understanding of "subcontractor" in this context

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Hettyy

Senior Member
Chinese - Mandarin
Please can anyone share with me your understanding of "all the world's subcontractors" in the second sentence? It doesn't seem to me mean the normal meaning of "subcontractor"a person or company that does part of the work given to another person or company", since no "contractor" is mentioned in the context. Could it somehow be a metaphor of "all human beings", in the sense that "human beings' ancestors made a covernant / contract with God"? Many, many thanks.

Universal translation has long been motivated by a utopian ambition, a dream that harks back to Genesis, of a common tongue that perfectly maps thought to world. In Scripture, this allowed for a humanity so well-coordinated, so alike in its understanding, that all the world’s subcontractors could agree on a time to build a tower to the heavens. Since Babel, though, even the smallest construction projects are plagued by terrible delays.
 
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  • Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    It is the normal meaning of "subcontractor": "a person or company that does part of the work given to another person or company". I can't remember the details of the tower of Babel, but we have to suppose that it was ordered by some king or tribal elders, don't we? And that the work was divided between large numbers of individual groups of workers? If that's how we do it today, it's most unlikely that single massive building companies existed among Israelites in the Bronze Age!
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    In the US, most construction projects have a prime contractor whose main contribution is to organise various subcontractors to do the actual work. Companies which actually build things are therefore always subcontractors. This fact has led US speakers to use "subcontractors" with a meaning of "builders".
     

    Hettyy

    Senior Member
    Chinese - Mandarin
    I see. So it seems that I did some strange imagination work:) Thank you, Keith and Glasguensis. Your explanations have been most helpful!
     
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