The End of an Era, Seen Through Many Eyes: Eurasian Dimensions of the Great Chinggisid Crisis
4: Chinggisid Reverberations: Language Contact and Conflict in the Yuan-Ming Transition
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 313A
Johannes S. Lotze
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
The Mongol moment (1206–1368) in Eurasia was a watershed in the circulation of imperial ‘multilingual technologies.’ This paper argues that Mongol rulers intentionally employed ‘multilingual legitimacy strategies’ to strengthen their empire. As they presided over superdiverse populations who conversed in countless languages, their courts, one of which the Ming inherited, were hubs of language contact. Mongol officials sought out polyglots and offered them employment. Chinggisid rule, in other words, bequeathed upon Eurasia not only unprecedented global military conflicts and new political entities but also a less immediately visible reality: language contact, the emergence of new institutions for translation, and unprecedented forms of comparative linguistic consciousness. I argue that certain Ming ‘innovations,’ such as the Siyi guan translation bureau and its yiyu (bilingual glossaries), can only be properly understood as a continuation of Mongol-sponsored or Mongol-inspired scholarship. But there were clear breaks, too: formerly one part of a larger Mongolian-Chinese-Persian trinity, Chinese was now reinstalled as ‘the’ imperial language. How did the Ming founders negotiate the needs for both continuity with the past and a break from it in the multilingual world they inherited? Are their ‘multilingual artefacts’ imitations of Mongol prototypes or something else altogether? And to what extent can we speak of an identifiable group of translators, interpreters, and language experts who made it through the Yuan-Ming transition thanks to their shared expertise?