ACRPS's Beirut office held a two-day symposium, "Translation in the Arab World and Opportunities for the Development of the Arabic Language," on May 17 and 18, with more than 60 translators and academics from a variety of disciplines in attendance. Dr. Wajih Kawtharani, head of the Beirut office, delivered the opening speech by introducing the ACRPS, describing it as an Arab research institute committed to the social sciences and humanities, and reiterating its focus on the theoretical and the applied. Kawtharani then moved on to describe the Center's key activities and achievements to date, which
include the publishing of 45 books, 20 additional books currently under review, three peer-reviewed journals-Omran, Tabayyun and Siyasat Arabia-and an active translation department. Kawtharani also mentioned ACRPS' annual award of three prizes for Arab researchers, aiming to promote premium scholarship in the social sciences and humanities. He concluded with a reference to the current two large-scale projects being undertaken by ACRPS: the Doha Historical Dictionary of the Arabic Language, and the establishment of an Institute of Graduate Studies with dedicated faculties in the Social Sciences, Public Administration and a School of Advanced Research.
Dr. Fayez Suyyagh, coordinator of Tarjuman, proceeded with an introduction to the ACRPS translation unit responsible for translating foreign language academic books into Arabic. Defining the aim of these efforts as the inspiration of Arabic academic thought, Suyyagh also explained that this unit is not in competition with other institutions; rather, it was created as a tool that would serve the interests of Arab culture. Dr. Suyyagh pointed out Tarjuman's current efforts in translating the writings of German anthropologists, travelers, and missionaries, specifically those who worked in Palestine.
Bassam Baraka, General Secretary of the Arab Translators' Union, then spoke briefly on the Union's efforts toward monitoring the translation of books into Arabic between 2000 and 2009, an undertaking they look forward to continuing. Baraka also announced the Union's plans to hold training courses for translators in Cairo and Beirut.
Session One: Translation and the Advancement of Arabic Lexicons
Dr. Altaher Labib chaired the first session entitled "Translation and its Role in the Development of Arabic Lexicons". Labib expressed the role of translation "not [as] transferring from one language to another, but from one culture to another". Following Labib, Dr. Abdullatif Obaid, President of the Arab Translators' Union, discussed his paper, "The Impact of Translation on the Arabic language: Enrichment and debasement". He gave a historical overview of efforts related to translation into Arabic, beginning with the Abbasid era of translation, which he described as "one of the greatest efforts of ancient history". Obaid then spoke of the role Egyptians and Lebanese translators played in the Arabic Nahda from the late-18th to late-19th centuries, and described how translation contributed to the clearer formulation of technical terminology in the Arabic language, though this is difficult in the fields of medicine and chemistry. The efforts of Arab translators, however, transformed the Arabic language from one of literature and religion to one of science. It was indeed through a process of trial and error that these translators were able to find the right Arabic words which matched the intended meanings.
Obaid singled out Mohammed Ali's rule in Egypt and the foundation of the American University of Beirut as moments in time that witnessed a blossoming in translation. According to the speaker, translation in Lebanon from both English and French into Arabic created a revolution in terms of the wealth it contributed to terminology and to lexicography. However, translations carried out since the mid-20th century were held back by the unregulated use of terminology, and lacked a common standard and coordination that could unify the efforts. He closed his discussion by singling out the 2009 World Health Organization's Unified Medical Dictionary as an exception to this, as it displayed uniformity of work.
Dr. Nader Sarraj presented his paper "Duality of Concepts in Translation into Arabic: The case of the Barthelemy Dictionary". This dictionary was compiled by Adrien Barthelemy, one of the leading French Orientalists of the first half of the 20th century who carried out field work in Aleppo, Damascus, Lebanon, and Jerusalem. The value of such an approach, said Sarraj, was that it took in the plethora of spoken Arabic dialects. According to Sarraj, "to limit translation to technical jargon and the sciences, ignoring the way phrases are used in the living, spoken languages, is to kill the spirit of translation." In contrast, Sarraj called on others to "respect the linguistic tastes" of the people who speak a language.
Anouar al-Jamaoui presented a paper titled "A Translator's Queries on the Chosen Meaning of a Technical Term". According to al-Jamaoui, "technical terms provide the key to all academic disciplines, and [their correct usage] aims to enable the translator and researcher within their own realm of knowledge". Speaking on the difficulties translators face in the standardization of translation mechanisms, he gave the specific example of how one refers to a mobile telephone in Arabic-khalawi or "cellular," naqqal or "mobile," or jawal, a third Arabic term which literally means "roving". He likened the environment in which translators work as a "terminological vacuum".
Following this, Dr. Antoine Sief discussed the particular challenges faced when translation happens from one language family to another. Pointing out that the first translations into Arabic were carried out by Assyrian speakers, not Arabs, he claimed that the use of styles from another Semitic language remedied some of the difficulties which would otherwise have been faced when translating into Arabic. He then began referencing specific works, including Al Fihrist, a bibliography by a 10th century Baghdad scholar Ibn Al Nadim that compiled a list of the works in all known languages at the time. The speaker pointed out that Ibn Al Nadim's work was, in fact, completed a quarter of a century after the Golden Age of Arabic translation. He also noted the work of Suhail Afnan, a translator of Iranian origin who examined the translation of philosophical terms into Arabic and Farsi and the development of those phrases. Sief criticized the popular narrative that dialects of Arabic were "incorrect forms" of the language. Such a view, contended Sief, was not founded on sound theory; dialects of Arabic, he said, would always remain in place. No "classical" language ever remained pure in any civilization, with the only exception being liturgical language. The final work he referenced was Almagest. Its Arabic translation is the only surviving reference to Ptolemy's work on the motion of celestial bodies; however, without a single, comprehensive reference on the source of Arabic technical terms in mathematics, there is no way of finding out where the word "Algebra" came from.
Jordanian novelist Afaf Batayna expressed confusion regarding the alleged "threats to the Arabic language coming from spoken dialects". According to her, those spoken dialects formed a part of the Arabic language, further making the point that "the diversity of linguistic forms can be put to use in specific contexts-whether in the media, or in symposia or others-in fact, even within a single context, there can be a diversity of meanings for a single phrase."
Session Two: Advanced Languages and Their Present Day Adaptations
Mohammed Dibs chaired the second session during which Dr. Rima Baraka presented her paper "On the Translation of Technical Terms and its Influence on the Arabic Language and Scientific Research". Baraka expressed the view that "advanced languages are those that adapt to their times and new discoveries," and explained the meaning of the word "terminology," as spelled out by the Austrian terminologist Eugene Wuester in 1930. According to Wuester's distinctions, "a technical term is one that carries specialist knowledge, while a ‘word' is one which belongs to everyday speech". According to Baraka, the use of technical terms held out the possibility of social change, with the US being a world leader in the global technological and scientific revolution, as well as the culture and arts. The lack of equivalent translations for technical terms, she said, is a problem "not only for the Arabic language, but for the world's languages as a whole." Baraka then suggested that a solution could be found by "finding means to come up with [Arabic] technical terms, and fast, as a means of protecting the Arabic language".
Dr. Ali Najeeb Ibrahim presented a paper titled "The Development of the Arabic Language in Parallel with Contact between the Arab ‘Self' and the ‘Other'," claiming that "the Arabic language suffers from a number of difficulties; the [Arabic language] will only develop through contact with other [languages]". According to Ibrahim, the use of textual analysis would provide a way for the standards used in translation to achieve a theoretical grounding, allowing the Arabic language to adapt to the present day, harmonizing nomenclature and expression in Arabic. Doing such, said Ibrahim, would make the Arabic language "a language of literature and of science, as well as one of education".
Jordanian Nashaat Hamarneh spoke next, posing the question: "Did the Arabic language evolve as a result of translation, or because of the admixture between the Arabs and Persians, Assyrians and others?" He claimed that the Age of Translation (in Abbasid-era Baghdad) needed reexamination, further stressing the civilizational role played by the Assyrians in the field of translation into Arabic in terms of easing the obstacles translators faced in Abbasid Caliph al-Mamoun's court. Hamarneh also spoke of a specifically Abbasid role in bringing together two Eastern Christian cultures, claiming that without Islam, Coptic Christianity would have diverged from what would have been an Assyrian civilization. It was Islam, he said, that kept these two within the same civilization. Hamarneh disagreed with Antoine Sief that Ibn Al Nadim's Al Fihrist was the oldest surviving reference work of its kind, suggesting that such a view was born of Orientalist delusions. Instead, he said that merit ought to be given to a book written by the Abbasid scholar Hunayn Bin Ishaak. In closing his discussion, Hamarneh was pessimistic about the possibility of an institution that would protect the Arabic language; according to him, there is an undeclared political will to undermine the Arabic language.
Session Three: Translation and Digital Technology
Sabri al-Jamaoui was the first speaker to address this session, which was chaired by Elizabeth Longis, presenting her paper, "Machine Translation to and from Arabic: What does the future hold?". Al-Jamaoui criticized the lack of Arab contributions to this specific field of research, suggesting that more resources could be contributed to promoting efforts in machine translation. The speaker also made reference to a number of specific translation websites, including Google Translate, noting that translations differed across the various sites, containing a number of inconsistencies.
Dr. Adel al-Zaim spoke on his paper "Language of Social Media Networks: The struggle between renewal and hesitancy". Citing examples of words that are available to Facebook users in Arabic translation, al-Zaim hoped that "a means to finding new and appropriate terms would be found". Ghassan Mourad, meanwhile, put forward the view that, by creating a common language, modern technologies made the Arab Spring possible. He described the numerous machine translation websites, such as Google Translate, as examples of "collective intelligence". He also pointed out how machine translation could resolve a number of difficulties related to translation more generally, such as situations that require the translation of numerous documents. Mourad then went on to reference a number of specific problems faced by machine translation regarding Arabic. In the same vein, Dr. al-Zaim emphasized the internet's "collective intelligence" role in the use of Google Translate, with millions of people using the website every day for instantaneous translations in parallel with a significant improvement of the translation site's quality.
Dr. Mahdi Arrar, however, claimed that so long as computers lack "political memory," translation would remain problematic. He clarified how Google Translate provided translations of literally millions of texts, none of which are regulated by any kind of grammatical rules. The Misbar website is an alternative, and the speaker noted that it relies on a set of grammatical rules but only offers a partial meaning. Sabri al-Jamaoui, meanwhile, believes that human translators provided computers with the information, and not the other way around. Any benefits gained from machine translation, he said, relied on the expending of a great amount of effort. He affirmed, however, that the Arabic language was in need of development not only with regards to computation, but in other fields as well.
Al-Jamaoui further stressed that the Arabic language must meet the needs of machine translation, pointing out the importance for linguists and computational scientists to coordinate their efforts. Suggesting that measuring quality is a "relative question," al-Jamaoui expressed optimism for the future of machine translation. Responding to similar interventions from the participants, al-Zaim held that technology's ability to enhance a translator's role is contingent on the mastery of such technology.
Dr. Marlene Nasr, an ACRPS Researcher, expressed the desire that translation be incorporated into specializations at university level.
Dr. Kamal Abdelfattah chaired the opening session on the second day, entitled "The Impact of Translation on the Development of the Arabic Language". Dr. Hassan Hamzeh, from Universite Lyon 2, presented the first paper, "Translating into Arabic Leading toward Development and Cross-fertilization". According to Hamzeh, modernist translations gave rise to a plethora of new phrases that enriched the Arabic language, but such richness, said the speaker, reflected an unregulated use of terminology.
The lack of a unitary political or academic authority with influence across the Arab world is the underlying factor behind the challenges in determining and fixing terminology in the Arabic language, claimed Hamzeh. According to him, the practice of borrowing from other languages is a sign of the "vitality" of Arabic and enriches the language since "only dead languages do not borrow words from other languages." Hamzeh quoted Mohammed Sharaf, lamenting the quality of translations into Arabic at the outset of the 20th century by saying "it should not surprise anybody that it is easier for students to read in European languages rather than understand a book that is poorly translated." Hamzeh concluded by stating that "translation is more than taking a term from one language to another language; rather, the aim of translation is to carry over the essence of the message contained in the source text".
Mahdi Arrar from Palestine's Birzeit University talked about his paper, "How the Forecasting of the Development of Meaning Influences Translation," noting how "linguistic development is underway, something which is made clear at a number of levels: vocal, grammatical, lexicographical, and stylistic". Arrar spoke of a "clear laxity in Arabic dictionaries, with many Arabic phrases having become subject to the contagion of development".
Following Arrar, Dr. Saleh Musbah from the University of Tunis, presented his paper on "Translation and the Renewal of Arabic Philosophy". He talked about how translation into Arabic today was faring no better than Arabic philosophy, thus presenting Arabs with a dual problem. Taking a slightly different approach from other speakers at the event, he referred to three separate phases of modern Arabic translation. The first of these is the shift toward modernization that existed up until the First World War; secondly, "resistance translation"-a movement that lived on until the 1970s that aimed to emancipate the Arabic language from colonialism; and, thirdly, present-day translation, which seeks to contribute to an as-yet stalled modernization that is part of the battle to recognize cultural diversity. In closing his statement, Musbah placed translation within the wider "Arabic Linguistic Question," with translation becoming a "real component" of broader fields of knowledge.
Following the presentations, Dr. Antoine Seif took the initiative of starting the discussions for the second day's opening session, suggesting that Arrar should have made reference to two well-known concepts in modern literary theory: "synchronic" and "diachronic". Seif used the concept of diachronic to describe the etymology of the Arabic word dababa. While in contemporary vernacular it has come to mean "tank" (as in the military vehicle), the word itself had its roots in the pre-Islamic past of Arabic. A further example he gave was fitna, which Mohammed Arakon translated as "paradoxal," yet fitna has also come to mean "killing". According to Seif, the fact that speakers of the language have long since stopped using the original meanings, one's ability to understand old vernacular now seems "more complicated than understanding Chinese".
Chaired by Dr. Inaam Bayyoud, the symposium's fifth session started with a presentation by Dr. Abdulaziz Labib from Tunisia. Labib addressed the question of French Artifacts in Arabic while Bayyoud stressed that translation could not be defined purely as a matter of interpretative effort, whether by a group or an individual. Rather, said Bayyoud, translation formed part of a wider environment of knowledge that superseded individual interpretation.
Bayyoud was followed by Dr. Khaled Abu Hudaib from Palestine who presented his paper "The Impact of Translation on the Development of the Arabic Language," in which he investigates the obstacles that stood in the way of efforts at translation. Bayyoud further made the prediction that so long as the Arab nation was rife with tyranny, backwardness, and despair, it would remain a "vessel lagging behind Western civilization". Shahda Fari, from the UAE's University of Sharjah, delivered his paper "The Role of Translation in the Development of the Arabic Language". He spoke of the various positive and negative impacts that translation has had on the Arabic language, particularly in terms of new phrases created by the media. Fari also dismissed the assertion that the Arabic language is incapable of advancing, stating that people who promote this idea are ignorant of the Arabic language's ability to innovate new words and syntax, and assimilate new words compatible with modern sciences.
The discussions that followed the session concentrated on the dangers facing the Arabic language. During these discussions, Anouar al-Jamaoui spoke out against the idea that foreign languages posed risks for the Arabic language, adding: "The world is now witness to competition between cultures and languages; the blame does not lie with foreign languages, but with the Arabs. One must always ask, ‘what have the Arabs contributed to their own language'?"
Session Six: Translation in Higher Education - Role and Reality
Dr. George Katoura chaired the sixth session, which opened with Tabayyun's Editor in Chief Dr. Thaer Deeb. Deeb provided an overview of scientific translation since the rule of Mohammed Ali in Egypt, describing the situation as one of "continuous decline". He also pointed out that the contribution of Arabic works to the world scientific corpus was "miniscule".
Next, Jordanian novelist Afaf al-Batayneh talked about how to deal with the various noun forms found in source language texts. Al-Batayneh commented on the absence of a "unified Arabic system on the [transliteration] of proper nouns," and suggested the creation of a single table for the transliteration of letters and sounds between Arabic and other languages and setting standards for transliteration, which institutions would have to abide by.
During discussions that followed this session, Abdullatif Obaid responded to Deeb's claim that Mohammed Ali's building of schools and encouragement of translation was driven purely by military considerations, stating that Ali's aim was to declare independence from the Sublime Porte, the central government of the Ottoman Empire, adding that the agricultural colleges he formed benefited Egypt.
Obaid further took issue with the claim that Mohammed Ali's era was not concerned with philosophy, pointing out the work of Rifa Rafi al-Tahtawi, whose writings took in theatre, print media, representative democracy, the city, and the separation of powers. He added that, by ending the practice of instruction of the natural sciences in Arabic, it was actually colonialism that halted the natural progress of the Arabic language.
Responding to Batayneh's suggestion of standardizing the transliteration of foreign proper nouns, Baraka said that "even supposing that we could all unify the system of transliterating proper nouns, putting a single table in place for that, which authority could possibly enforce that system? We do not live in the reign of Francoise, who imposed the Parisian dialect on his feudal subjects."
Session Seven: A Conclusion
The final session was chaired by Mirvat Abu Khalil, Head of the ACRPS Translation Department. Dr. Nashaat Hamarneh, from Damascus University, discussed the case of translation in higher education in Syrian universities. Hamarneh pointed out that the translation of medical knowledge into Arabic within Syrian universities led to a rise in the number of institutions dedicated to the translation of medical reference books. These institutions are "evidence that scientists had been persuaded" of the rightfulness of translation. He held the view that there was a difference between translation in the natural sciences and translations in literature. The speaker concluded with a reference to the WHO Unified Medical Dictionary, a work also cited by Obaid on the first day of the symposium. This dictionary, he said, "put paid to the claims" that the Arabic language lacks technical terms. Kamal Abdelfattah also pointed to European travel literature on the Arab Levant, and how these were translated into Arabic. He was followed by Jordan's Philadelphia University Dr. Saleh Khalil Abu Isba whose paper "Translation as a Vehicle of Academic and Intellectual Communication and Exchange between the Arabs and Others" described how translation could be used to challenge stereotypes between cultures.
Bashir Khadra addressed the final open discussion, questioning whether Damascus University, with its unique approach to teaching medicine and the natural sciences in Arabic, regularly updated its books. A similar point was made by Abdullatif Obaid, who asked if there was a concomitant production of scientific knowledge in Syrian universities, including not only translations but also original work. Haitham al-Nahi used South Korea and Japan as examples to demonstrate how the development of the Arabic language would be impossible without the translation of the sciences into Arabic.