Jul 22, 2013

Merchants of the Machine: A Parable of an MT Vision

And so it was that a group of merchants, many of them powerful men made wealthy by the work of wordsmiths, did conceive a scheme to replace workers with a translation machine, that they might increase their power and influence and add to their already swollen coffers.

As their servants toiled night and day on its creation, the merchants did send soothsayers out into the world to proclaim the coming of the machine. So ruthlessly did their acolytes preach the MT gospel, glorifying its spew with much trumpeting in many a marketplace, that other merchants did allow their own greed to triumph and they too became devotees of the machine. Rejoicing in their boastings, they held out the promise of riches without labour to any who would follow them and purchase their wares.
But it came to pass that these disciples learned that the machine could perform only the lowliest of the humblest translator’s tasks, for it had no mind and many tongues remained foreign to it; lo, as the machine devoured more its confusion increased! Though this discovery caused consternation amongst them and they were quietly afeared lest they lose face, vanity had made the merchants so presumptuous that they did not cease their evangelising but continued to hide behind a veil of half-truths, dissembling and exaggerating with such cunning that still many in the marketplace were duped.

Yea though the tumult of the charlatans’ voices sounded forth so loud as to deafen thought, skilled workers who were long practised in the art of translation would not be fooled by them. The translators’ ancient art was publicly scorned and mockery poured upon them; the merchants were desirous of concealing the true worth of translators and casting them into the wilderness, for they could dispel the myth of the machine as no other. And though they were mercilessly derided as haters and naysayers, these stewards of language courageously took a stand against the Goliath, exhorting others to beware and saying unto them,”Let not these purveyors of false doctrines exploit you.”
Fellow translators who had become despondent and were distressed lest their wisdom perish and their intelligence vanish if the will of the merchants did prevail were emboldened by this strength and support. At first there were only murmurings amongst them, for some feared incurring the wrath of the powerful money-worshippers. But slowly there arose a wave of dissension as cracks appeared in the ground beneath the philistines who would have the world believe that their machine was mightier than languages that had evolved over hundreds of years.

The translators eschewed confrontation with the merchants: not because they feared the machine, for they knew full well of its weaknesses, but because they understood the lengths to which such opponents were prepared to go to protect their power. In the knowledge that they must not join in battle on a battlefield created by the merchants they saw that they must deal with them wisely and rely on their own skill and sagacity to protect their profession.

Some of them did congregate in a meeting place which they named Stridonium, after the birthplace of their patron saint. There they set out a course, that they might deliver a different message. With renewed strength born of unity they conceived of the simplest of plans to quell the voices of false prophets and create a new gateway to their own honest marketplace. Theirs shall be customers of wisdom and understanding: they shall not translate for the machine, for that would be like unto casting pearls before swine. They shall not hide their light under a bushel for this they must use to illuminate their path and enlighten unknowing procurers of language.

And henceforth they and their fellow translators shall diligently apply themselves to refuting false doctrine and shall not be daunted by their task. They shall reveal the failings of the machine and shall rekindle understanding of translation in the marketplace; they shall prevent extortion of the misguided until their message spreads far and wide.

And they shall not allow their profession to be sacrificed on the altar of Commerce.


About the author of this guest post...

Chartered Linguist Christina Guy is a Dutch to English legal translator and interpreter based in The Netherlands with whom I collaborate for international English copywriting. As a native of the UK with long experience in providing language services in the legal, commercial and diplomatic sectors, she is a passionate and articulate advocate of efficient quality. Several years ago, she and other committed language specialists established the translators' forum Stridonium to facilitate professional exchange in a private atmosphere of competence and mutual support. Christina's previous contribution to Translation Tribulations, A sermon from Ede, was inspired by her first exposure to the mad machinations of the MT muftis of TAUS and their allies.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm... I'm afraid MT is already having a impact in IT and technical translation, e.g. for software manuals where sentences are fairly short. The style of the piece is appropriate though as It seems to be an article of faith with a large percentage of the industry that MT represents the future of the translation industry. I disagree. The 300% productivity increases repeatedly talked about by a certain purveyor of MT does not tally with the increases I see in my work on productivity testing. IBM see an average improvement of 17% and they pretty much invented the damn technology. The elephant in the room that I see is that unless you have an average speed improvement of something like 50% you can be sure the MT is slowing some translators down on a project. Some translators are short, some are tall and some are good at post-editing and even report they enjoy the task on the basis that change can be as good as a rest. I happen to be one of them. Perhaps it is because I never learned to type properly.

    So what is the future? Kevin has pointed out even in its current early state, ASR can give you better speed gains and predictive typing (Muses / Autosuggest) can give you big gains too if you make the effort to add the good suggestions to a glossary over a period of time for a regular client or specialist domain. Though I must admit I loved the piece I would prefer to hear less rhetoric from both sides of the camp.


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