Due to Western colonialism and cultural dominance in recent centuries, Western translation traditions have largely replaced other traditions. The Western traditions draw on both ancient and medieval traditions, and on more recent European innovations.
Though earlier approaches to translation are less commonly used today, they retain importance when dealing with their products, as when historians view ancient or medieval records to piece together events which took place in non-Western or pre-Western environments. Also, though heavily influenced by Western traditions and practiced by translators taught in Western-style educational systems, Chinese and related translation traditions retain some theories and philosophies unique to the Chinese tradition.
Ancient Near East
The traditions of translating material among Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Syriac, Anatolian and Hebrew go back several millennia. An early example of a bilingual document is the 1274 BCE Treaty of Kadesh.
Diamond Sutra, translated by Kumārajīva
There is a separate tradition of translation in South, Southeast and East Asia (primarily of texts from the Indian and Chinese civilizations), especially connected with the rendering of religious — particularly Buddhist — texts and with the governance of the Chinese empire. Classical Indian translation is characterized by loose adaptation, rather than the closer translation more commonly found in Europe, and Chinese translation theory identifies various criteria and limitations in translation.
In the East Asian sphere of Chinese cultural influence, more important than translation per se has been the use and reading of Chinese texts, which also had substantial influence on the Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese languages, with substantial borrowings of vocabulary and writing system. Notable is the Japanese Kanbun, a system for glossing Chinese texts for Japanese speakers.
Though Indianized states in Southeast Asia often translated Sanksrit material into the local languages, the literate elites and scribes more commonly used Sanskrit as their primary language of culture and government.
Translation of material into Arabic expanded after the creation of Arabic script in the 5th century, and gained great importance with the rise of Islam and Islamic empires. Arab translation initially focused primarily on politics, rendering Persian, Greek, even Chinese and Indic diplomatic materials into Arabic. It later focused on translating classical Greek and Persian works, as well as some Chinese and Indian texts, into Arabic for scholarly study at major Islamic learning centers, such as the Al-Karaouine, Al-Azhar and Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad. In terms of theory, Arabic translation drew heavily on earlier Near Eastern traditions as well as more contemporary Greek and Persian traditions.
Arabic translation efforts and techniques are important to Western translation traditions due to centuries of close contacts and exchanges. Especially after the Renaissance, Europeans began more intensive study of Arabic and Persian translations of classical works as well as scientific and philosophical works of Arab and oriental origins. Arabic and, to a lesser degree, Persian became important sources of material and perhaps of techniques for revitalized Western traditions, which in time would overtake the Islamic and oriental traditions.
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