Dialogue of Scriptures

The Tatar Tefsir in the Context of Biblical and Qur’anic Interpretations

by Joanna Kulwicka-Kaminska (Author)
Monographs 410 Pages


This book focuses on Muslim–Christian cultural relations across a number of centuries. As for the methodology, the book represents an intersection of religious studies, linguistics and translations studies. The bases of research are a Tatar tefsir and 19th- and 20th-century printed translations of the Qur’an into Polish. In the period of the Reformation, the Tatar adherents of Sunni Islam conducted the dialogue with Christianity. They translated the Qur’an into Polish already in the second half of the 16th century. They used the Arabic alphabet to record the translation and conferred the form of a tefsir to it. Who were the Tatar translators? Did they break the ban on the translation of the Holy Book of Islam? What sources did they use? How did they translate the Muslim religious terminology? Why is their translation of the Qur’an not familiar to researchers? These are only a few questions which are explored in this work.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 0.1 Theoretical assumptions of the description and the purpose of the research
  • 0.2 Methodological assumptions
  • 0.3 The state of research
  • 0.4 Why terminology?
  • 0.5 The selection of source texts
  • 0.6 The description of source texts
  • 0.6.1 The 16th-century translations of the Bible into Polish
  • Biblia brzeska (1563)
  • Biblia nieświeska (1572)
  • Biblia Jakuba Wujka (1599)
  • Biblia gdańska (1632)
  • 0.6.2 The Tatar translation literature
  • Aetiology
  • Slavic aljamiado
  • The authors and copyists
  • The types of the text
  • Multilingualism
  • Heterogeneous nature
  • The content
  • The Tatar tefsir – the first translation of the Qur’an into a Slavic language
  • The problem of transcription and transliteration
  • 0.6.3 Printed Polish translations of the Qur’an
  • 1 The problems of the translation of the Bible and the Qur’an
  • 1.1 Extra-linguistic factors – the role of the Reformation
  • 1.2 Translation of religious texts of Divine Revelation
  • 1.2.1 Translator’s expertise
  • 1.2.2 The tradition of Biblical translation
  • 1.2.3 The specificity of Qur’anic translations
  • 2 The translation of the religious terminology of Islam into Slavic languages in the monuments of Tatar literature in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
  • 2.1 The profile of a Tatar translator and the significance of Tatar translations of the Qur’an into Polish421
  • 2.2 Sources of knowledge. Sources of inspiration
  • 2.2.1 The Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Religion. Language
  • 2.2.2 Education
  • 2.3 Between faithful and free translation
  • 2.4 In the circle of European culture. The style of the Bible
  • 2.5 Christian influences on Tatar manuscript literature in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
  • 2.6 The relationship between Tatar translations and Old Polish Biblical and Psalter literature and translations of the Bible into Polish
  • 2.7 Ways and methods of rendering the peculiar terminology of Islam
  • 2.8 The degree of adaptation of foreign proper names in the light of research
  • 2.9 The impact of Tatar translations on the development and standardization of the Polish language
  • 2.10 The north-eastern borderland variety of Polish in translation literature of the Tatars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
  • 3 The translation of Islamic religious terminology into the Polish language in printed translations of the Qur’an
  • 3.1 Methods of translation
  • 3.2 Collocations – the extent of the faithfulness to the original text
  • 3.3 A comparison of modern translations of the Qur’an into Polish on the basis of the example of the translation of Islamic religious terminology
  • 3.4 The distinctiveness of the translation of the Vilnius Philomaths compared with other translations of the Qur’an
  • 3.5 A comparison of Tatar religious literature and the translation by the Vilnius Philomaths on the basis of the example of the translation of Islamic religious terminology
  • 4 Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Literature of the subject and the abbreviations of source texts
  • Other sources of excerption
  • Etymological dictionaries and dictionaries of the Polish language
  • Dictionaries of foreign languages
  • Thematic dictionaries
  • Concordancies
  • Non-Polish literature of the subject
  • Polish literature of the subject
  • Websites
  • Index of Slavic words and phrases
  • Index of Oriental words and phrases
  • Index of proper names


…it is difficult for us to recall that heretofore we and our children have been praising God in a language which is unintelligible to us, and we do not use the language which was spoken by our fathers for so many centuries […] it makes us sad that our writings, texts and various worship services heretofore have been concealed in a language that we do not understand. It is time to wake up from our ignorance […] from now on we will pronounce the words of the Maker revealed by his messenger in our mother tongue, the language which is peculiar to us.

(J. Sobolewski, , Wilno 1830, Preface, p. III)

Who are the people who forgot the language of their forefathers and the language of their worship services, and whose mother tongue became Slavic languages (Polish and Belorussian)?

For 620 years, the areas of present-day Lithuania, north-eastern Poland, Belarus and a part of Ukraine, i.e. the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) have been inhabited by the Tatar people, who represent the Sunni branch of Islam. The material and spiritual heritage of their culture is constituted by religious books in which the Polish and the Belorussian language used the Arabic script. These books: tefsirs, kitabs, chamails, tejwids and smaller forms of writing which performed the function of amulets, conceal under the garb of the Arabic script content which is intelligible for Slavs. Tatar religious literature is a genuine cultural phenomenon. It combines the culture of Islam with the tradition of Muslim mysticism – Sufism, Christian culture and with the folk beliefs and customs of Slavic peoples: the Polish, Lithuanian and Belorussian people. This conglomerate of various types of content sets the Tatars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania1 apart from the rest of the ←9 | 10→ world of Islam in a significant way, and it constitutes an important factor of their self-identification.

The writings of the Tatar ethnic group are also testimony of the existence of a phenomenon which was unique in the history of Europe – the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania. The union of a number of peoples within the framework of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was realized five centuries before the contemporary European Union and it continues to constitute a unique example of peaceful coexistence of many ethnicities, cultures and religions. Since the 14th century the Tatar settlers, who represented a type of inclusive culture – open to external cultural influences – associated their future with the lands of the Duchy. They brought to the “Christian world” a new religion, a different culture and language, a different tradition and different values. In the course of time, probably already in the second half of the 16th century, they ceased to speak dialects derived from the Kipchak group of Turkish languages, and began to use Slavic languages – Polish and Belorussian. They also were unable to use actively the liturgical language, Arabic, which performs in the Muslim world a function which is analogous to that of Latin in Medieval Europe. Therefore, in order to maintain their separate ethnic and cultural identity, which was identified already by the 16th century exclusively through Islam, educated Tatar people, who usually maintained a contact with the Muslim East, began to create religious literature in Slavic languages, written by means of the Arabic script.

This literature emerged in the conditions of voluntary, unforced Slavicization and gradual Christianization, which without doubt contributed to the fact that the Tatars developed a translation of the Qur’an into a European language – the third translation of this kind in the world, and the first translation into a Slavic language (i.e. Polish). This translation was called a tefsir. In the world of Islam, tafsirs are known as commentaries on the Qur’an, whereas among the Tatars of the GDL the term “tefsir” refers to comprehensive manuscripts which contain the complete text of the Qur’an with an intralinear translation into Polish, enhanced by an exegetical layer. It was developed in the period of the Reformation, at a time when the Bible was being translated into national languages. Thus, it constitutes a part of the European Biblical translation tradition as far as the methods of translation and the translatorial solutions which were embraced are concerned. Moreover, it continues the Muslim exegetical tradition, which was accessible to the Tatars of the GDL in ←10 | 11→ the form of inter alia Turkish tefsirs. Therefore, it is an unfamiliar, new and original source for the history of the translation of sacred books.

“The historical complexity of the Lithuanian-Polish Tatars as well as the ethnic and cultural diversity of this group may be [therefore] synthesized in the following way: A Tatar from Lithuania, who spoke a Belorussian or Polish language [dialect], and who considered himself a Pole, an adherent of the Muslim tradition who used the Arabic alphabet”2.

Who were the Tatar translators of Muslim religious books? What inspired them? What sources did they use? How and by what means did they translate the Arabic Qur’anic terminology into a Slavic language? Why is the translation of the Qur’an into a national language, the third translation of this kind in Europe, not familiar and accessible to researchers who represent various branches of scholarship? Did the Tatars of the GDL violate the ban on the translation of the holy book of Islam?

The present monograph constitutes an attempt at answering these and associated questions.

0.1 Theoretical assumptions of the description and the purpose of the research

The researchers of the manuscript religious literature of the Tatars of the GDL3 postulate the demonstration of the language of the Tatar translations against the background of the medieval and Renaissance literature (psalters, prayers, songs, translations of the Bible and religious-polemic writings, especially 16th-century ones)4.

The object of research which they indicate also involves the placement of the Tatar translation writings, especially of the translation of the Qur’an into Slavic languages5, in the context of the anti-Trinitarian literature of the Polish Reformation. However, the influence of the Reformation on the aetiology of Tatar ←11 | 12→ religious literature is recognized as a separate area of study6. It has also been shown that despite emerging treatises, studies and monographs, as well as source publications devoted to the history of the Tatars and Islam in Poland, the whole sphere of the material culture, spirituality and religion of the Tatars and their rich literature – their manuscript legacy – still remains to be examined, both in its historical and linguistic aspects7, as there is no work that deals with these issues in a monographic and synthetic way.

The importance of the Tatar literature is considerable, because, on the one hand, it shows the relationship between the multi-faceted culture of Poland and the Islamic world, whereas on the other hand, it is an important source for conducting philological research, because it contains layers of unexplored grammar and vocabulary of the north-eastern borderland variety of Polish (“polszczyzna północnokresowa” in Polish) dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

Tatar literature also comprehensively illustrates the ways and methods of Slavicization – Polonization and Belorussization – of Orientalisms (especially Arabisms and Turkisms)8. Furthermore, it constitutes invaluable material to observe the processes of interference and transference within the Slavic languages and contacts of Slavs with the Orient at all levels of language: graphical and spelling-related, phonetic and phonological, lexical and semantic, as well as grammatical levels9. Finally, it is a basis for interdisciplinary research, such as linguistic, historical, ethnographic, religious studies, etc.10 ←12 | 13→

It arose, as has already been mentioned, in a multicultural and multilingual Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in a community of Muslims who coexisted with Christians. This condition had an effect on the multilayered genetic structure of Tatar creative output, on the presence of geographically and chronologically diversified features of the north-eastern borderland variety of Polish and Belorussian, on the connection of the literature of the Tatars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with Renaissance translations of the Bible into Polish, and at the same time on the Qur’anic translation tradition in the form, among others, of Turkish tefsirs. Moreover, it is possible to demonstrate common features of Tatar writings and Biblical and Psalter literature of the Middle Ages.

The purpose of this thesis is to present, in the most comprehensive manner possible, the ways of rendering Arabic lexis and phraseology11 into Slavic languages, including the adaptation of Arab and Turkish grammatical and lexical forms to the grammatical and lexical system of those languages, as well as showing methods of translation used by different translators, and also methods of transformation of the original12, such as simplifications, reductions (e.g. ellipsis, anacolutha), amplifications, univerbizations, descriptions, substitutions, and so forth. Therefore, the task of this work is to identify language mechanisms which influence new Polish Muslim terminology with regard to the denomination of Allah13 and pagan gods, angels, holy books, prophets, and the Day of Judgement. This study will serve to identify vocabulary and phraseology used in translated texts, or observation of the denomination process – giving names to certain concepts and phenomena (designata), positioning them, creating specific views of the world, and capturing new terminology in statu nascendi. Its aim is also to show and provide documentation of the specific lexis, emerging from the analyzed text, peculiar to the Polish Muslims and vocabulary that is shared by adherents of Islam and Christianity.

In connection with this, an attempt was made to discuss the phenomenon of adequate translation of Muslim religious terminology, contained in the semantic ←13 | 14→ field of tenets of Islam14, into Slavic languages (i.e. to convey Islamic concepts in languages from different cultures) in Tatar manuscript monuments in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as well as in Polish printed translations of the Qur’an in comparison with Biblical terminology. The purpose of such comparison is to determine the potential scope of influence of translations of the Bible on the Tatar translated texts, as well as on Polish printed translations of the Qur’an. In fact, one of the main tasks of this monograph is to identify to what extent qualitative lexical and phraseological resources present in Tatar translations15 are shared with or are different from the vocabulary that can be found in Bible translations and Biblical and Psalter literature, and so to show the relation between Muslim religious terminology and the already existing Polish Christian terminology. The aim of the monograph is also to indicate the extent to which the doctrinal distinctiveness of Islam and Christianity is reflected in the lexis and phraseology used by Polish Muslims, thus, indicating differences in the understanding of the same formal lexical items16. Having set such a task, it is essential to provide documentation, to analyze and describe Polish Muslim terminology, referring to the constitutive Islamic doctrinal concepts. Moreover, Christian religious vocabulary is included only to the extent that it constitutes a common and suprareligious core terminology of different faiths or a point of reference for the Muslim vocabulary.

Thus, the research procedure included examining the vocabulary and phraseology of translations of the Qur’an and Polish Bible translations, preceding them chronologically17. As a result, it is possible to determine the degree of specificity, ←14 | 15→ originality and specific distribution of Slavic equivalents of the initial text etc. of analyzed translations, and to present lexical dependency relationships between translations of the Bible and Qur’anic translations, and therefore, to indicate their typical features and the distinctive features of individualistic translators. The taking into account of a comparative background gave the basis to show the relationship between the Tatar and later translations of the Qur’an and West-European Biblical studies, including the Polish tradition of translating. As a comparative background there Polish Bible translations of the 16th and 17th centuries were adopted, both Protestant and Catholic ones, as well as one 20th-century Catholic translation known as Biblia Tysiąclecia (Millennium Bible)18. Some Bible concordances were also used. The treatment of these issues is accompanied by a stylistic analysis of collected denominations, that is, their choice and functioning both within the translated text as well as in the intertextual relation and the pursuit of the rules in this regard. The style of translation is conditioned, among other things, by the fact that Arabic texts of prayer are at the same time literary works. In the case of the Qur’an and prayers, Tatar translators came into contact with a form of rhythmic and rhymed prose which is unusual in reference to Polish literature – known as saǧ‘19. Their role was therefore to render also the formal layer of the original, that is, rhythmic and rhymed prose. They were, in fact, texts meant not only for readers but also for listeners20.

The lexical resources of the translations have also been confronted with the lexis collected from Polish lexicographical sources, both historical and modern21; hence the discussion is accompanied by a lexicographical analysis of the terms presented in the monograph. Discussion of such issues would be inadequate or impossible without reference to the linguistic background: north borderland Polish and the standard Polish language. The result of this is the introduction, in addition to the basic immanent description, of comparative elements that show parallels between the Tatar translations and later translations and the language of Polish religious and secular literature are included.

The work has also become a part of the current research into the lexis and phraseology of the Polish Reformation. It shows the development of Muslim ←15 | 16→ terminology in its structural and pragmatic aspects, i.e. taking into consideration its historical and cultural background.

This kind of description implements the most important and necessary research procedures used in the study of religious vocabulary, namely: 1. semantic focus in the analyses, and 2. the inclusion of elements of the pragmatic level22.

The starting point for the discussion has to do with Polish entries that make up the lexicon of selected translations of the Qur’an. According to the author, the most representative linguistic items for the tenets of Islam were analyzed, namely these words that substitute nomina appellativa and nomina propria (the traditional division of the names in the lexical system of any natural language)23 of the original text. Their choice is therefore to some extent arbitrary. These include autosemantic parts of speech such as nouns, adjectives and participles24, as well as nominal compounds/phrases (expressions), i.e. items of a higher order, which also enjoy semantic and syntactic autonomy. This choice is dictated, among others, by the high rank of noun lexemes which, although they are not numerous in translated texts, due to extension are considered to be dominant lexical features25. Therefore, they can be characterized by the greatest extent of semantic explicitness, expressed by the relation lexeme-designatum or designatum-lexeme26. With this feature, ←16 | 17→ which distinguishes them from other autosemantic words, one may understand better the arbitrary decisions that were taken by translators in the selection of Polish lexical substitutions which are equivalents of the original text27.

The analysis of denominations that occur in translated texts also plays an important role in the presentation of the development of the language, and its saturation with abstract vocabulary, which develops and differentiates a little later than specific vocabulary related to the realities of everyday life28. It is known that the vocabulary of the Polish language (especially in the 16th century when the first translations of the holy books of Islam and Christianity came into existence) was poorer (in certain areas) than the language of the Bible and the Qur’an. Furthermore, from a formal point of view, nominal compounds/phrases (expressions) constitute about 30% of Biblisms, or one-third of collocations of Biblical provenance29.

Whereas adjectives constitute an autosemantic part of speech, which compared to nouns, occur much less frequently, both in the lexicon, and in the analyzed translations. Polish translations of the Qur’an are also characterized by less diversity of adjectives in comparison with the original, because an Arabic adjective used in a text can undergo substantivization. Therefore, a noun can be the Polish equivalent of an adjective which is contextually converted in such a way. And the Polish equivalents of some verbal, and especially nominal forms, in the original text may be adjectival participles, which according to the principle adopted in Słownik polszczyzny XVI wieku (SPolXVI) (they are subject to the inflection of nouns, although they are grammatical forms of verbs) are considered separate entries in this work30.

Therefore, the scope of the work is limited by both the source material or lexical and phraseological resources provided by the researched texts, as well as by an arbitrary choice (based on contextual meanings) of the extensive exemplificative material of the vocabulary used for a thorough examination of the phenomenon of the translating of Muslim religious terminology. A file was formed from this material, which includes representative vocabulary of the tenets of Islam. All ←17 | 18→ possible places where an entity can have textual attestations were the object of observation. This concerns also those words or expressions which belong to the category of hapax legomenon – they have only a single textual attestation in the printed translations of the Qur’an and selected monuments of Tatar literature in the GDL. The focus of the research also had to do with vocabulary that “creates the sacred space” of the studied religious texts. The lexis here can be characterized by a fairly large scope of meaning and semantic capacity, and its common or different semantic and functional components reveal themselves only in a broader context. It is essential that formally identical terms, e.g. an angel, a prophet, have a different range of meanings for followers of different religions who speak the same national language. Hence, as it is stated by I. Winiarska: “Only a contextual analysis, which takes into consideration a broad pragmatic background, enables us to reconstruct the meaning of those religious terms that became relative”31. The issues discussed in the book are illustrated with abundant sample material. It had been collected for many years and compiled in the form of a dictionary32. This dictionary became a basis for conducting further research, and its results are presented in this monograph. The dictionary contains five chapters corresponding to the five basic tenets of Islam, namely: 1. Belief in only one God, 2. Belief in angels, 3. Belief in the holy books: the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur’an, 4. Belief in God’s messengers (from Adam to Muhammad), 5. Belief in the Day of the Last Judgement33. Within each chapter the terms representative of each of the tenets are discussed, excerpted from the monuments of religious literature of Lithuanian-Polish Muslims and Polish printed translations of the Qur’an. At the same time, the following presentation of the material was adopted: a short description of each tenet with a list of its representative terms, arranged in alphabetical order with their history in the Polish language, contextual meanings in translated texts and their confrontation as well as comparison in terms of semantics with the Hebrew, Greek and Arabic bases of translation. These chapters have therefore the form of a dictionary with entries arranged in alphabetical order34. It includes autosemantic parts of speech, and therefore, nouns, adjectives and participles, as well as nominal compounds/phrases (expressions). A headword (a compound component of complete meaning) is brought to its basic form, that is to Nom. sg for the noun, and Nom. sg m. for the adjective and particle. Phraseological items are given with the main expression recognized as the centre of an idiomatic expression (in the case of expressions, it ←18 | 19→ is a described noun) in such a syntactic form (word order) in which they appeared in the text. Two options are given in the case of a variable word order. Thus, the entry comprises:

1. A headword and a list of phrasemes in which it is the centre35.

2. Dictionary documentation36, namely:

the state of attestations of selected lexical items with an attempt to establish their degree of universality (When were they first recorded? Do they appear in other texts of the period or only in studied translations?).

the status of specified lexical items in the Polish Biblical and secular language (with reference to the genetic qualifier – the Bible, especially in historical dictionaries of the Polish language).

explanation of the meanings of the analyzed items37 (with particular attention to their primary (Biblical) significance, as well as with an indication ←19 | 20→ whether the equivalents present in lexicographical sources create a chain of synonyms, which would demonstrate the stylistic conditioning, and not only the semantic conditioning of the equivalents introduced by the translator.

discussion of the life of individual lexical items in Polish, which reflects lexicographical analysis showing the evolution of the words that have survived in the language, but with a different meaning, that is semantically evolved – they have changed their scope or shade of meaning; revealing their semantic transformations, including lexicalization of individual word combinations, and comparison of their meanings in Polish with those in the analyzed texts.

3. Location of a headword in translated texts – both Biblical and Qur’anic38. The selection of quotations is determined by their chronology. The first recorded headword is given first. The clarity of meaning and a phonetical variant form was also taken into consideration. Due to their high frequency, it is limited to giving samples of the uses of the discussed linguistic items, which are, in the opinion of the author, the most representative ones.

4. A short semantic description, made on the basis of a number of selected Qur’anic contexts (connotative meanings that are referred to in some contexts, potential, contextual and objective) in comparison with the semantic analysis of these items, made on the basis of Biblical contexts39. The analysis that takes into consideration contexts focuses on the Polish lexical item, which is the equivalent of a lexical item in the original text. This sometimes leads to fragmentation of the translated text into single words, the consequence of which is deconstruction of ←20 | 21→ some collocations or fixed phrases, Biblical or Qur’anic idiomatic expressions40. However, reference is made also to the word combinations that constitute a reflection of original Qur’anic combinations and that are the result of amplification tendencies (when one word in the original language has a word combination as its equivalent in Polish) or univerbization trends (when the Polish equivalent replaces more than one lexeme of the original text). Moreover, connotative meanings are sometimes supplemented and compared with the data provided by the science of religion.

5. An Arab etymon or etyma, which can be found in the same position in the Qur’anic translation base, as well as in Greek and Hebrew for Polish translations of the Bible41 (cited in their primary forms, analogues with dictionary entries in their original spelling and transcription42, and Arabic forms in ISO transcription – International Standardization Organization). Etyma that are present in analogue locations of the translation base concurrently carry out the function of semantic explanations43.

6. Documentation of the presence of phraseological combinations typical of the Tatar religious literature in the GDL, and of Polish printed translations of the Qur’an, in Bible translations and/or in Polish lexicographical sources. ←21 | 22→

The collected lexical material of the monuments thus became the basis for comparison of the language of Biblical and Qur’anic translations.

This book, based on the dictionary presented above, which is the source of exemplificative material, constitutes a detailed discussion of the issues related to the translations of the Qur’an and Islamic religious literature into Slavic languages (including strategies adopted in translation, the methods that were selected and the ways of translating, as well as the degree of transformation of the original implied by them), tracing intertextual dependence and affiliations within a selected group of translations, and thereby attempt to identify the role of each translation unit44 in the process of creation and consolidation of Qur’anic lexical items (the share of individual texts in building and preserving the native corpus), the comparison of that resource with canonical and related texts as well as to determine the state of documentation of these structures in the general and Biblical lexicography collections.

0.2 Methodological assumptions

In terms of research subject matter and methodology this work combines the disciplines of linguistics (the history of the Polish language, theolinguistics, Islamic linguistics, kitabistics, religious language) and translation studies45. As is emphasized by I. Winiarska: “any researcher who tackles religious issues must wrestle ←22 | 23→ with issues that are far beyond the horizon traditionally circled by linguistics”46. In addition, according to her, religious vocabulary requires the use of a dual research perspective, considering it both as a component of general lexis as well as the specific vocabulary (terminology)47.

Historical and linguistic analysis of religious terminology is based on the research methods used in diachronic lexicology, especially on the historical and linguistic comparative method48. It takes into account not only structural changes the language is subjected to in its lexical and semantic subsystems (its internal history) but it also describes extra-linguistic factors that affect the emergence and development of Muslim religious terminology (its external history – social, political, historical and religious transformations and changes). Due to the fact that the “lexical layer accumulates knowledge about the outside world and reflects extra-linguistic reality”49, these external determinants play an extremely important role in diachronic lexicology50. Thus, this monograph, as has already been mentioned, follows the current research in the field of lexis and phraseology of the Polish Reformation. Therefore, the subject of description becomes religious language as a functional variety of a general language, being describable by the following features: its subject matter (the proper choice of vocabulary); “the frequent ←23 | 24→ participation of a supernatural factor in the act of speech”, which in the belief of the faithful is the recipient, and the witness of the act of speech; “community dimension” – religious texts perform the function of unifying the community of believers; “a creative power” (spells, exorcisms, formulas etc.); its connection with non-linguistic symbols51. Religious language is thus the subject of theolinguistic research (Gr. theos ‘God’ and Lat. lingua ‘language’) defined at the same time as 1. The science which was established as a result of interaction of language and religion, as well as 2. A branch of linguistics that deals with the study of religious language, in the narrow and broad sense of the term, and analysis of religious phenomena that are manifested and consolidated in the language52. It is therefore one of the developing trends in contemporary linguistics, which is not limited either by the framework of a particular language or a particular religion. Theolinguistics can be divided into general and specific theolinguistics. Specific theolinguistics examines the phenomena within a particular religion (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and others) or problems existing in the language (e.g. translation of religious books into the vernacular). Therefore, it is reasonable to single out such varieties of theolinguistics as Christian linguistics (including for example Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant linguistics and the others) and linguistics associated with non-Christian religions, including Muslim linguistics. One of its branches is kitabistics – an original, academic philological sub-discipline53, which combines Polish and Slavic philology with Oriental studies (with Arabic studies and Turkology), and also with cultural and religious studies. The subject of its study is the material and non-material legacy of the Tatars of the GDL, and in particular their original manuscript literature in the form of kitabs, although it also refers to other varieties of handwritten texts of Lithuanian-Polish Muslims54. Its name comes from the ←24 | 25→ Arabic term  kitāb ‘a book, writing, document’55. Originally, kitab, as a general Semitic word, implied ‘the act of writing’. In its specific use the Arabic term  Al-Kitāb is one of many synonymous names of the Qur’an.

In addition, theolinguistics can be divided into theoretical and applied; synchronic (investigating the processes that occur in the religious language in a specific historical moment) and diachronic (examining the changes happening in the historical development); historical-theological (dealing with typologization of theolinguistic phenomena in their historical development); comparative and contrastive. Its aim is to explore and describe religious phenomena, being expressed and established in the language; hence, as the current research problems in the field of contemporary theolinguistics, one may mention the following: religious language, religious text, discourse, genre, translation of religious texts, religious terminology, etc. Therefore, its principal tasks are: the choice of material from relevant sources or texts, differentiation of the collected material, systematization of the collected material, its integration and others. Whereas among the specific tasks and postulates of kitabistics56, which also delimit research areas of this monograph such as: the need to describe the historical and linguistic relationship between the Orient and the Slavic world, in which philological source material is helpful and even indispensable (the monuments of religious literature of the Tatars of the GDL); the issue of determining ways and methods of adequate translation of Muslim religious texts into the languages outside the culture and tradition of Islam, especially Slavic languages (Polish and Belorussian); the opportunity to show the development and the shaping of Polish (and Belorussian) Muslim terminology – both in terms of religious tenets and exegesis as well as prayers, rituals, customs etc. and the mutual influence of the Christian and Muslim religions and cultures, including the acquisition by the Tatars of the GDL of Slavic religious vocabulary and phraseology and its transferral – not always adequately and in compliance with the doctrinal differences – to the so-called local Islam professed by them.

The philological and historical research method was used in the work on texts, taking into account the historical background, which is particularly important in the analysis of the lexical level of translation. The study was conducted by means of a full index of Polish printed translations of the Qur’an, together with locations and vocabulary of selected monuments of Tatar literature in the GDL. Linguistic details were excerpted from religious literature of Lithuanian-Polish Muslims and the material from Polish translations of the Qur’an, and then they were ←25 | 26→ systematically compiled, and related to the Polish translations of the Bible and lexicographical sources. The analysis of the vocabulary and phraseology, carried out on the basis of solid linguistic material, conducted against a comparative background, facilitated to search for evidence of compliance or borrowings between previously existing Bible translations and the translations of the Qur’an, and as a result, to determine the degree of dependence of Polish Qur’anic translations from the previously existing translations of the Bible, and the degree of originality and innovation of the translated texts of the Qur’an. With the comparative background one could also determine how certain equivalents are embedded in the tradition of translation of religious terminology, and to what extent they constitute reflection of an innovative attitude of translators to the source text.

A lexical and phraseological description of Tatar religious literature and Polish translations of the Qur’an is also closely associated with a demonstration of the relationship that occurs between a translation unit and its base, enabling us to examine the most important Polish translations of the Qur’an in terms of the extent and the role they played in the process of co-creation and preservation of items, which ultimately contributed to the resources of idiomatic expressions of Qur’anic provenience. Investigation of the ways of translating word combinations also enables us to determine the extent to which the translator remained faithful to the original text, calquing Arabic word combinations, and to what extent he departed from the source text, preferring contextual translation.

0.3 The state of research

The state of research in religious vocabulary of the Polish Reformation and on the general Christian vocabulary is discussed in detail in the works devoted to linguistic and translatological research of Polish religious literature, including Scripture translations into vernacular languages57. Among recently published monographs the following ones should unquestionably be mentioned: Stanisław Koziara Frazeologia biblijna w języku polskim (2001 and 2009) and Tradycyjne biblizmy a nowe polskie przekłady Pisma Świętego. Ujęcie filologiczno-normatywne (2009), Danuta Bieńkowska Polski styl biblijny (2002), Irena Kwilecka Studia nad staropolskimi przekładami Biblii (2003), Katarzyna Meller „Noc przeszła, a dzień się przybliżył”. Studia o polskim słownictwie reformacyjnym XVI wieku (2004), I. Winiarska Słownictwo religijne polskiego kalwinizmu od XVI do XVIII wieku na tle terminologii katolickiej (2004), Tomasz Lisowski Sola Scriptura. Leksyka Nowego Testamentu Biblii Gdańskiej (1632) na tle porównawczym. Ujęcie ←26 | 27→ kwantytatywno-dystrybucyjne (2010), and Joanna Sobczykowa O naukowej polszczyźnie humanistycznej złotego wieku. Wujek – Budny – Murzynowski (2012).

Among these works – the most important ones for this discussion – in terms of the scope of the research and the methodology adopted, there are the monographs by I. Kwilecka and I. Winiarska58.

Irena Kwilecka discusses comprehensively and in detail the issue of the Holy Scripture, that is the translation of a religious text of the status of Revelation into vernacular languages, comparing Old Polish Bible translations with Old Czech translations and as well as Old French translations. She indicates the peculiar nature of the books of the Old Testament (OT), and the New Testament (NT), ←27 | 28→ which are the product of cultures which are chronologically and geographically distant and therefore extremely difficult to translate.

Her detailed research, based on reference material or Old Church Slavonic, Old French and Old Czech translations, proves that Old Polish translations were either faithful or pursued the method of free translation, based among others on the Vulgate, but adapted to the needs of a wide audience – with their simple and naïve imagination and their perceptive abilities59. She draws attention to suprareligious tradition of translating the Bible, and she also shows that the method of free translation of the Bible, compatible with a general trend towards making the Bible more accessible to the faithful, was developed in Poland very early, and can already be seen in the oldest monuments of Polish literature, in Kazania świętokrzyskie from the end of the 13th century, and in Kazania gnieźnieńskie from the end of the 14th century or the beginning of the 15th century60, as well as in somewhat later ones, e.g. in Rozmyślanie przemyskie61 and in Żołtarz by Walenty Wróbel62.

The determinants of free translation given by I. Kwilecka, based on the work by Pierre of Troyes called Comestor Historia scholastica, can also refer to the religious literature of the Tatars of the GDL. In addition to this, Tatar translations, as well as Polish printed translations of the Qur’an implement the methods of translating words and word combinations from the source text, which were proposed by her63.

Izabela Winiarska, in turn, draws attention to the important fact that the literature on the Reformation mainly includes broadly understood historical and religious studies works. In studies on the problems of the language of religion, such as semantic and terminological disputes, the introduction of new terms by the supporters of the Reformation (neologisms, neosemantisms etc.) or the change in meaning of some of the terms can be explained in the light of theoretical and conceptual categories of religious studies. However, lexical issues in historical works are only incidental, acting merely as an illustration of different content64. In addition to this, if their authors make use of the terms and vocabulary taken directly from their sources they attribute to them only real encyclopaedic definitions.

Therefore, Winiarska indicates that there is a serious lack of linguistic studies in the literature of the subject, which would undertake to synthesize the vocabulary of the Reformation. The few existing linguistic studies only mention it briefly rather than thoroughly examine the issue65. ←28 | 29→

According to the author, a lack is also felt in the research in general Christian vocabulary of proven methods and theoretical generalizations, which would analyze the diverse Christian lexis as a whole, creating a theoretical context for material works66. She lists the most representative, in her opinion, contemporary trends of research in religious vocabulary (both from historical and linguistic perspective, as well as in relation to the contemporary religious language), which include: the current that concentrates on the history of the language (focused on genetic research) (studies of this trend can be characterized by the presence of etymological analysis and reflections on the origin, importation and adaptation of foreign religious terminology in Polish, as well as comparative analyses of isolated words)67; a historical and linguistic current in terminal cross sections (here the subject of description is the existing Polish religious vocabulary in its development dynamics, conditioned by extra-linguistic and intralinguistic factors)68; a lexical and semantic current concentrating on the semantic analysis of selected lexemes in the field of religious terminology (single words or groups of lexemes representing a word field)69; a current of stylistic research (here there is the dominance ←29 | 30→ of the study of the religious language and style, treated as one of the functional styles in the Polish language)70; a functional-communicational current connected with the stylistic current (it is assumed here that the diversity of vocabulary stems from the diversity of religious situations, considered as communication situations, in which the believer comes into contact with the sphere of sacrum)71; a stylistic and semiotic current (referring to the assumptions of structuralism (it is assumed here that religious language creates a multi-level structure, on par with lexis, a number of pragmalinguistic and extra-linguistic items)72; sociolinguistic issues (religious vocabulary functioning in various social groups, particularly among young people)73; a current that focuses on the meaning of the terminology, based mainly on the analysis of religious vocabulary that is present in the general (literary) language while issues that are closely connected with terminology are only hinted at in the research in general religious vocabulary, even in colloquial statements about God and religion74.

The author of the monograph also stresses that a lack is felt in the studies on the period of the Middle Polish language, which was of fundamental importance for the development of religious vocabulary and phraseology. Her work constitutes a significant and to some extent pioneering contribution to the description ←30 | 31→ of the religious vocabulary of Polish Calvinism, taking into account its wide cultural background. Another researcher of the vocabulary of the Polish Reformation, Magdalena Hawrysz, follows I. Winiarska. The subject of her research is the terminology of the Polish Brethren, who were also called Arians75.

This monograph – within the history of the Polish language – is a part of the current of historical and linguistic research with elements of lexical and semantic analysis. It is a contribution to the current trend of historical and linguistic analysis in temporal cross sections. But, in the area of theolinguistic research, it attempts to achieve the postulated objectives of kitabistics, especially to determine possibilities, ways and methods of adequate translation of Muslim religious texts, including the Qur’an, into Slavic languages.

The history of kitabistics dates back to the 19th century. The work by Stanisław Kryczyński Bibliografia do historii Tatarów polskich (1935) contains a full list of publications which engage the problems of Tatar literature in the GDL before 1935. The state of research until the mid-1960s is discussed at length by Maciej Konopacki in his article Piśmiennictwo Tatarów polsko-litewskich w nauce polskiej i obcej (1966). The beginnings of kitabistics, its development and current trends in its research are presented in detail in works by Andrzej Drozd76, Paul Suter77, Czesław Łapicz78, Galina Miškinienė79, Joanna Kulwicka-Kamińska80 and other researchers of the religious literature of the Tatar of the GDL. The academic achievements in the study of Tatar texts will therefore be presented in a synthetic way.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
translation the Qur‘an tefsir religious studies linguistics kitabistics
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 407 pp.

Biographical notes

Joanna Kulwicka-Kaminska (Author)

Joanna Kulwicka-Kamińska is the director of the Department of the History of the Polish Language, the Centre of Kitabistics Research and of the Post-Graduate College of Speech Therapy of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. She conducts research in linguistics and translation studies and is a member of the Polish Linguistic Society, the Association of the Enthusiasts of the Polish Language, the Scholarly Society in Toruń, and the Renaissance Society of America.


Title: Dialogue of Scriptures