot

Oh for two. This translation is crying out for help from Borat (“…NOT!”) It feels almost like Google’s talking to itself: “You need to complete the work.”


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