Ask Google Translate “Who are the Terrorists?”

If you used Google translate to translate from English to Arabic or vice versa you know how bad the translation is, especially when you translate an entire paragraph or article. Google translate might be good to translate a word or a phrase but for more than that don’t expect much.  It seems Google translator caught Arabs attention these days because of a translation it made when asked to translate the following:

  • Jews are terrorists
  • Americans are terrorists
  • Arabs are terrorists

Google translation in Arabic is:

image[Click on picture]

Now, for not Arabic speakers the Arabic translation is as following:

  • Jews are not terrorists
  • Americans are not terrorists
  • Arabs are terrorists

I got to say that was suspicious at first, where the word “not” came from. So before Arabs boycott Google I tried a test to translate based on religion, nationality, and ethnicity:

image[Click on picture]

As you can see from the picture above, Google added the word “ليسوا” which means “not” when translated Jews/Christians/Muslims are terrorists. The same thing happened when translating “Americans are terrorists” but it didn’t consider French not to be terrorists. The last two lines Google translate added the word “ليسوا” (not) for Syrians but not for Jordanians.

When I tried to reverse the translation for the first picture, the translation was correct. See picture below.

image[Click on picture]

So apparently, there is a bug in Google translate. Google is not trying to take a side with Israel or the Jews against Arabs. Or are they? What would be interesting is to try to translate the same statements from English to another language beside Arabic and see what you get.

Computer language translation is one of those very complicated research area called Natural Language Processing (NLP). One comment I read about the cause of this problem is something called “rules for negations” in some languages. But I don’t know NLP and I don’t know Google translate’s algorithm but I am sure there is no conspiracy theory here.

Update: It seems the translation problem does not exist any more.

Update: This post is mentioned in

30 thoughts on “Ask Google Translate “Who are the Terrorists?”

  1. I newly heard about this problem but when I tried it was already fixed.

    I remember during the Egyption revolution while I was following some Egyptian friends on twitter they mentioned some thing about wrong translation – I didn’t understand what was the problem at that time- they mentioned it to Wa’el ghonaim and he said that he called somebody at google and they explained it as a bug , and I believe it was that nothing more.

    Welcome back Malik 😀

    1. The problem is still not fixed, yet. I tried this translation today Feb 20, 2011.
      Thanks for welcoming me back. Unfortunately, I will be away for quite some time. I miss blogging, reading blogs and commenting on people’s blogs.



    1. Ahmed,
      I didn’t receive or copy these pictures from somewhere. I did the testing myself. Go to|ar|
      And translate: Jews are terrorists, Americans are terrorists, Arabs are terrorists.
      I am not spreading rumors. If you read my post till the end you will see that I am saying this is a bug and not some kind of conspiracy theory.
      I am sure Google translate research team is working on optimizing their translator.

  3. Ahmed and Whisper,

    I just tried the translation again and it seems the problem is fixed. I really did the testing myself before writing this post. I would never publish something before making sure it is correct.

    Ahmed, if you google the problem you will see that it did exist before and it wasn’t a rumor.

  4. Jaraad, there was another angle on Google’s buggy system of searching. Last year, if you googled ‘Christianity is:’ you would get a string of words like evil, hyprocrite, lies., etc. But is you googled ‘Islam is:’ you would get nothing.

    So Christians were having a hissy fit, calling it stealth dhimmitude. etc.

    It isn’t intentional, it’s just google.

    Miss you here! What’s up? Research paper time?

    1. “stealth dhimmitude” 🙂
      I didn’t know about the issue with “Christianity is” thing. Yesterday when I did a swift search about the subject it seems Google either angered or amused some non-English speaker nations with their translation. I think Google uses machine learning algorithms for the translation process. It uses its search engine as part of the translation. Machine learning algorithms are intelligent agents that can learn and enhance the learning process by time.
      Yes, busy with research-related DEADLINES. I still read your posts but can’t comment 😦

  5. Is this like the thing with “Do you mean black people stole my car”? lol
    anyway I tried it too and I got:
    اليهود هم إرهابيون
    الأميركيون هم إرهابيون
    العرب هم الارهابيين
    Same as Whisper
    بس اللفت هو ال التعريف اللي أضيفت للعرب فقط…يعني كأنة في أمريكان يهود بس الأصل هو احنا
    Anyway sho ma kan I don’t think it matters because mostly people who translate English to Arabic are Arabic speakers and therefore mostly Arabs..I think they know whether they’re terrorists or not! 🙂

  6. In general Google Translate has problem with negations. It can well add the “not” in a different place in the sentence than intended, which in many languages, including English, changes the meaning. However your examples suggest to me a bug or a mischievous virus aka jinn.

    Google Translate also has problems with passive verbal modes, inverting intended subject and object; and with more than one pronoun in a sentence. One never knows who is doing what to whom. Most dangerously, an article on the familial interconnections of royalty across MENA, which I used for a post, Royal Saudi/non-Saudi Marriages and Their Children Part V—Marrying Across MENA, had sons marrying mothers, brothers marrying sisters, etc. Needless to say I had my final draft meticulously read by a knowledgeable Arabophone who is fluent in English.

    In general, complex sentences or sophisticated rhetorical structures result in jibberish. However, sometimes a surprisingly simple phrase or word is consistently mis-translated–often because it misses the metaphorical meaning, in favour of a literal one, though both could be found in a dictionary definition.

    Here is a copy of an email I sent to friends:

    Subject: Google translate mystery solved!
    I have often worried about the people google translate tells me about: The Tired Family

    Abu Tired
    Umm Tired
    Bin Tired
    Bint Tired

    And now, thanks to Eman’s tweet about Prince Muteb bin Abdullah and her link,
    I don’t have to worry about the Tired family any more.
    They are the Muteb Family!

    الأمير متعب بن عبدالله رئيساً للحرس الوطني
    Prince Abdullah bin tired head of the National Guard

    Of course, one is no longer sure of who begat whom, but fortunately none of them are tired!

    I am so relieved!


    One friend replied that mut’b translates to tired/ tiring/ tiresome/ difficult; can be seen as a virtue of persistence; and in that sense a strength. Some, especially the bedouin, then see it as an admirable name to give to a child.

    Another gem that resulted in an email to a friend who used an expression on Twitter:

    Subject: I’m SHOCKED!!!!!

    شكراً لسعة صدوركم
    Thank you for your breasts capacity of

    You are…uh…starting/expanding a harem?? or a breast milk bank/wet nursing business?

    I’m assuming this means something more like “thank you for your great compassion” but if any of the above are true…want to do a post on my blog???

    LOL 😀


    He replied that the expression in Saudi refers to having a wide CHEST not breasts and means an ability to put up with teasing, jokes, friendly annoyances, and was to thank readers for forbearance with his questions. He also jokingly damned Google translate. Fortunately he found my email funny.

    Reading Google Translate versions of Arabic articles on the Jeddah rains results in much reference to “Seoul”. I asked a Saudi friend what Arabic word or phrase could result in that translation, and she immediately replied one meaning “floods”.

    In my experience, Google Translate is best at English to Russian translation of Stalin-esque speech, which I use to encourage a Russian friend to prevail over her German graduate superviser:

    Work hard! Mother Russia needs you! Remember Stalingrad! Stop reading capitalist letters! [my emails]

    And so to you: Work hard! The people of Jordan need you! Stop frequenting blogs! Except for mine!

    LOL 😀

      1. I read your post about the “Tired family” before it was very funny but this translation “Thank you for your breasts capacity of” made me laugh out loud. You made my day 🙂

        I noticed that sometimes someone uses Google to translate a post of mine and as you mentioned translating an article is just gibberish. I wonder what they think when read the translation 🙂

        Thank you for the support and encouragement. I can’t help not reading blogs 🙂 They are much better than traditional news.

        Thanks for the link to your post “Arab Protests: Are the Monarchies of MENA Less Vulnerable?” It sounds very interesting topic. I have to read it today.

        FYI: For some reason sometimes some of your comments are not published directly in my blog although my blog is open for commenting. For example your second comment was published directly but the first one needed an approval. I am not sure why and this is not the first time.

        1. Thanks for your great comment, and for your wonderful comments on my blog.

          Posts with links are often held by WordPress blogs for moderation. My second comment had only one link but the first one had 2 which was probably the trigger. Sometimes if a link is to an uncommon source that will also trigger the moderation function though the blogger hasn’t asked for it.

          Thanks for releasing my comments! 😀

  7. I have heard of this one as well. I’m glad you did test it out and see for yourself. I try to do that with any rumors or whatever I hear or read. You can’t take things for face value.

  8. i heard a lot about this bug! but i dont have problem in the translation! i dont get what you got! يمكن على النوايا بشتغل الغوغل 🙂

  9. It could be a bug…or a real conspiracy, but not necessarily by Google. When you use Google Translate, it used to ask you to “suggest a better translation.” It is thus possible that some individuals or groups were deliberately suggesting wrong translations of key phrases. I use Google Translate on a daily basis but have noticed that the request to “suggest a better translation” is no longer there. Someone should try to find out when Google eliminated this request from that page.

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