Friday 17th March 9:00—10:30, Session 2

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Overview of programme


Sociolinguistic Aspects of Translation


Seminarraum 2


Christopher Wright

Paper 1:

Translating in the Imperial Chancellery in Constantinople

Christian Gastgeber

Paper 2:

Source Text and Target Text – Author, Translator and Target Audience: 16th-Century Translators of Ottoman Documents at Work

Claudia Römer

A Presentation of the ERC Project

Transmission of Classical Scientific and Philosophical Literature from Greek into Syriac and Arabic

Grigory Kessel

Translating in the Imperial Chancellery in Constantinople

Christian Gastgeber

From linguistic point of view the „Auslandsschreiben“ (letters sent to addressees abroad) to the West of the imperial chancellery in Constantinople reveal many aspects of sociolinguistic translation problems. The chancellery started in Late Antiquity with Latin only, and then switched to Greek; the increasing problems of understanding a Greek text in the West (and resulting misleading translations that had to be provided by the addressees) caused the Byzantine chancellery to add a translation together with the original document, the text was then to be sent in Greek and Latin. Original letters are preserved since the time of Crusades. In a next step at the end of the 13th c. this correspondence was only conducted in Latin (obviously at least a draft version must have existed in Greek). However, this development was not accompanied by a general change of language use or knowledge in the chancellery or the capital, the chancellery remained a Greek coined institution and the usual lingua franca for the documents was Greek; the emperor hardly understood Latin as well. The use of Latin confronted the officials of the chancellery with the severe problem of linguistic competence and adequate rendering. The problem was partially solved by including Latins into the imperial chancellery, responsible for the Latin translation and writing; partially, e.g. in cases the Greek version was rhetorically elaborated, the translations are lowest level products, hardly understandable. On the other hand, the Latins in the chancellery introduced Latin use of chancellery idioms – e.g. the abstract words used for the emperor (e.g. serenitas nostra) – that did not correspond with the Greek text. We are confronted here with the interesting phenomenon that the chancellery did adapt its language (use) of such documents to exterior factors (presence of native speakers, effect on the addressees) and was by no means a rigid apparatus.

The paper will reflect on these linguistic translation problems and examine strategies of the chancellery in order to impress its addressees.

Source Text and Target Text – Author, Translator and Target Audience: 16th-Century Translators of Ottoman Documents at Work

Claudia Römer

Diplomatic relations between the Habsburg and the Ottoman Empires were to a great degree dependent upon the go-betweens, the “mediators” (Johanson et al. 2010), in our case the dragomans. Mostly they were renegades captured by the Ottomans, who after their conversion to Islam made a career as official dragomans of the Porte. Some kept up contact with their families and also frequently met groups of foreigners in Istanbul. Many of them knew several languages, comprising German, Italian, Greek, Hungarian, and Latin (Römer 2008). A different group are the translators used by the Habsburgs whose names often are not known, but whose translations are extant at the Vienna Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (HHStA).

Starting from a discussion current in Ottoman studies about the correspondence of the Ottoman concept of tercüme to the concept of ‘translation’ (Pistor-Hatam 1998, Hagen 2003), which in the translations and re-writings of Persian literature also covers the concept of ‘paraphrase’, I will analyse pairs of Ottoman original documents and their contemporary translations mainly from the HHStA. The aim of this paper is to see which differences between the source texts and the target texts simply reflect the translators’ poor linguistic ability and which can be explained within the theoretical framework of the skopos theory as brought forth by Nord 1997, which postulates the concepts of intention and function in translations. For translations of documents certainly imply a purpose of making the sender’s viewpoint clear to the addressee/target audience and at the same time adapting to the latter’s ideas of diplomatic politeness.

Selected bibliography:

Hagen, Gottfried (2003): Translations and Translators in a Multilingual Society: A Case Study of Persian-Ottoman Translations, Late 15th to Early 17th Century. In: Eurasian Studies II/1. 2003. 95-134.

Johanson et al. (2010): Lars Johanson, Éva Csató, Claudia Römer, Heidi Stein, Bernt Brendemoen: „Linguistic ecology in Istanbul in the 17th century. The evidence of transcription texts”, in: Paul J.J. Sinclair, Gullög Nordquist, Frands Herschend, Christian Isendahl (eds.): The Urban Mind. Cultural and Environmental Dynamics. Uppsala, 415-439.

Nord, Christiane (1997): Translating as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained. Manchester.

Pistor-Hatam, Anja (1998): The art of translation: rewriting Persian texts from the Seljuks to the Ottomans, Proceedings of the XIIth congress of CIEPO, Archív orientální, Supplementa VIII, Prague 1998, 305-316.

Römer, Claudia (2008): “Contemporary European translations of Ottoman documents and vice versa (15th-17th centuries)”, in: Dávid Géza (ed.), Festschrift Gyula Káldy-Nagy. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 61, 215-226.