Google Maps appears to have gone bilingual by default in some places in India. Maps, and I’ve been noticing this for a few days now, shows a mix of English and Hindi in New Delhi — other cities, like Pune, are still English-only. Maps were made available in Hindi in 2014, and these were bilingual. Perhaps the adoption of bilingual Maps was low, and that is why Google is turning Maps bilingual by default. One shouldn’t underestimate the power of the default in design.

Largely, the approach that we’re noticing is that landmarks — restaurants, hotels, colleges and so on — are largely shown in two languages. Roads appear to be shown in English, and only upon zooming in are two languages available. This is possibly due to a space constraint.

On mobile at least, there appeared to be no option to turn off the bilingual approach that Google Maps has taken, or an option for a language other than Hindi. Perhaps that will happen once more languages are rolled out, but the option to change languages is necessary, just as the option for turning off bi-lingual maps is.

What’s also noticeable is that the language setting is only applicable for the city/state/region you’re in. For example, my colleague Riddhi was able to view Santiniketan (in West Bengal) in English and Hindi on the map, but I, in Delhi, couldn’t.

Literal translation

Some of this appears to be translated very literally, as Pathikrit Sanyal pointed out, and that can become quite a mess. In the screenshot below (and we checked and verified this), The Potbelly (cafe/restaurant) is translated as Fat Man in Hindi. Slice of Italy (a restaurant), is translated literally, instead of a proper noun just being written in the devanagiri script.

Again, the fact that many of us are noticing that Google Maps is available in more than just English is an indication of the power of the default.

Indic languages, maps and navigation

During our #NAMAindic discussion earlier this year, Ola’s Supply Product Head Sumit Kumar pointed out when it comes to programming, there are static and dynamic strings which need to be translated: “Translating the former is easy, but doing that for dynamic is harder. On the consumer side, the dynamic strings are more in number, because you are taking drop location and pick-up location, right? Translating that in the exact same manner across nine languages is quite hard. A simple example is ‘St’. ‘St’ could mean a street, or a saint, as in St Stephen College. So I think that problem is still to be solved. A lot of companies are trying to solve it but I don’t think it’s been fully solved. It doesn’t render properly across multiple OSes, multiple device sizes and so on.”

From on product challenges for Indic languages: