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I am working on translating English to a constructed language, and am looking at Chinese for inspiration. I am currently on the sentence:

He wanted to rest.

In English, this is very different from:

He wants to rest.

However, Google Translate (I know, it's not great, working on getting better translations) says they are the same:

他想休息
Tā xiǎng xiūxí

I have read that Chinese does this sort of thing a lot with verbs, like "I am eating" is really just "I eat" (with "context" playing a role in disambiguating). On that note:

He is eating.
他正在吃
Tā zhèngzài chī
He eats.
他吃
Tā chī
He ate.
他吃了
Tā chīle

So is google translate just plain wrong? If so, how do you properly translate the wanted sentences?

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  • Not quite an answer, but in my experience, even very close languages like English and German go often wrong in Google translate or Deepl or any other software I tried. They get better if you give them long texts (so they can derive context statistically) for formal texts in certain topics (computer and business, I guess that's where their money is), but often fail miserably and often hilariously in short casual sentences. So I wouldn't rely on them. By the way "I eat" and "I am eating" are the same in German too. Dec 14, 2021 at 19:39
  • Nicht nur Software scheitert! War es nicht Heinrich Lübcke der sagte, "Equals goes it loose." "Gleich geht's los." Die Queen muss gekichert haben!
    – Pedroski
    Dec 14, 2021 at 22:47
  • Yeah, not just Google! Once, when my boss called me to a meeting, I meant to reply "I'm on my way" but instead said "I'm on the run". But this is the kind of thing an AI might mix up to if it only has the sentence and doesn't understand the meaning. Dec 15, 2021 at 0:03

2 Answers 2

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He wants to rest.
他想要休息。

He wanted to rest. (but .... )
他本来想要休息。

Google may be rich, but their AI is not good enough to handle Chinese, or probably any other language.

You need to look behind the language to see what is inferred. "wanted" does not imply he rested, "wants" does not imply he will rest now.

What is a "constructed language"??

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In Chinese, this depends on the context. If you read the context, you will know it naturally. Look at the context: Jane came back from running, she is panting on the couch and can’t talk. Mom asks: Go have a shower! Dad says: she wants to rest. If someone is talking about something happened, you will know it is “wanted”.

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