Everyone politically-active around the country is eagerly abuzz for the results of Super Tuesday. Politicians and populaces alike are passionately urging their communities to get out and vote. For instance, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the talented creator of Hamilton: The Musical posted the following Spanish-language Tweet today:
Si puedes votar y no estás votando,
El futuro estarás botando. #SuperTuesday
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) March 1, 2016
His Spanish was more than passionate, it was poetic. Rhyming. Yet no sooner had he posted his appeal but his confused English-language fans started Tweeting back, wondering what precisely the future was going to do:
— Kristen (@ThatNerdGurl_) March 1, 2016
Microsoft Bing had the misfortune to mistranslate the message: “If you can vote and you are not voting, the future will be bouncing.” (Emphasis added.)
It turns out that botando has a myriad of meanings. They all stem from the infinitive verb botar, which can alternatively mean to lose, to chuck or toss or launch, or to throw out or away. Or, as Bing seemingly prefers, “to bounce.” Which caused some hilarity.
— vic (@scottoying) March 1, 2016
The expression should have been better translated as “If you can vote and you are not voting, you are throwing the future away.”
This is a prime example of how automated Machine Translation (MT) in social media, web applications and so on help bring us together with more immediacy, but still may not be quite ready for certain high-quality requirements. Fortunately this was a personal appeal, not by a candidate or party. Such high-level gaffes have a tendency to stick around for decades. For such high-quality translations, you have to rely upon human translation. Yet we also have to look forward to a new generation of tools that are in development and testing that would allow each user to see the appropriate human translation in their own browser, such as Facebook’s Translated Pages feature, which we wrote about earlier this year. (So far, Twitter has not announced a similar feature.)
Beyond manual or machine translation of the words to ensure proper denotation, there is also the issue of the poetry of the language. Votando/botando as a pairing is aided by Spanish conjugation. A similar rhyme in English is more difficult to produce because “voting” and “thrown away” don’t particularly rhyme.
A better rendering requires a deeper sense of translation and appreciation for the poetry and meter. Here’s an attempt towards such translation:
If you can vote yet cast no vote today
You instead have surely cast the future away.
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