Interpreters in Xuanzang's pilgrimage in seventh-century Asia

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Journal article

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history of interpreting, Xuanzang's interpreters, first millenium interpretin, Central Asian interpreters, interpreting assistance of the steppe tradition


The documented achievements of Xuanzang (600―664), a seventh-century Buddhist pilgrim, centre overwhelmingly on his voluminous Chinese translation of sutras, his practice of team translation, his translation methods, and his participation in the oral translation tradition of Buddhist texts. However, his 17-year pilgrimage in South and Central Asia, chronicled in the biography and travelogue of Xuanzang, incidentally also provides significant clues to interpreting records of historical value. In his pursuit of the Right Dharma (Buddhist Path) in his pilgrimage passing through 110 Asian states, how did Xuanzang cope with problems arising from language barriers? Who were the interpreters assisting Xuanzang regarding language and communication issues? Who were the patrons, if any, of these interpreters? Or did these interpreters, in the capacities of guides and cross-borders traders in Xuanzang's travelling company, simply volunteer to be his linguistic go-betweens? This article attempts to answer these queries in a bid to explore the nature of interpreting practice at the time. These findings not only shed light on the general study of interpreting history in Asia in the first millennium, but also provide substantial archival evidence that captures interpreting scenarios in the Buddhist context.

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Lung, R. (2013). Interpreters in Xuanzang's pilgrimage in seventh-century Asia. Hermeneus, 15, 111-131.