Events & News | Perso-Indica


8th-9th December 2016 - Conference
Centre for South Asian Studies, EHESS, Paris

The Fourth Perso-Indica Conference. Translation and the languages of Islam: Indo-Persian tarjuma in a comparative perspective

Translation and the languages of Islam: Indo-Persian tarjuma in a comparative perspective

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On the occasion of the 4th international conference of the Perso-Indica project (, we would like to consider our main object of research—the Persian translations and original works bearing on Indic cultures—in a wider perspective than has generally been the case. We aim to do so by comparing the Indo-Persian movement of translation that took place in the subcontinent from the 13th century onwards with other processes of translations operating primarily from and to non-Muslim languages (e.g. Greek, Syriac, Pehlevi, Sanskrit into Arabic, etc.; Arabic into Latin; Greek into Ottoman Turkish, etc.) and, secondarily, between different languages of Muslim societies (e. g. Arabic into Persian, Turkish, Malay, Sub-Saharan languages, etc.; Persian into Urdu, Turkish, Malay etc.). We therefore invite contributions bearing on such movements of translation in different regions of the Muslim world between the 7th and 19th centuries, and highlighting the ways in which each specific translation process articulated the relation between source, “bridge” and target languages.

Within this broad frame of comparison, we more specifically invite each contributor to provide elements of reflection on at least one of the following questions:

- Translated: what was the literary form (prose, poetry) of the original text and to what literary genre or tradition did it (or was it considered to) belong? Which field(s) of knowledge did it cover? How popular was it in the society and time in which it was written?

- Translator(s): who is translating? An individual: if so, is translation part of his everyday job, is he a professional cultural broker such as the well-known Ottoman dragomans? Is, on the contrary, translation an accident in his professional trajectory geared towards other activities, be they intellectual or not? Is the translator part of a group specialized in translation: does he, for instance, belong to a “bureau” of translation or to a family/lineage renowned for its multilingualism and its abilities as cultural go-between? Is the translator a collective and, if so, what do we know of the dynamics and tensions at work in the process of translation? More generally, what are the networks (social, intellectual, economic, religious, political) in which the translator participates? In paying particular attention to the identity (both individual and collective) of the agents of translation, the idea is here to sketch a contrasted socio-intellectual history of the translators active in the pre-colonial Muslim world.

- Patron(s) of translation: is the translation a personal initiative undertaken for personal reasons? Is the translation the result of a commission by an individual or an institution? If so, what do we know of the relation between the translator and his patron prior and after the translation? How was the translator selected and on what criteria? What, if any, were the material conditions (salary, linguistic training, library, etc.) provided by the patron for the realization of the translation? How much involved was the patron in the composition of the translation (e.g. checking its progress, editing passages, etc.) and on which aspects (if any) of the process did he intervene?

- Purpose(s) of translation: if every translation is as such a scholarly effort and may be said to partake in the long run in a general epistemic endeavor, the projects and processes of knowledge building in which many of them were framed need careful examination in order to uncover the function(s) assigned to the texts once they were translated and, by the same token, to understand the idiosyncrasies of each translation. In other words: why was a particular text selected for translation in a particular time and place and what was/were the (political, religious, social, scientific) role(s) assigned to the translated text by the translator and/or his patron? While the purposes of translations in the Muslim world were of course multiple, particular attention will be paid here to the ones that were commissioned as part of state- or empire-building and to those that were conceived in a missionary perspective of conversion/in a spirit of proselytism and even of conversion.

- Process and tool(s) of translation: unveiling the purpose(s) of translation is crucial in order to understand its process and the multiple transformations it entailed at the levels of literary form and genre, language and signification. Bringing the why into light will certainly help us better explain and circumscribe the how and ultimately allow us to lay out a number of correspondences between the purpose assigned to a translation and the methods used for its realization or the type of translation produced as a result. Closely connected to the question of process is the issue of the linguistic and philological instruments and resources available in the society in which the translator was active: what were the dictionaries, glossaries, grammars, etc. at hand when the translator started his work? Did he know of their existence? If so, did he use some of them and how?

- Audience, reception and circulation of translation: how was the translation received by its targeted audience, especially by its patron in the case of commissioned works? How widely did it circulate in contemporary Muslim societies and beyond, and through which specific networks? Did it become a “source” for later translations in other languages, especially in other languages of Islam and in European languages? Studying the afterlife of such translations in both the Muslim world and Europe is crucial to put in perspective and in dialogue the Orientalist traditions they respectively built. In this respect, a particular important question is the appropriation by Western scholarship of translations composed in an Islamicate context: how were these translations understood by European intellectuals and colonial administrators and what was the role (and visibility) of such translations in the latter’s knowledge-building on the society to which the “Ur-text” belonged or on the language in which it was originally written?

Location and info

Venue: CEIAS (Centre for South Asian Studies, EHESS-CNRS), 190 avenue de France, 75013 Paris.

Scientific coordination: Corinne Lefèvre (CNRS, & Fabrizio Speziale (University Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3,