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The Qur'an Translation issues. How its transaltion developed since middle ages.



Western Qiristendom's contacts with the Muslim world during the Middle Ages left an unmistakable mark on the vocabulary of medieval Latin (ML). The main reason for the phenomenon was, of course, the transmission of Muslim scientific, medical and philosophical literature to the West by scholars dedicated to the translation of Arabic texts.1 In the tenth and eleventh centuries certain texts on astronomy and probably on mensuration and mathematics were translated in Spain-at that period the principal area of Christian-Muslim contact.3 In the eleventh century the medical translations of Constantinus Africanus appeared in southern Italy, and then around 1150 the first philosophical works were made available by Dominicus Gundisalvi, a leading light of the Toledan school. By the end of the twelfth century a wide range of scientific and philosophical treatises had been translated in Spain, and it is with these works that the names of Gundisalvi, Gerard of Cremona and Plato of Tivoli are especially associated. Among the Toledan translators were to be found two Englishmen, Adelard of Bath and Robert of Chester, and in the thirteenth century it is Michael Scot who attracts our attention. From this time onwards work on Arabic texts continued until almost all material felt to be worth while had been done into Latin, either in Spain or elsewhere.3 Not all technical terms encountered by the translators were rendered into ML, and indeed some were not even translatable. Accordingly they were merely transcribed. When the question of transcription arose, however, the translator could be faced with a problem: if the word was corrupt, badly written or lacking diacritical points (see below, pp. 3 3 ff.), he had to fall back on his own judgement. Now, although in the vast majority of cases his judgement was obviously sound, his guess could, on occasion, be less than inspired and at worst even result in perplexing balderdash (see in the word-list below s.w. arisbot, baro, btrile, etc). Nor is that all. Words correctly transcribed by the trans1 On this subject see in particular D. M. Dunlop, Arabie Science in the West, Pakistan Hist. Soc PubL 35 (Karachi, 1965). See also Cambridgi History of Islam (CU.P., 1970), n, 851-8. * Dunlop, op. cit. p. 36. Ibid. 30


lator could be distorted out of all recognition by one copyist and then by a succession of others. Confronted with unfamiliar terms and a ML script in which certain letters were frequently indistinguishable from one another - to say nothing of the snares inherent in a system permitting contractions and suspensions a scribe could transform a simple word like alkibrit (below s.v.) into albubit, algibub, alkybric or some other conundrum. Finally, when the printing-press made its appearance, another potential source of error was introduced; for, not only were certain letters so similar as to be confused by the typesetter, but there was, as there still is, the danger of straightforward printing errors. From the foregoing observations it will be clear why my fellow members of the British Academy's Medieval Latin Dictionary Committee1 have encouraged me to publish a paper which will answer many, if not alL of the questions that are bound to arise in the minds of those interested in the etymologies of ML words of known or suspected Arabic origin. In the following pages, then, I shall firstly elaborate some of the points I have already touched upon. (I must, however, stress that my researches into the complexities of the whole subject of Arabic into ML are not yet sufficiently advanced to enable me to accord some topics the full systematic treatment they require and to formulate certain orthographic and philological principles which, when established on more solid foundations than I can as yet provide, will lighten the labours of future workers in the field. My observations should therefore be regarded merely as introductory notes to a study still in progress.) Secondly, I shall list the lemmata for fascicules A and B as supplied by the editor of the dictionary and present my pronouncements on actual or possible etymologies.

(a) Palaeojtfapbic errors in tbe Arabic. As is well known, the rise of Muslim science and philosophy began with the translation and study of works inherited from earlier cultures. SinceThe dictionary, rrtitcd by my norr)falrit R. E. T.atViam^ forma part of an international project, the history of which is mmnnriwH in J. PL Baxter and C Johnson, in Medieval Latin Word-List (O.U.P., 1934) and R. E. Tatham, Revised MLWL (O.U.P., 1965), and treated more folly in Sir Mortimer Wheeler's Tbe British Atademj 1949-1968 (O.U.P. for the Academy, 1970). The work is based on British sources (in the widest sense) and covers the period 6th-i6th cent.311


Alexander's time eastern Hellenism in particular had exerted a profound influence on all the civilized lands ofthe Near East, and it was from this cultural substratum that the scientific movement which developed rapidly under the auspices of the Abbasids during the ninth century derived its vital spirit.1 From its inception the movement was closely associated with Gondeshapur (Jundaysabur), a cosmopolitan centre of scientific and philosophical learning established by the Byzantine Nestorians in Sasanid Persia.2 Though nowadays marked only by the ruins of Shahabad in south-west Iran, Gondeshapur in the heyday of the Abbasid caliphate was a major source from which the accumulated teachings of Alexandria and Antioch, Edessa and Nisibis flowed into Baghdad. Greek works were translated into Syriac and into Arabic from the Syriac or the original Greek. By comparison with Greek, Syriac or Persian, Arabic was not, at this stage of its history, the most suitable medium for translations of scientific literature since it did not possess a ready-made technical vocabulary. Scientific terminology presented problems in most fields, but nowhere were they more abundant and acute than in the domain of materia medka, where the lexical problem was complicated by the fact that botanical species vary even in different parts of the Mediterranean basin, let alone other parts of the world. To deal with the difficulty of nomenclature for which they could or would not find Arabic synonyms, scholars adopted three solutions: either they left the foreign term as it was, merely spelling it out in Arabic characters (with or without explanation), or they rendered it by a Persian synonym (or what they took to be such), or, if they knew the literal meaning of the term and found it readily translatable, they produced a caique in Arabic (e.g. Ai0og OEAT|V{TT|S aJ-bajar al-qamart, povryAcoccrov lisdn atb-tbaar, which are direct translations).3i On the Hellenic and T"'qn Neat East and the general background to the translation movement see F. E. Peters, Aristotlt and the Arabs (New York U.P.-London U.P., 1968), pp. 33-68. For general views of science and medicine in Islam see Cambridg History of Islam, n, 741-79; D. M. Donlop, Arab Civilisation to A.D. IJOO (London-Beirut, 1971), pp. 204-30;S. H. Nasr, Scienet and Civilisation in Islam (Harvard U.P., 1968).

. * SeeEP, n, i i ^ f c On the transcription of Greek terms in Arabic characters see Dubler, Diose. n, xvii-lvii. On Dioscorides, whose itipl OXTR IctTpnrffc was first translated from Greek into Syriac before passing into Arabic, see EP, n 349 Hunayn b. Ishiq (on whom see EP, m, 5 78 ff.) and his school avoided transcription where possible and thus laid the foundations of an Arabic scientific and technical vocabulary.



It almost goes without saying that, in the hands of scribes unfamiliar with Greek and Persian, borrowings from these tongues ran a much higher risk of distortion than caiques. Moreover, nothing was more calculated to compound the risk than the Arabic script, the evolution and nature of which is perhaps best described for the general reader by Professor A. F. L. Beeston. Having noted the appearance of Arabic script proper in the early seventh century, this author continues:Sporadic attempts were nude.. .to resolve the multiple ambiguities of the letter values by the use.. .of dots.. .In this way an alphabet of twenty-eight letters developed, of which only six would be unambiguous if the device of dotting had not been adopted. These dots, although thus an integral part of the letter, remained somewhat sporadically used in early and medieval times. It was not until the eighth century.. .that a system was developed . . .by which short vowels were marked by symbols placed above or below the consonant which they follow in speech; other symbols placed above the letter marked the absence of a following vowel, and length of a consonant. But these marks never came into general use.. .*

In circumstances such as those described there was clearly ample scope for scribal errors. The dots, or diacritical points, could be omitted, misplaced or displaced, and they could even be generated by spots of ink accidentally dropped from a pen. Given a sound consonantal ductus, the omission of points may seem preferable to the provision of erroneous ones, but at some stage in the transmission of an important text the question of supplying points was bound to arise, and indeed the matter of points, together with that of vowels, just could not be avoided when it came to translation from Arabic into ML. When the problem was in fact faced, the solution provided could be wide of the mark, as is most strikingly illustrated in the emergence oftdr.qd(Gt. vdpiai) as berile in ML. To add to the confusion, the diacritics of/ and q were not the same in the Muslim West as in the East: in Muslim Spain, for instance, the scribe would mark his / with one dot below the letter and his q with one above, whereas his counterpart in t

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