Translation in History

  • Nicholas Ostler


Ancient civilizations’ lack of interest in others’ languages largely entailed use of single metropolitan languages as a lingua franca. Encoding translations might be employed to broadcast a message beyond the lingua franca’s range. Decoding translations, on the other hand, were more significant, in giving access to bodies of foreign learning: three significant such programmes were those into Chinese, Arabic and Latin. There was also a widespread thrust for various vernacular translations at the time of the European Reformation. Such programmes have often been motivated implicitly by a need to stamp texts of foreign origin with local authority. After the conquest of Mexico which followed close on the invention of vernacular grammar, encoding translations of scripture for proselytism were supplemented with theoretically-based processes of language learning. Translation, overall, has been an alternative strategy to using a lingua franca, for overcoming language barriers, and one that may connote more respect for individual languages.


Twelfth Century Bilingual Dictionary Roman Empire American Language Buddhist Scripture 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas Ostler
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Foundation for Endangered LanguagesBathEngland, UK
  2. 2.School of Oriental and African StudiesLondonEngland, UK

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