Friday, December 16, 2011

Google Maps invents own Spanish names of Catalan streets, rendering the program useless (and incredibly offensive)

This morning on Twitter, I saw that Google had decided to replace Catalan placenames with crazy, sometimes random, translations into Spanish. The hashtag #googlecat has quickly become a TT (trending topic) on Twitter as people around Catalonia are outraged that Google has decided to call Catalan places however they like.

Pretty incredible. You, dear non-Catalan reader, might think it's much ado about nothing, really, how much difference is there between "Plaça Catalunya" and "Plaza de Cataluña"? Who cares? But there are very large issues here, which I hope to address one by one.

First, the names of streets, squares, and roads are all in Catalan in Catalonia. If you're looking for a street, the only street sign you will find will be in Catalan. Google Maps won't do a fat lot of good to you if it's giving you a translation into Spanish. For example, one of the streets near my apartment is “Carrer de Sant Domènec" (or Saint Dominic street) but Google has it labeled as "Calle de San Domingo".


(Then, there's the added weirdness that you can't actually say "San Domingo", it would be "Santo Domingo".) There are many, many other bizarre translations. Things like "Verga María" [Cock Mary] (and I don't mean roosters) for "Verge Maria" [Virgin Mary]. Or changing the name of the town, “Sant Boi de Llobregat” into "San Baudillo de Llobregat".

Think it won't matter, that Catalan and Spanish are "close enough"? Try "Calle del Oxidado" instead of "Carrer Rovellat". Or "Rambla de la Colina" instead of "Rambla del Turó". Let's just say I wouldn't rely on Google Maps to get around Catalonia any more.

Carrer Rovellat

Vilaweb was finally able to get a first explanation from Google Spain about the problem. “The problem has to do with a database that was supplied by a third party and the technicians are working on updating it."

Ultimately, to Catalans who are continually feeling mistreated by the Spanish government, who will not stand up for the Catalan language in Spain, the European parliament or anywhere else, it feels like a crass political move by Google. Perhaps it's just a technical error, but I just don't have that faith anymore.

Interesting that names in English have not been translated into Spanish, as in Plaça John Lennon, which turned into "Plaza John Lennon" but not "Plaza Juan Lennon".

Check into Twitter and follow #googlecat to see egregious examples and anger. Follow Vilaweb for the latest news.


  1. It would be the equivalent of Google translating the street names in Québec City and Montréal into English; I can only imagine what an uproar that would cause! There are actually some anglophones in Montréal who still use the old English street names but that's silly since all the road signs are in French. Someone once told me that a store was on St. Lawrence Boulevard and I had no idea what they were talking about until I realized they were referring to boulevard St-Laurent.

  2. Gracies Liz!!! It took a long time to get Street Names normalized in Catalunya for it to go down the drain because the Internet community doesn't know-understand-care.

  3. There are many places have more than one language so it's a big error. However, it is just an error, why would you think that Google has something against the Catalans? What would their possible motive be?



    1. No seas ignorante y xenófobo. Cataluña no va a desaparecer por mucho que lo desees. ¿Qué pasa, que en tu versión nazi de España no hay sitio para nada más?
      Fdo: una española.

      Don't be ignorant and xenophobe. Catalonia will not disappear, no matter how much you want it. What is the matter, is it that in your nazi version of Spain there is no room for anything else?
      signed: A Spaniard [woman].

  5. @Anonymous. I'll leave your cretin post and translate it too. It's because of people like you that Catalans don't want to be a part of your Spain.

    You said, "Death to Catalonia. Long live Spain."

    (Note, I did delete others.)

  6. To all non-Catalans, now we want our freedom so badly, we're feeling less spanish than ever, and it's not the first time that catalans are pulled down by social networks (twitter) and others. BTW, now in Spain has raised the conservative party, one that is descendant of our dictator way of thinking. Yeah, we're scared, and we will fight if necessary.

    Sorry about my English, I do my best.

  7. In the interest of stirring up a bit more dust, I sent the link for this post to the editors at Ars Technica, a popular geek website. If it picks up the story, Google's execs will definitely hear about this.

    My guess is that Google corporate approval in California came because they were clueless about the issues. A lot of people in snobbish coastal California don't even understand the state's own eastern farming regions, so the intensity of the Spain/Catalonia debate in far beyond their comprehension.

    I have trouble imagining, however, that Google Spain didn't realize what this meant. That'd be like an Englishman not being aware that the Welch and the Scots, much less the Irish, don't like English domination.

    Liz, you might want to post a reading lists of good books on this topic, both fiction and non-fiction. It's not a subject many of us who live outside Spain get a chance to hear much about.

    --Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

  8. Thanks, Michael! I appreciate your support. I have an update with some new information as to how this all came about, but it probably won't be til tomorrow. To my knowledge, it is not yet solved.

    1. Hi Liz, Have been going crazy here in Mallorca too with a similar problem, except here in Soller and Port de Soller, they have arbitrarily decided to re-name the Carrer de sa Mar as Camino del Campo de la Mar, which is the name of our road in the Port! Resulting in lots of confusion with deliveries etc. Our road (MA1134) they decided to re-name 'Carretera de Soller'. Very frustrating. They have however put some of our street-names in both Catalan (or Mallorquin for us ;-) and in Spanish - even though a lot of them are wrong and their system for correcting mistakes is some sort of database that doesn't work for **** (excuse the language).

  9. I think it is incredible that in a time when so many people value cultural diversity this is happening. What is Google's position on cultural diversity I wonder.


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