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I translated 'how are you' on Google translate and it gave me the response 'wie geht es dir'. On the other hand, when I translated 'How are you' (making the H capital), the translation became 'Wie geht es Ihnen'. Any reason why?

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closed as off-topic by RegDwight Jan 10 '14 at 22:35

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Because automated translations are not perfect and are based on certain strange algorithms, especially if performed by search engines? I don't think there's any reason having to do with the language. – OregonGhost Jan 10 '14 at 12:34
Thanks @OregonGhost. What is the difference between the two statements in German? – Sid Jan 10 '14 at 12:36
"Du" (dir) is familiar "you", "Sie" (Ihnen) is formal. – OregonGhost Jan 10 '14 at 12:41
@SidCool extending on OregonGhost here: The concept of formal and familiar addressing is quite common in non-english languages. It was strange for me as well, to learn that I would address my dog, my drother, my boss and the Cancellor of our country all with the same word in English. – Mark Jan 10 '14 at 12:59
I just have to imagine addressing a dog with "Sie" now, thanks. The concept did exist in English as well, the familiar "thou" was lost over the years and is today only used rarely. – OregonGhost Jan 10 '14 at 13:06
up vote 13 down vote accepted

That is a technical issue. (The inner magic of google)

Wie geht es Dir?


Wie geht es Ihnen?

both translate to

How are you?

For a bit of technical background: Google translate takes its language knowledge from something we can only dream of: Reading millions of closely translated texts in two ore more languages comparatively and then using Bayes-filters and similar things to build its database. It doesn't know a language, but it knows that in 57.3% of cases, when the German text says "Wie geht es Ihnen?" the English text says "How are you?". So with some statistic deviation google might 'think' that the capitalization changes the meaning, which is correct in many cases, but not this one.

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my god. how did you manage to find this information. – codebrain Jan 10 '14 at 18:17
Mostly based on – Fabricio Araujo Jan 10 '14 at 20:38
@codebrain : Fabricio Araujo got it. Google gives out this info. I just summarized it a bit and broke it down in some technical aspects – Mark Jan 13 '14 at 6:06

Context is important for any translation but an automatic translation will fail if it can not guess the context. This can nicely be shown with the following attempts of Google Translate:

  • How do you do > Guten Tag
  • how do you do > wie macht man
  • how do you do? > wie wollen Sie tun?
  • How do you do? > Wie geht es Ihnen?
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now, i will be confused how to say "how do you do" in german. :P – codebrain Jan 10 '14 at 18:19
@codebrain: In a formal setting it is just "Guten Tag." (or "Grüß Gott" in the south). Sometimes you may also hear "Guten Tag, wie geht es Ihnen?" but to say this you should already know the person you address better. – Takkat Jan 10 '14 at 19:05

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