As technology has become an intrinsic part of our life, there is no shortage of existential questions about the implications of the massive shift we have experienced over the last couple of decades and what’s in store going forward. Luckily, our devices are also an abundant source of comic relief, not least for those of us who juggle with more than one language day in, day out.
Take overzealous autocorrect for example. We have all seen it distort our meaning in unexpected, surreal ways, sometimes beyond comprehension, just because of a tiny typo. My favorite case in point? The following text message I received from a coworker not so long ago: “Sure. I’m lesbian in 5 mins” I suppose she meant to say she was about to leave — the place where she was, not her sexual orientation.
Typos probably happen more often to people who write in a language that is not their native one, which is the case for both this coworker and myself, but maybe not so much after all, as we are all clumsy at times, and a bit more reliant on spellcheck than we should for our own good.
It gets a bit trickier anyway when you regularly switch from one language to another, as autocorrect features don’t seem to be (yet) able to adjust to that kind of pattern change. I have lost count of French words “corrected” to English ones, and vice versa, in my messages. In a monolingual setup, autocorrect is a helpful, though occasionally clueless, friend. In a multilingual context, this friend’s interference lacks some elementary restrain…
Now, multilingualism-cum-technology is an entirely different game, of course, if you navigate between different alphabets, as is the case for Appa and Minette. I always enjoy seeing message in Tamil pop up on Appa’s phone. Which means technology has also made this possible.
As for automated translation, I am told it has substantially improved, but I find it hard to believe when I receive marketing emails from French food producers in English or when I come across translated recipes on their websites. In culinary French clarifier un œuf means to separate an egg yolk from its white. The other day I found the following step in a translated recipe: Clarify the eggs. Almost zen poetry, if you ask me.
Even though I value words chosen carefully and used efficiently, there are some really fun moments to be had at the intersection of languages, human sloppiness, and technological shortcuts. And don’t even get me started on how often voice recognition systems are confused by my French accent!