Google to the Rescue of Gender Ambiguity

For those of us who began translating before the advent of Google, and primarily those who usually translate from English into Spanish, the arrival of the Silicon Valley giant has created a host of resources that never cease to amaze both professionals and clients alike.

I won’t get into the most well-known resources, but rather, I’ll be focusing on a very specific resource that is decisive when translating from English into Spanish or, for that matter, from a language without obvious gender (such as English ), into a language that’s much less ambiguous in this sense (such as Spanish).

A while ago I published a blog post about a game between English speakers, where players try to refer to someone without giving away whether it is a man or a woman. This game sheds light on the difficulty we translators face when coming across sentences like this one:

“Dr. Alex James is determined to treat the patient…”

The phrase poses a double dilemma: the question as to the gender of the doctor, as Alex can be both the name of a man or a woman. In the translation from one language to another, this will inevitably be conveyed in the gender of the participle. In many cases there are ways –through periphrasis– to get away with these ambiguous situations and achieve an acceptable result without excluding any crucial element of the source text.

This is where this unexpected use of the famous search engine begins to make sense– in its ability to produce results in the form of images (even when what we’re searching for is not an image but rather to clear up doubts about unanswered questions within the sentence), through which the translator can gain insight in order to determine whether a name belongs to one gender or another, helping to resolve such dilemmas which previously were much more difficult to figure out.