Translations in the Transfer of Knowledge

Through various experimental and scholarly approaches, the project studied the transformations that occur between languages and cultures of knowledge. With our current situation as the point of departure, namely, our globally communicating academic community, we examined the features of interlingual transfers of knowledge as far back as the multilingual academic societies of early modern Europe. The project’s interest in ‘knowledge,’ however, related particularly to knowledge as a linguistic process. Given the polycentric genesis of modern orders of knowledge, it was important to lay out the different aspects of linguistic-epistemological translations: their pragmatic requirements (e.g., the function of the dominant, academic language, the precarious prestige of specialized vernaculars, shifts in audiences, popularization, the situated behavior of authors), their concrete realization in the individual transformation of documents (e.g., in multilingual groups of texts consisting of originals and translations), and their impact on the history of science and language. Moreover, the project aimed at a terminology in order to adequately describe and classify translations used to transfer knowledge. A glimpse at the historical cross-section, however, reveals a highly varied relationship between ‘original’ and ‘copy’ that demands further examination. Alongside processes that actually ‘contain’ knowledge matter, such as representation, imitation, and inculturation, we also find ‘supplementary’ operations, such as addition, amplification, and compensation as well as different degrees of reduction, the most extreme of which occurs when an original is completely supplanted by its translation.

The project’s focus in its first phase (2014-2016) concentrated on how knowledge was circulated in the early modern period through linguistic, medial, and cultural transfers, specifically, the relevance of translation as part of the historical division of Europe into domestic speech communities (nations) starting around 1400. In spite of the domination of Latin as the language of science and learnedness, translations increasingly became a driving force in the tense dynamic between other languages. A study of these translations provided a contrasting accent to current questions concerning scholarly polyglottism. In this vein, certain analogous relationships became apparent, for example, the ways in which an orientation around a single, leading language (Latin or English) can lead to diglossia as well as the reduced importance of learned and academic authorship (collective, anonymous, serial writing as well as writing not sanctioned by law). The comparative perspective, which took into account the situations before and after the era of nationally connoted monolingualism, thus aimed at elucidating today’s problems and challenges pertaining to academic multilingualism.

A complete description of the project phase 2014-2016 is available online in German.

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2014–2016
Head researcher(s): Stefan Willer
Associate Researcher(s): Andreas Keller


Stefan Willer, Andreas Keller (ed./eds.)

Selbstübersetzung als Wissenstransfer

LiteraturForschung vol. 39
Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 2020, 328 pages
ISBN 978-3-86599-467-7


14 Dec 2016 · 12.00 pm

Andreas Keller: ›Weltliteratur‹ in der Frühen Neuzeit: seriöse Untersuchungskategorie oder wohlfeile Rückprojektion eines epochenfremden Begriffs?

Department Germanistik und Komparatistik, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Bismarckstraße 1, 91054 Erlangen

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25 Feb 2016 · 5.45 pm

Andreas Keller: »Übersetzungspoetik« statt »Übersetzungsfabrik«. Zur Frage eines ›schöpferischen‹ Transfers antiker Vorlagen bei Johann Gottfried Herder und Johann Jakob Hottinger

FRIAS Freiburg, Albertstr. 19, 79104 Freiburg

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28 Jan 2016 · 10.00 am

Andreas Keller: Renaissance Nymphs as Go-Betweens in Religious, Territorial and Political Areas of Tension

Cluster of Excellence Religion and Politics, Johannisstr. 1, 48143 Münster, Hörsaalgebäude

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29 May 2015 – 30 May 2015

Andreas Keller: Ingenuity in Early Modern German

University of Cambridge

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27 Nov 2014 – 29 Nov 2014

Self-Translation as Transfer of Knowledge

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum

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