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We have to finish this simple: notes toward an experiment

Heraclitus was an ancient Greek philosopher. He wrote in cryptic verse, purposely obscuring his philosophy in almost riddles, so as only the initiated could fully understand what he was on about.

He was the guy who saw the world as being in a constant state of flux, constantly changing.

He’s also the guy who started talking about the logos. A fundamental term in philosophy (and elsewhere), it meant a whole bunch of different things to different people. It meant things like discourse, or the divine animating principle pervading the Universe, or knowledge, word…ETC.

I’m going to go for logos as the word, not like “word” grammatically speaking, but rather: the Word. Almost like in that biblical sense, the Word, holy in nature. I’ll let Wikipedia speak for me here, “for Heraclitus logos provided the link between rational discourse and the world’s rational structure”. I’d like to make an analogy between the logos and term bases or translation memories, but not today.

Here’s one of those surviving fragments by Heraclitus on the logos, translated from Greek to English:

For this reason it is necessary to follow what is common. But although the Logos is common, most people live as if they had their own private understanding.


Here’s that same line, machine translated from English to Spanish to Icelandic to Yoruba to Burmese to Kazakh to Sundanese to Galician to Afrikaans to English again:

Therefore, we must complete what is common. As a general understanding of golf, but in life itself, but a lot of people.

Fantastic. How and where and why did the word ‘golf’ fit in there? Did the machine dyslexically translate ‘logos’ to ‘golf’?

Let’s run it through the machines again. From English, to Zulu to Malay to Finnish to Nepali to Japanese to English again:

Now, I need to fill in this simple. Many of the living and the world of golf.

…and now from English to Afrikaans to Arabic to Albanian to Armenian to Azerbaijani to Basque and back to English again:

Now we have to finish this simple. Many people live in the world of golf.


The written word, the logos, the text, as being alive, organic, communicating actively – talking to you.

And machine translations as being either a global predictive programming conspiracy to get lazy translators to play golf, or again: even in machine form, the word continues as being alive, organic, in movement, it evolves, it flows, it changes – it talks to you.

In this case, my Heraclitus fragment has now changed, with a clear message: “Now we have to finish this simple!” Is there a simple conclusion we can reach?

Most probably not. Some of you, the more traditional conservative linguists, will claim: Stop fooling around with MT and get to work! Others more open to the evolution in our localization industry will find arguments more than excuses. And surely there’s a whole bunch.

For now let’s leave it at this: Don’t jump the gun when judging MT. Let’s admit that they’re (improving) evolving, changing – like the universe, like the written word, like my pal Heraclitus would have it. When an MT evolves to the point of being a sentient being, Terminator-style, then we might have a problem.