Jan 30, 2012

A sermon from Ede

Last September the Association of Translation Agencies (ATA) in the Netherlands hosted a one-day conference entitled "The Future is Here". Previous guest posts have described some of the workshops presented, but I have only now received permission to repost a summary from a private translators' forum which best captures the spirit of said future.

And it came to pass that the leaders of the translation industry in the Netherlands did host a gathering where visionaries and evangelists of Machine Translation did come to spread their knowledge to the truly ignorant and preach The Word to lowly translators, whom they knew as ‘workers’, for there had been much wailing and gnashing of teeth about Machine Translation.

Those preachers did include the wondersome Renato Beninatto, a self-professed agent provocateur and erstwhile owner of Common Sense Advisory (and truly he is clever for he doth qualify all of his doings with the words ‘but no promises’). And so it was that the great Renato spake unto those assembled before him, to inspire them and let them be informed of the principles of Machine Translation so that they might practice them. And yea, his words fell on them like rain and they did listen to his preachings unquestioningly.

One of his audience spake of quality, a truly reprehensible word, but Renato was not angry and was gentle with him and did explain to him at great length and with supreme patience why the word quality shall not be uttered, for it is verily vanity to speak of quality in thyself: quality is subjective and translators shall not allow the word quality to pass their lips, nor shall they worship at the shrine of quality; he who speaks of quality and Machine Translation in the same breath shall be cast asunder. Many of the assembled throng did agree with him wholeheartedly that this was true.

And Renato was a kind preacher, for he did make no mention of the lowly translator or the need or otherwise for such a loathsome beast. And he did say unto the people before him that when the mighty computer was unable to understand or cope with the complexities of language - such as accents - those complexities would be banished in order that the computer might understand and in order that language might be ‘more present’. For he is truly a prophet and he doth know what the present means and what the future holds.

His disciples did learn from the great Renato that they should practice the principles of simplification and lowest common denominator and they did learn from one of his acolytes that they should speak and write in tongues that the Machine Translation can understand, lest they receive garbled messages.

The mighty Renato did also allow Jaap, another ‘visionary', to spread the Machine Translation gospel and tho Jaap did indeed attempt to extol the wonders of Machine Technology and predicted for those before him that the world shall be unrecognisable in only two years, he was lacking in charm and was unable to equal the persuasive talents of Renato. The translators could not warm to him since he spake of their labours as repetitive and did say unto them that they could not survive unless they worshipped the Machine. He did make them restless with his dire warnings that their translations memories were already obsolete and he did verily cast aspersions on even the most technological of them.

And the translators did mutter amongst themselves, for they were unsure. Whilst they did acknowledge the existence of Machine Translation, they did feel that language is a truly wonderful thing that shall be treasured. Renato had preached to them that quality is a vile word that must henceforth not be spoken and that he who doth use that word should be cast asunder yet they were not persuaded. And so they left the gathering, reassured in the knowledge that theirs is a valuable profession, even though it is not valued by all of those who seek to profit from them.

Yea, that is the task of the translator – that tho his is good work when it goes unnoticed, he shall not be a Doubting Thomas. He shall not be shunned for his belief in the beauty of language, for language is a truly wonderful thing and his is a truly valuable talent.


  1. Thank you for a great post, Kevin.

  2. LOL! One of your best posts. Standing ovation!

  3. Excellent post, thank you, Kevin!

  4. I'm not the author! I was merely give the privilege of sharing this insightful report on the bright future which awaits us all :-)

  5. I was just subjected to an editor who's a disciple aspiring to be an apostle. His comments were taken straight from Word's spell and grammar check. When he used his own words they included "miss-use" and "conjucation" (native English speaker, New York). I was tempted to tell my author that my work was evidently irrelevant to his needs, and that he should let this editor put his text through Google Translate and review it with Word. Quicker, cheaper, and no nonsense about quality.

  6. Thanks for publishing that, Kevin. In listening to Renato and his henchmen (er, acolytes) carry on, it occurs that their analysis may well be accurate for the future of their end of the market. But bulk is pretty bleak for someone who is actually doing the translating. I figure they simply don't realize that there are many other markets out there. (Thank goddess.)

  7. Thanks! I appreciate the beauty of English language revealed in this piece of writing.

    Did the MT evangelist say, "And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain."?

    Did he say, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."?

    Or, were there even a Lord's Prayer?

    It would be interesting to know about their standard prayer.

  8. Agree entirely with bonnjill and Chris Durban. Have just posted on my own blog. Great stuff.
    Steve Dyson
    Blog: http://steve-dyson.blogspot.com/
    Lulu spotlight: www.lulu.com/spotlight/SteveDyson

  9. Great post! I wish I had seen it before. It goes very well with Diane McCartney's accounts from the same conference.

    The writing is superb and the author should be credited!

    The fact is that I believe that the translator is not a lowly being, but the strongest link in the production chain. I actually advocate that with technology and disintermediation, the power is returning to the translator - the human kind - and away from the project managers.

    I particularly like being called "the wondersome Renato Beninatto, a self-professed agent provocateur". Can I put this in my business card?

  10. I am sure, Renato, that the author would be pleased to allow you the public title. I wish I had been able to make it. I expected your marketing seminar to be the best part of the event, and reports I have heard do not contradict this.

    As for production chains, whips and other tools of the trade, I fail to see these as involving MT in any useful way in a sector which personally interests me, so I am content to let the anthill be poked in any way over yet another list of strings for more pointless software. When the advocates of MT are content to submit to medical procedures and pharmaceutical use instructions translated by The Beast and edited by monolingual editors, I might take notice. Or not. Lots of fun to be had in marketing, and I don't think anyone planning to stay in business will go there with MT :-)

  11. @Renato : "the power is returning to the translator" — Hmm. I enjoy your energy, but outside the bulk segment, the power *never left* the translator (although some were swayed by your gift of gab). See Laurie Gerber on selling MT solutions (words to the effect that vendors are aware that their (monolingual, naive) clients "are ending their sentences for them" so eager are they to believe in miracles.
    Re [Renato] "I particularly like being called 'the wondersome Renato Beninatto, a self-professed agent provocateur'. Can I put this in my business card?" I will pre-empt Kevin's response here and point out that this is only possible if you include your trademark footnote: "but with no promises". Which design-wise is not good, no.

  12. For completeness sake, the said business card may also contain the words
    "Quality not included"


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