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Translation and interpreting in the Arabic of the Middle Ages: lessons in contextualization

Author/Editor: Osman, Ghada

Year of publication: 2011

Keywords: Arabic; medieval Islam; translation movement; interpreting

Place of Publication & Publisher: The International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Volume 2011, Issue 207, Pages 107–125.

Publisher URL: http://www.reference-global.com/doi/abs/10.1515/IJSL.2011.005

ISBN/ISSN: ISSN (Online) 1613-3668, ISSN (Print) 0165-2516

Publication blurb:

Between the seventh and the eighth centuries, a remarkable linguistic phenomenon took place: the Arabic language, which in the early seventh century had been mainly the tongue of a few isolated tribes in Western Arabia, became the spoken and written language of a vast region that spanned from the Oxus River in the East to the Atlantic Ocean in the West. Virtually overnight, speakers of other languages had to become conversant and literate in Arabic in order to maintain their positions throughout the Arabic-speaking Muslim Empire. Throughout this dramatic transition, translation of foreign texts into Arabic and interpreting between Arabic and other languages such as Aramaic, Coptic, Greek, and Persian became of tantamount importance. Despite the scale and speed of these endeavors, they included some consistently common methodological components. This article uses medieval Arabic sources to explore the ways in which translation and interpreting were carried out in this context, analyzing the accepted methodology in its role as a reflection of the dominant sociolinguistic environment of the time. The final portion of the article discusses the relevance of this methodology and sociolinguistic environment with regard to questions within the field of Arabic translation and interpreting that are raised today.

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