Translation: A historical perspective [Archives:2006/994/Education]

October 30 2006

Moneer Al-Omari
[email protected]

It is difficult to give a certain date for the beginning of translation, but it could be said that it came into being with the existence of peoples and societies speaking different languages. The early form of translation was interpretation.

The first traces of translation date back to 3000 BC, during the Egyptian Kingdom, where inscriptions in two languages have been found.

In the west, translation became significant in 300 BC, the time during which Romans took over many elements of Greek culture, including the whole religious system.

Arabic culture started to bloom with the coming up of Islam. Islamic conquests made Arab people and Muslims come into contact with different cultures, among which were Persian and Indian cultures in the east and Roman and Greek cultures west wise.

Arabs and Muslims benefited a lot out of these contacts as they came to know about different cultures, slightly more developed and civilized. Muslims were not confined to reading others' scientific and philosophical books only, they added to them and also participated in them significantly. With these contacts, translation started to flourish, though it was basically confined to individual attempts.

Translation, as a profession flourished during the Abbasids Caliphate, particularly under the reign of the Caliphate Al-Mammon who set up Dar Al-Hikma. This school of translation was headed by Hunain bin Isaac and it graduated a lot of translators and brought out a lot of Greek scientific, medical and philosophical classics.

Translators were doing their job in accordance with their interests, and they were handsomely paid. Hunain excelled in translating medical books although his translation was more or less literal, while others excelled in translating scientific or philosophical books. Under the auspices of Caliphates and supervision of Dar Al-Hikma, most Greek classics, whether scientific, philosophical or medical, had been translated into Arabic.

In the 12th century, the west came into close contact with Arabic culture in the Moorish Spain. At that time, the west was socially and culturally inferior to Arabic and Islamic culture, yet it was scientifically acquisitive and receptive to new things and ideas.

With the collapse of the Islamic state in Spain in 1492, the Teldo School of Translation translated Arabic books and Arabic versions of Greek scientific, medical and philosophical classics. Most of these books were reference material for hundreds of years.

Translation, over ages, has been an important science. It contributed and still contributes to the advancement of nations. Translation is more important in the present age, the age of globalization and new technology. We should pay more attention to translation to catch up with trains of advancement and development; otherwise we will lag behind other nations and people.