Anthology of Arabic Discourse on Translation

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies has published Anthology of Arabic Discourse on Translation (680 pp.) by Tarek Shamma and Myriam Salama-Carr. The book comprises the texts that address translation by analysis and discussion of their various sources in Arab history, representing a comprehensive sample of translation theory in the Arabic language, from its earliest stages until the beginning of the twentieth century. This selection clarifies the impact of translational thought upon different intellectual, cultural, and political aspects of Arab societies throughout this period.

The general introduction discusses the study’s theoretical foundations, its results, and the most important trends in translation thought within the scope of the book, in addition to thorough commentaries from both authors on all the selected texts, placing them within their intellectual and historical contexts and relating them to contemporary theories of translation. Moreover, the book includes a broad statistical survey of the collection from which the anthology’s texts were chosen: a corpus comprising more than 500 texts of varying lengths that consider translation thought through various sources throughout Arab history. The work is an indispensable resource to scholars of translation studies, Arab-Islamic history, and Arabic language and literature, to say nothing of other fields such as Islamic jurisprudence, Christian theology, and the history of science.

Anthology of Arabic Discourse on Translation seeks to trace the discourse of translation in Arab history with the greatest possible degree of inclusivity. Based on several years of research, it examines Arabic historical texts that address, contemplate, or comment on translation—whether generally, as theory and praxis, or with regard to specific texts—and in any contexts in which such discussions have occurred, regardless of academic discipline, the author’s ethnic or racial background, or even the text’s geographical location. It then compiles these texts in their varying lengths within a single corpus (matn naṣṣī).

The scope of the study ranges from the earliest known periods through the end of World War I (1918), which the authors consider the end of the historical stage and the beginning of the modern era in the Arab world. This decision is based on the need to devise chronological boundaries for the period the book covers; they are undoubtedly artificial limits when delineated by specific dates, yet this is unavoidable in a study of this sort.

The choice of these dates in themselves is not rooted in a consensus within Arab historical studies as to the beginning of what we might call the modern era, as no such consensus exists to begin with, yet the authors do not necessarily consider this to be a fault in the discipline. Modernity is not a concept that is easily defined in any field of the humanities and social sciences, and it is a point of irreconcilable contention given the inevitable ideological and methodological variation among scholars. Therefore, the authors argue that the end of the Ottoman Empire and its considerable effects upon the Arab world, along with the concurrent denouement of World War I and the social and political changes across the world that followed—to say nothing of the war’s proximity to the start of the twentieth century and the end of the Nahḍa period—were all related elements that may serve to herald the arrival of the modern era in the Arab world. Perhaps not all scholars, given their varying priorities, will share this perspective, but the selection of specific dates is unavoidable: any of the available choices would have its limitations.

Anthology of Arabic Discourse on Translation offers a set of texts selected by the authors to serve as snapshots of this discourse throughout its various stages, attending to a diversity of themes and time periods and how they relate to the issues of the era under study and to contemporary research interests. Alongside the necessary historical and bibliographical information, Shamma and Salama-Carr accompany the texts of the anthology with commentaries that investigate the nature of translational thought in each text, while placing it in its historical context and illustrating, to the extent possible, its connection to contemporary theories of translation.

The authors divided the selections into two stages—heritage and renaissance-era—within which the texts are organised chronologically into chapters. Of course, in many cases it was impossible to determine the year in which a text was composed, especially for heritage texts; in these instances, the book uses the author’s year of death. In chapters that include several texts, the authors use the date of the first text or its author’s year of death.

Each chapter begins with an introduction with a brief biography of the author(s) and a general preface to the text, followed by the text itself, then commentary from one of the researchers. The original title of the text appears on the first page of the chapter (with the biography and introduction). However, the authors also saw fit to add another title that summarises the topics to be discussed and the gist of the commentary to the extent possible; these titles are given between parentheses.

In some cases, texts with similar topics and from the same historical period, not to mention texts by the same author, are placed together to benefit from the thematic approach. This was done at times out of necessity, as in the case of the first and second editions of the Jesuit translation of the Bible; there, the authors gave the section a general title, followed by a foreword for each text with its original title.

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