The three major world regions that used translations extensively during the Middle Ages were Asia, the Middle East, and Europe – all active trading regions that were expanding and consolidating at the time. All three practiced loose, rather than tight, word-for-word translations, preserving the meaning of a text and the intent behind it. Each also focused on a different field of translation at first. Here are the major topics the three regions were most interested in.
China was the main country in Asia that translated texts in the early days. They were interested in extending their influence throughout the region, so translated all of their major religious texts (mainly Buddhist ) into the languages of the countries around them. This way their own religious beliefs and practices infiltrated the practices of neighbors, making them easier to influence. Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean languages each borrowed numerous words and phrases from these translations to add to their own languages. China also loaned written characters to the other languages, especially Japanese.
In the Islamic world politics was most important in the early days, as caliphs worked together to consolidate the Arabian peninsula. Arabic translations rendered diplomatic documents from Persian, Greek, Chinese, and Indian texts into their own Arabic language, storing them at the new Islamic learning centers. These subsequently grew into some of the most advanced educational centers in the world. Arab language experts also translated Middle Eastern scientific, astronomical, and mathematical achievements into other languages for the benefit of foreign scholars attending their popular learning centers.
European countries were interested primarily in exchanging cultural texts. They saw translation as an art form that enabled conversations between countries. Language experts translated philosophical and cultural treatises into and from each other’s languages, enabling long-lasting written “conversations” between philosophers and artists from neighboring countries that could be read by anyone who understood one of the languages. This included translations of the Hebrew Bible, which had a huge effect on the spiritual and musical development of European culture.
In this day and age translations cover more than 150 languages and extend throughout the world. Nearly every country is translating texts from other languages into its own and vice versa. If you have a particular translation job that you would like help with, be sure to let us know. We have expert translators for nearly any language you could want.