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No Longer Lost in Translation: Evidence that Google Translate Works for Comparative Bag-of-Words Text Applications

  • Erik de Vries (a1), Martijn Schoonvelde (a2) and Gijs Schumacher (a3)

Automated text analysis allows researchers to analyze large quantities of text. Yet, comparative researchers are presented with a big challenge: across countries people speak different languages. To address this issue, some analysts have suggested using Google Translate to convert all texts into English before starting the analysis (Lucas et al. 2015). But in doing so, do we get lost in translation? This paper evaluates the usefulness of machine translation for bag-of-words models—such as topic models. We use the europarl dataset and compare term-document matrices (TDMs) as well as topic model results from gold standard translated text and machine-translated text. We evaluate results at both the document and the corpus level. We first find TDMs for both text corpora to be highly similar, with minor differences across languages. What is more, we find considerable overlap in the set of features generated from human-translated and machine-translated texts. With regard to LDA topic models, we find topical prevalence and topical content to be highly similar with again only small differences across languages. We conclude that Google Translate is a useful tool for comparative researchers when using bag-of-words text models.

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Authors’ note: Replication code and data are available at the Political Analysis Dataverse (De Vries, Schoonvelde, and Schumacher 2018) while the supplementary materials for this article are available on the Political Analysis web site. The authors would like to thank James Cross, Aki Matsuo, Christian Rauh, Damian Trilling, Mariken van der Velden and Barbara Vis for helpful comments and suggestions. GS and MS acknowledge funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 649281, EUENGAGE. EdV acknowledges funding for a research assistantship from the Access Europe (since 2018: UVAccess Europe) research center at the University of Amsterdam.

Contributing Editor: Jonathan N. Katz

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Political Analysis
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