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The Buddhist Translators Workbench (BTW)is a project sponsored by the Mangalam Researc Center for Buddhist Languages. BTW was developed with the support of the U.S.A. National Endowment for the Humanities and partly relies on the taxonomy of the Historical Thesaurus of English, we are indebted to the University of Glasgow for their kind permission to use the Thesaurus.

Social Science

The Buddhist Translators Workbench

BTW was originally created as a tool to assist translators and scholars of the classical languages of Buddhist literature. In its current form, it consists of an editor for creating lexicographic entries for a number of words that have been considered problematic by translators of Buddhist Sanskrit texts  (our entries are available here ). While our research on the usage of Sanskrit in Buddhist literature continues, we are now integrating BTW with a new tool that can be used beyond the field of Indological and Buddhist studies. This tool will be able to assist with the study of any word in virtually any language and context.

We are asking our prospective users, like yourself, to help us learn how the Meaning Mapper can bring value to a variety of disciplines. We will be interviewing a sample of our prospective user-base between November 1 st  and November 15 th , 2015. If you would like to participate in the interviews, in person or over the internet, please contact us: ude.yelekreb@ilgulaiegil .  

The goals of the Mapper can be broken down into the following functions or objectives:

  • collect and organize words in context (lexical citations) in one or multiple languages 
  • mark up these citations by annotating the meaning, connotation or syntactic role of the words they contain
  • compare the linguistic profile of chosen words across citations
  • compare and evaluate different interpretations of lexical meaning in context
  • visualize the linguistic data collected
  • compare and examine various English renditions of the words studied


Possible Applications

The following are some possible applications of our tool (including, of course, the functions built into the earlier versions).

Social Sciences Historical Linguistics History of Ideas Translation Studies



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Social Sciences

A social scientist may wish to explore how different populations use a cluster of near-synonymous words. She may want, for example, to investigate the usage of ‘refugee’, ‘migrant’ and ‘immigrant’ in the British press and in its readers’ comments. With the Mapper, she will be able to chart the frequency distribution of these words in journal articles and their comments, visualize the semantic landscape that surrounds these words and explore the network of meanings they convey.

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View Interactive Bar Chart

View Interactive Network Map


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Historical Linguistics

Historical semanticists and researchers dealing with ancient languages may be interested in visualizing the different meanings of a word in various ancient sources. For example, in BTW we used an initial, rudimentary version of the Mapper to chart the meaning of the Sanskrit verbal root √kḷp and its derivatives across a variety of pre-medieval Buddhist sources and genres.

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View Interactive Bar Chart

Additionally, when, it is difficult to pinpoint the meaning of words in ancient texts, our tool can assist the researcher in recording and visualizing uncertainty and disputed interpretations (s ee the visualization of this dimension of lexical use as illustrated with gradients and dashed lines in the image below)

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View Interactive Network Map


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History of Ideas

Historians of ideas or scholars studying the development of religious and philosophical traditions may want to study how a particular concept or a cluster of words changed over time. The Meaning Mapper can help them detect shifts in meanings and context in sources dating from different periods. Researchers could, for example, map the semantic and lexical relations of the Sanskrit word vikalpa and it root vi√kḷp in the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā , a famous Buddhist work, and its much later commentary by Candrakīrti, the Prasannapadā :

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View Interactive Network Map


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Translation Studies and the Practice of Translation

BTW was originally conceived as a tool to assist translators of Buddhist Sanskrit texts. While we continue to develop this aspect of our project, we are expanding its scope to assist translators working on a variety of texts and languages.

We envision that the Mapper can prove especially helpful in dealing with polysemy and in the rendition of puns. Polysemy poses a great challenge to translators. After all, the senses of a word in a source language rarely match those of its possible translational equivalents (a phenomenon technically called divergent polysemy or anisomorphism). Using our tool, t ranslators will be able to compare the semantic spectra of words in the source and target languages.

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View Chart Example


The rendition of word-play is another problem amenable to analysis with the Mapper. Translators will be able to search for English words that match multiple semantic categories and approximate the polysemy of words in the source language. This facilitates the rendition of puns.

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View Chart 1

View Chart 2


In addition to helping translators render their sources into English, our tool also assists in their study of source languages. It offers, among other features, tools for gauging the degree of synonymy between related words and a structured workflow to pinpoint the meaning of words and phrases in their original context.