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China’s first documented account of interpreting, dating back around 3000 years, makes reference to designations for interpreters working in the four directions, namely, ji 寄 for the East, xiang 象 for the South, Didi 狄鞮 for the West, and yi 譯 for the North. These designations are commonly understood in the literature as functionary titles of interpreters(Cheung 2005). Some authors have argued, however, that these terms might simply be transliterations of the word for interpreter as phonologically represented in the indigenous vernaculars of various regions with which Zhou China (1100–221BCE) had diplomatic contacts (Oyung 2001; Lung 2009a). This is supported first by the existence of another written variant 羈 (The Annals of Lü Buwei), also transcribed and pronounced as ji, though in a different tone, to refer to interpreters in the East; and second, by the bi-syllabic composition of Didi, which violates the monosyllabic pattern of classical Chinese. China’s imperial records, in which most accounts of interpreting up to the end of its dynastic tradition in 1911 were archived, feature interpreters in diplomatic encounters with its vassal states. A distinction is made between interpreting officials (functionaries) and ‘foreign interpreters’, recruited in the absence of ‘autonomous’ provision for the required languages.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge encyclopedia of interpreting studies
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)9781315678467
ISBN (Print)9780415634328
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2015


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