Interlinear translations from Arabic into Malay and Javanese have been produced in Southeast Asia since at least the sixteenth century. Such translations included an Arabic original with its lines spaced out on the page and a word for word translation appearing between the lines, attempting to replicate the Arabic down to the smallest detail. This essay engages with the theme of World Literature and translation by (1) considering the interlinear text as microcosm: a world of intent and priorities, of a transfer of meaning, of grammar and syntax in translation, of choices and debates, and (2) by thinking of Arabic writing during an earlier period as a world literature sought after in many regions, whose translation in diverse forms and tongues had a vast impact on languages and literary cultures.
Gerard Genette’s notion of the paratext as ‘a threshold of interpretation’ is employed in this article to explore a host of paratexts in late nineteenth century Javanese manuscripts from the Pura Pakualaman court library in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Although paratexts were used in earlier years, especially in the form of illuminated opening pages, verse and metrical markers and some (often very brief ) information about authors and scribes, the final decades of the nineteenth century and first two of the twentieth saw major shifts in the kind of paratexts employed, reflecting, I suggest, wider changes in practices of reading, writing and the transmission of knowledge.
If numbers tell a story, the conversion to Islam of the peoples of the Indonesian archipelago can be counted as a great success. It is clear that Islam has taken strong root in the region and has influenced many facets of life – from politics and language to the economy and education – over several centuries, as it continues to do today. The protracted process of the region’s large-scale Islamization has given rise to various explanations and interpretations, representing different perspectives on when, where, how and why individuals and communities converted to Islam.
The goal of this essay is to focus on a little-explored source for the study of conceptions about, and depictions of, conversion to Islam: the literary corpus of the Book of One Thousand Questions. Although this narrative is known in many languages, my emphasis here is on its versions in Javanese and their relationship to additional, more popular conversion narratives in that language. The comparative study of such sources reveals how early conversions were remembered, retold over time, and reconfigured to address local, and contemporary, events and concerns.
Beyond the boundaries of what is typically considered the Indonesian-Malay world, a small community known today as the Sri Lanka Malays continued to employ the Malay language in writing and speech long after its ancestors left the Indonesian archipelago and Malay peninsula for their new home. Although it is reasonable to assume that the ancestors of the Malays spoke a variety of languages, at least initially, no traces of writing in another Indonesian language have ever been found. Below I present the first evidence of such writing, in Javanese, encountered in an early nineteenth century manuscript from Colombo.
In his insightful essay, “Silence Across Languages,” (1995) A.L. Becker suggested that every language consists of a particular balance between speech and silence: between what can be expressed in words and what must remain unspoken. One important implication of this fact, he further claimed, is that the different silences between and across languages make translation very difficult, if not utopian. Taking Becker’s essay as its starting point this essay explores the question of silence and sound in translation through a study of interlinear translation. An inter-linear translation in which each line is Arabic is followed by its translation into Malay constitutes a microcosm in which to view the act of translation from up close and in detail. The essay suggests that it is also a space in which silences are “not allowed,” or must be overcome, as these translations do not offer the luxury of adaptation and re-tellings where words, idioms, grammatical and syntactical elements can be glossed over, ignored or remain unheard. An interlinear space forces the scribe, translator, reader and listener to produce and pronounce the sounds of different languages even when they are “incompatible” and thus may overcome the silences, in however small a way, and offer us a paradigm of “sound across languages.”
Journal of World Literature (JWL) aspires to bring together scholars interested in developing the concept of World Literature, and to provide the most suitable environment for contributions from all the world’s literary traditions. It creates a forum for re-visiting global literary heritages, discovering valuable works that have been undeservedly ignored, and introducing aspects of the transnational global dissemination of literature, with translation as a focus. The journal welcomes submissions that can concurrently imagine any literary tradition, in any language, moving beyond national frames to simultaneously discuss and develop the cosmopolitan threads of a variety of literary traditions. It also welcomes contributions from scholars of different research backgrounds working collaboratively as well as from group research projects interested in showcasing their findings, in order to meet the challenge of a wider and deeper discussion of literature’s networks.
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The introductions of the issues of the first two years are available Open Access to familiarize yourself with JWL and its applied scope.