|The Journey, by Fenwick Lawson. Image (cc) Kaihsu Tai.|
"In the multilingual world of medieval England, translation was a ubiquitous and important form of information transfer."
One common meaning of Middle English translate (and medieval Latin translatare) was ‘to move something (for example, the body of a saint) from one place to another’. But already, by the 1300s, the word was being used metaphorically to refer to the transfer of information from one language to another: the Northern Middle English poem Cursor Mundi (c 1300) explains (lines 232-236) that
þis ilk bok [is] translate
In to Inglis tong to rede
For the loue of Inglis lede,
Inglis lede of Ingland,
For the commun at understand.
‘This very book is translated into the English language for reading, for the love of English people, English people from England, for the common people to understand.’
In the multilingual world of medieval England, translation was a ubiquitous and important form of information transfer. But the meaning of ‘translation’ was broader in the Middle Ages than it is now; linguistic translation, like the translation of a saint, was a transfer of what was meaningful or valuable, not necessarily a correspondence of the textual elements in one language with the textual elements in another. An extraordinarily high number of medieval English texts are acts of translation. At one end of our time period, the earliest surviving extensive English texts are Latin-English glosses; at the other end, in the fifteenth century, many of the earliest books printed in England were William Caxton’s translations of French texts – a cloth merchant’s importation of fashionable literary goods from the Continent.
On the broader meaning of medieval translation, see
J. D. Burnley, ‘Late Medieval Translation: Types and Reflections,’ The Medieval Translator: The Theory and Practice of Translation in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1989) 37-53.
Bruce R. O’Brien, Reversing Babel: Translation among the English during an Age of Conquests, c. 800 to c. 1200 (Newark: U of Delaware P, 2011), especially 45-51.
Thanks to Lisa Vargo for the tip about the proposed translation of The Journey.