Little Green Footballs

Saturday, July 22, 2006

An Arabic lesson from Beirut

Here's an interesting bit of Google perfidy that has thus far escaped the attention of the wingnuttosphere:

I sent a letter to Google today, after I found that their Language Tools translate "gay" as ["al-luti"], a highly-offensive term.


Dear Google,

I recently discovered your Language Tools for translation have included Arabic, and I was quite pleased. As someone in the Middle East, I think it's important that foreigners have an ability to read the Arab media, which often lists news stories not covered in the West. My happiness was short-lived, however.

When I put in the word "gay", I received ["al-luti"] as a response. As you may know, "luti" is a religious and extremely derogatory term for gay people, equivalent to the English word "sodomite". Furthermore, it is more slang than standard Arabic. I have used Google for a long time, and find this discriminatory translation to be troubling and atypical of Google.

Even Arabic media has been shying away from using "luti". Al-Arabiya, which is certainly not pro-gay in any way, uses ["shatha junsiya"], an equivalent of "sexual deviant". This term, though not great, is still less offensive than "luti".

I was further distressed to see that gay-positive terminology adopted by the gay movement in the Arab World, such as ["mithliyoun junsiya"], the semantic equivalent of "homosexuals", returns garbage in your translation tool.

I don't know where you got your Arabic dictionary from, but it seems antiquated. I sincerely hope you rectify the situation, or you may lose me as a customer. Gay people in the Middle East have been fighting hard for recognition and equality, and continuing the usage of derogatory terminology only makes the struggle more difficult.

In response, he received a form letter from Google.

Considering everything else that's going on in his hometown of Beirut right now, this might seem like a fairly trivial issue -- but kudos to al-Fil for not taking his (or her) eyes off the prize.

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