Thursday, January 9, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Google Translate to Add More Turkic Languages

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 9 – Google Translate, an online translation system, which already offers a translation function for Turkish and Azerbaijani, has announced that it will add Kazakh by the end of 2014 and is seeking volunteers to develop Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Turkmen capacities as well.

            In addition to being a recognition of the increasing importance of these countries, the introduction of such translation services is likely to have at least three important consequences for people in those countries, for Moscow, and for those who track developments in them ( and

            First, such services will make it more likely that writers in these countries will use their national languages rather than Russian now that they can be confident that their works can be more or less automatically translated into various “international” languages. That will contribute to the decline in Russian language use and Russian influence in these countries.

            Second, the creation of such translation aides will help institutionalize these national languages and thus limit the drive led by Turkey and Azerbaijan to develop a common Turkic language and script.  Again, if those who do not know these languages can easily “translate” articles and books, those who write them will be less interested in any change.

            And third, and as a result of these trends, those who track developments in these countries will increasingly have to turn to sources in the national languages.  In Soviet times and to an extent since then,  many have assumed that access to Russian-language materials is sufficient. That was never true, and this latest announcement makes it ever less so.

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