Guest post by PLD member Marsel N. de Souza
Portuguese is ranked 5th among the top ten languages in terms of the number of Internet users globally, behind English, Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic. In terms of the percentage of websites in Portuguese as a share of global websites, Portuguese holds the 7th position, behind English, Russian, German, Spanish, French, and Japanese. There are 273 million speakers of Portuguese in the world. Nearly 11 million of these are in Portugal, while a staggering 210 million live in Brazil (a total of 62 million people can be found in the remaining Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and Asia).
Given these figures, it is just natural that most websites in Portuguese will have a “.br” domain extension. The predominance of Brazilian Portuguese is also reflected in online machine translation engines such as Google Translate – after all, the Web itself provides the “raw materials” of those translation engines. I often tinker with Google Translate, and I’ve noticed that until recently any English-Portuguese output would provide a mixture of European and Brazilian Portuguese in terms of spelling, vocabulary, and grammar, again with a bias toward the Brazilian variety. However, now I have the feeling that every English-Portuguese output is based almost entirely on the Portuguese spoken this side of the Atlantic. Just give it a go yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Although Google Translate has improved tremendously in a number of language pairs – including English-Portuguese and vice-versa –, there is ample room for improvement. Interestingly, sometimes you have wildly different results depending on the language pair. For example, compare the examples below – same phrase from English into Portuguese and into Spanish.
A critical flaw in Google Translate is that it cannot (yet?) detect some major errors in the source text and avoid being led to provide a gross mistranslation. The example below illustrates this point:
You should not expect Google Translate to handle some cultural references properly – and Portuguese can be a minefield in this regard.
Post-editing can be a daunting task, and this would not be different in those cases where Portuguese is involved. So dear PLD colleagues, never trust the machine entirely and always avail yourself of your hard-earned linguistic and cultural skills.
Marsel N. de Souza is a full-time interpreter and translator based in Brasilia, Brazil. He has a bachelor’s degree in English>Portuguese translation from the University of Brasilia and a certificate in advanced French studies from Alliance Française. He is also an ATA-certified English>Portuguese translator. He works primarily with the diplomatic and international organization community in Brasilia, but his interpreting and translation assignments have taken him to various parts of the U.K., U.S., Brazil, France, and Africa. He is a member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters.
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