Ottoman Turkish: Written language and scribal practice, 13th to 20th centuries

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The written Persian language is remarkable for its stability over a millennium of time. In contrast, the interesting thing about Ottoman written culture is that although Ottoman Turkish was intimately linked with Persian throughout its existence, although Ottoman scribes based their organization and culture on that of Persian scribes, and although Persian literature and documents formed the most important models for those of the Ottomans, the Ottoman written language was not at all stable or unchanging.1 To an Ottomanist, it seems odd even to think about an unchanging language, because Ottoman Turkish was constantly changing and the changes were one of its most notable features. Ottoman was similar to Persian, however, in that it was a written lingua franca for the governing elite of an empire whose people spoke a variety of different languages and dialects, whether other varieties of Turkish or other languages entirely, such as Greek, Serbian, or Arabic. It therefore shared many of Persian's characteristics as an elite administrative and literary vehicle. The culture of the scribal cadre who were the producers and upholders of written Turkish was, as far as we know, similar to that of the Persian scribes, as described by Hanaway in chapter2. But there are striking differences in the outcome. If in Persia the scribes were the guardians of the stability of the written language, in the Ottoman Empire the scribal class was responsible for its transformations. In addition, the Ottoman elite was multilingual; its members wrote in Arabic and Persian as well as Turkish and probably spoke several other languages-Mehmed II, for example, knew Greek well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLiteracy in the Persianate World
Subtitle of host publicationWriting and the Social Order
PublisherUniversity of Pennsylvania Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)1934536458, 9781934536452
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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