20 Sep 2016

Mayoral candidate in a 'pickle' with botched Māori translation

8:00 pm on 20 September 2016

A mistake-ridden translation of a Hamilton mayoral candidate's profile has been slated for being disrespectful to the Māori language.

Hamilton mayoral candidate James Casson.

Hamilton mayoral candidate James Casson. Photo: Hamilton City Council

Independent candidate James Casson said he has apologised for the errors in a Google translation of his candidate biography into te reo Māori.

He told Checkpoint with John Campbell that he had brought it onto himself.

"I was trying to be inclusive to everybody. I've worked with a lot of different cultures in my time, and Hamilton City Council haven't been inclusive with Māori in Hamilton, that's just a fact," Mr Casson said.

Earlier today he said the mistake was his alone and he was ashamed parts of the translation were wrong.

He had received many messages of support but others that were "nasty" and out of kilter with his translation mistake, he said.

Waikato University computer science lecturer Te Kaka Keegan, who worked on Google Translate for Māori, said the translation was gibberish and disrespectful to the language.

"I don't think there was a complete Māori language sentence in anything that was translated.

"I think it was just words and phrases that were translated, there was English words scattered amongst it. Some words that weren't Māori or English scattered amongst it."

Mr Keegan said he presumed Mr Casson's profile in English was proofread by an English language speaker, and Google translations must always be checked with a reo Māori speaker as it was not a full translation tool.

"With computer-aided translation technology you need lots of data to get accurate translations and the reality is we don't have enough Māori language data to get anywhere near a decent translation," he said.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori chief executive Ngahiwi Apanui applauded Mr Casson's desire to use te reo Māori.

04072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Maori language week kicks off with a parade from Wellington Train Station to Te Papa. 4000+ people paraded through wellington to promote Te Reo. Ngahiwi Apanui, Chief Executive, Maori Language Commission.

Ngahiwi Apanui Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

But the Māori Language Commission boss said people in public positions should seek professional help when using the language.

"I don't think people deliberately go out to murder a language. What we want is a more forgiving place to be.

"One of the things about learning te reo, especially if you are not a speaker or are learning the language, is you're going to make mistakes. However if you want to avoid making those mistakes, and you are using te reo in a very public place, you are best advised to use a licensed translator."

Mr Apanui said bodies managing elections should also have processes in place to check the language was used correctly in election material.

Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta also gave Mr Casson credit for trying to use te reo Māori, but said he should have sought support, which was readily available in Waikato.

"Anyone who wants to make a genuine effort would not rely purely on Google, they would try at least to make contact with a Māori person to be steered in the right direction.

"He didn't take that opportunity. He let himself down and got himself in a pickle."

Ms Mahuta said the botched translation probably would go down well with Māori voters in Hamilton.

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