Google Maps Sprachbund

A while back, as an experiment, I set my interface language for Google products to Macedonian. In reality, only a small portion of all the Google label, legend, and message texts may be available in that language, so I also had to pick a "backup" languages, for which I choose Bulgarian (I think by default, as it is the closest related language).

So you would imagine that the text I would see e.g. in Google Maps would be a mix of Macedonian and Bulgarian, plus the original language of the region being mapped? Wrong! There are actually four languages I often see. And the fourth is... Kyrgyz!

In the example above, the standard Google Maps messages are in Macedonian (e.g. "Пребарувајте во близина", i.e. "Search in the vicinity"), the country name is also in Macedonian ("Соединети Американски Држави" = the USA), while the object name is a translation/transcription of the "West Side Avenue Light Rail Station" into a curious mix of languages:

  • "Запад" must be the Bulgarian or Macedonian translation for "West" (the proper adjective form would actually be "Западна", but we cannot expect that!);
  • "Сайд Авеню Лайт Рейл" is the Bulgarian transcription for "Side West Light Rail". (We know that it's Bulgarian and not Macedonian because of the letters й and ю; Macedonian would use ј and ју (or just и), respectively. In principle it could be Russian too);
  • and finally "станциясы" is the Kyrgyz for "the station". (The word would be spelled the same in Kazakh, but for many other place labels I saw words that were definitely Kyrgyz, e.g. "аэропорту" rather than "аэропорты" for "the aeroport"; Kyrgyz has something called "labial harmony", which Kazakh doesn't).