The translator in Tibetan history : identity and influence

Roberta Ann RAINE

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Due to Tibet’s geographical and political isolation for most of its longhistory, the study of translation in Tibet is a very recent—and largely unexplored— field of inquiry. For centuries, translators in Tibet have been revered for the crucialrole they played in what has been called “the greatest planned and sustained culturalexchange in early world history” (Khyentse 2009: 23)—the translation of the entireIndian Buddhist canon into Tibetan. This monumental project, which took hundredsof years and involved the translation of over 5,000 religious texts, took place in twodistinct historical periods. In this paper, the position of translators in traditionalTibetan society is first discussed, after which Tibet’s translation history in both periods is presented, with key events, historical figures, and translation activitiesoutlined. This work of what Pym terms “translation archaeology” (1998: 5) is thenlinked to the present by an examination of the factors related to the success of theTibetan translators that influence modern translators. Understanding the translationtechniques and methods of the past may shed new light on the challenges faced bythose involved in the cultural transfer of Tibetan Buddhism to the West.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-161
Number of pages29
JournalFORUM. Revue internationale d’interprétation et de traduction = International Journal of Interpretation and Translation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2010


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