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Texts and Translators in Movement through Medieval Europe

Research project This project deals with translations of the XIIIth, XIVth and XVth centuries from Latin into the vernacular languages, considered as a specific movement in the history of translation.

This research examines the choices of the texts thus translated, their translators and their motives, the readers translators addressed and the patrons for whom they were working. It investigates in this way what translation meant in the middle ages, arguing that a history of medieval vernacular translations should first and foremost try to answer, besides the methods of translation these texts involved and the linguistic aspects they raised, the question why translators began to convey into vernacular the learned texts of the Latin tradition. This project adopts in this way a comparative approach and brings together translations from different linguistic traditions, comparing translation in different places and times throughout medieval Europe, from Toscana and Castile, to Norway, France, and England, using specifically translators’ reflections and comments on their works. This study of medieval vernacular translations brings thus new perspectives on the development of literacy and the vulgarization of ideas from and to different languages and publics, as it shows the importance of translators as mediators between communities; it offers, finally, new material for translation studies, challenging the very assumptions of our modern conception of translation.

Project overview

Project period:

2006-02-01 2008-01-31

Funding

Finansår , 2006, 2007

huvudman: Caroline Boucher, finansiar: Vetenskapsrådet, y2006: 608, y2007: 608,

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies

Project description

The middle ages were an age of translation which has seen the transmission of texts and ideas through different languages and publics. This project concerns one of these great movement of translation, that is, when the learned texts, up to then expressed in Latin, the language of the Church and the School, began to be rendered into the different vernacular languages, the language of the lays. This movement took place in the medieval Europe during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, seeing, despite many geographical variations, the spread of learning into Italian, Spanish, French, German, English, Scandinavian languages and so on, breaking away from the Latin tradition. These translations are neither insignificant nor to be taken as the first prolegomena of the future development of the modern languages ; at the opposite, they should be studied for the very cultural and intellectual movement they represent. Thus, this project regards these translations as a specific movement in the history of translation and examines the choices of the texts thus translated, their translators and their motives, the readers translators addressed and the patrons for whom they were working. It thus investigates what translation meant in the middle ages, arguing that a history of medieval vernacular translations should first and foremost try to answer, beyond the methods of translation these texts involved and the linguistic aspects they raised, the question why translators began to put into vernacular the learned texts of the Latin tradition. This perspective explains why this project brings together translations from different linguistic traditions and compares different contexts for translation in different places in medieval Europe, from Toscana, Castile, to Norway, France, and England, where the very same texts have been translated and introduced by similar arguments by their translators. This historical approach supposes thus to compare the different arguments for and against translations expressed by translators in their preface and comments to their work, and to examine the coherence of this movement of translation, from South to North, from the Roman (similar to Latin) to the Germanic languages. The study of these translations implies to look at the circumstances of production and transmission of these texts, emphasizing specific places and times within this movement where translation has been particularly significant. It involves also working on manuscripts (or editions of these) and this research will take into consideration the specificity of this medium, paying special attention to the dedication copies of translations to patrons, by whom translations could then been published, that is, be publicly known and copied further.
From texts to translators, readers and patrons, this project focuses on the logic of translation in the context of the late middle ages. However distant this movement may appear from today, it informs on many aspects of contemporary debates, to begin with the development of literacy and the vulgarization of knowledge. To translate, in the medieval opposition between Latin and vernacular languages, meant indeed to vulgarize the knowledge of the clerics in the language of the lays and disseminate learning beyond the circle of schools and universities. The history of medieval vernacular translation brings thus new perspectives on education and vulgarization of learning, as it shows the historical importance of translators as mediators between communities. Moreover, the work of the medieval translators and their reflections on it challenge many of the basic assumptions regarding our modern conception of translation; it will offer in this way interesting material for translation studies. This two-year project will prompt, throughout its course, the writing of specific scientific papers of interest to specialists in medieval studies but also, it is hoped, for translation scholars.