Google Hacks for Linguists

Google has definitely changed the way in which translators and linguists work, and it has become our main tool for language research. It does make sense to know how to make the most out of our Google searches to find exactly what we need amidst mountains of information. At eBay, when we review post-edited content to train our machine translation systems, with so many different listing categories, ranging from Electronics to Historic Memorabilia, we need to be able to find the right information quickly. These are some of the tips we want to share with you:

One of the ways to make your searches more effective is through the use of operators. These are basically keywords that let you be more specific in your searches, and avoid getting results that are not relevant. Here are some examples:

  • Find text from a PDF or any other file format: Use the operator filetype. Try the search shipping terms glossary filetype:pdf and you will only get matches from PDF files. You can also try DOC, RTF, and any other file types.
  • Find text within a specific domain: Use the operator site. Try the search auction site:ebay.com and you will only get results that have the word auction in the content and ebay in the domain. You can also search for domains exclusively.
  • Find exact phrases: Enclose your phrase between quotes (“ ”). Try the search“John F. Kennedy” (390,000,000 hits) vs. “John Kennedy”(3,820,000).
  • Exclude a term from your search: Use the operator (minus sign). Try the search -statistical machine translation, and you will get hits that contain “machine translation” but do not contain “statistical”.
  • Replace a word with a wildcard: Use the operator *. Try the search “oxford * dictionary” and you will get matches listing Oxford dictionaries, regardless of their specific names.
  • Find text only on French websites: Use the operator inurl + fr (works with any other language codes, of course). Try the search California inurl:fr and you will get hits from websites in French that contain the word California.
  • Search text in URLs, but not in the site content: Use the operator inurl. Try the search inurl:ebay, and you will see all the URLs that contain the word eBay. This can be combined with a regular search to find words in a website’s content with a specified word in its URL.
  • If your search includes a numeric interval: Use the .. operator. Try the searchcar10000..20000 miles to get results including the word “car” and any numbers between 10,000 and 20,000.

Find the complete list of search operators here.

There are some other pretty cool things you can do with the image search feature:

  • Basic image search: No idea what a word means? Do a Google Images search, and the resulting images should help.
  • Advanced image search: Say you need to translate into English the name of an item listed on eBay, but you don’t know how the item is called in the target language. You can do a Google Images search in your language, save one of the pictures from the results, and drag and drop the image back into Google Images. You will most likely get the English name for that item.


Have you ever used Google Trends? It is an online tool that shows how often a search term is entered relative to the total search volume across different geographic regions of the world, and in various languages. For linguists, this can be quite useful to determine frequency of use for a word or phrase in a certain language and in a specific region. So, for example, if you have more than one translation for a term and want to check which one is more frequently used by speakers of a specific country, you can just try both terms in Google Trends and the results should definitely help.

 

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