Translating Islamic Law: the postcolonial quest for minority representation


This research sets out to investigate how culture-specific or signature concepts are rendered in English-language discourse on Islamic, or ‘shariʿa’ law, which has Arabic roots. A large body of literature has investigated Islamic law from a technical perspective. However, from the perspective of linguistics and translation studies, little attention has been paid to the lexicon that makes up this specialised discourse. Much of the commentary has so far been prescriptive, with limited empirical evidence. This thesis aims to bridge this gap by exploring how ‘culturalese’ (i.e., ostensive cultural discourse) travels through language, as evidenced in the self-built Islamic Law Corpus (ILC), a 9-million-word monolingual English corpus, covering diverse genres on Islamic finance and family law. Using a mixed methods design, the study first quantifies the different linguistic strategies used to render shariʿa-based concepts in English, in order to explore ‘translation’ norms based on linguistic frequency in the corpus. This quantitative analysis employs two models: profile-based correspondence analysis, which considers the probability of lexical variation in expressing a conceptual category, and logistic regression (using MATLAB programming software), which measures the influence of the explanatory variables ‘genre’, ‘legal function’ and ‘subject field’ on the choice between an Arabic loanword and an endogenous English lexeme, i.e., a close English equivalent. The findings are then interpreted qualitatively in the light of postcolonial translation agendas, which aim to preserve intangible cultural heritage and promote the representation of minoritised groups. The research finds that the English-language discourse on Islamic law is characterised by linguistic borrowing and glossing, implying an ideologically driven variety of English that can be usefully labelled as a kind of ‘Islamgish’ (blending ‘Islamic’ and ‘English’) aimed at retaining symbols of linguistic hybridity. The regression analysis confirms the influence of the above-mentioned contextual factors on the use of an Arabic loanword versus English alternatives

    Similar works