This brilliant parable was written three years ago by my colleague, Christina Guy, founder of the Stridonium translators’ group, where it was originally posted. I felt it was worth reviving it in view of all the arguments I’m currently reading in favour of machine translation and about ‘future-proofing’ our profession.
“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 evangelizing 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 practiced 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.”