The internet giant says new artificial intelligence technology is enabling it to vastly expand Google Translate’s repertoire of the world’s languages. It added 24 of them this week, including Quechua and other Indigenous South American languages such as Guarani and Aymara. It is also adding a number of widely spoken African and South Asian languages that have been missing from popular tech products.
“We looked at languages with very large, underserved populations,” Google research scientist Isaac Caswell told reporters.
The news from the California company’s annual I/O technology showcase may be celebrated in many corners of the world. But it will also likely draw criticism from those frustrated by previous tech products that failed to understand the nuances of their language or culture.
Quechua was the lingua franca of the Inca Empire, which stretched from what is now southern Colombia to central Chile. Its status began to decline following the Spanish conquest of Peru more than 400 years ago.
Adding it to the languages recognized by Google is a big victory for Quechua language activists like Luis Illaccanqui, a Peruvian who created the website Qichwa 2.0, which includes dictionaries and resources for learning the language.
“It will help put Quechua and Spanish on the same status,” said Illaccanqui, who was not involved in Google’s project.
Illaccanqui, whose last name in Quechua means “you are the lightning bolt,” said the translator will also help keep the language alive with a new generation of young people and teenagers, “who speak Quechua and Spanish at the same time and are fascinated by social networks.”
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