THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

23 posts categorized "Language studies"

27 May 2020

Èṣù at the BL: Journeys Through Literature and Technology

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A sculpture of Esu against a backdrop of books
A sculpture of Èṣù. (© orishaimage.com, used by permission)

This character in Yorùbá mythology, Èṣù, achieved a somewhat more controversial status at the beginning of the 19th Century when it entered into literature. (The name is sometimes written as “Eshu” or “Exu/Echu” in Latin American literature or Legba, Elegba, Laaroye, Legba, Elegbara, among many others).

Oyelaran (2020) describes the deity as “the most important primordial bastion of the Yorùbá people’s metaphysical embodiments of organising and regulatory existential principles.” A mouthful of a description, more comprehensive than previous easy substitutions like "trickster god" or "messenger god", which have been used in the past, especially in Western literature. Wọlé Ṣóyínká calls Èṣù a “master dialectician” — one of the many important deities in the Yorùbá religious system, notable for its role as a sort of intermediary for other higher deities. Èṣù’s errands, according to stories in Ifá literature, were of different shapes, but the outcome — at least for those who crossed paths with him — could be either good or bad. But it was never just one thing, and those who worshipped it, or encountered it in a shrine or on the road, knew what propitiation was necessary to avoid its wrath or seek its warmth or direct them on another errand. Sophie Olúwọlé called Èṣù something akin to a policeman, a law enforcement agent who did not make rules but was often called upon to enforce them.

In the early 19th century, however, notably at the hands of the early missionary translators, Èṣù became something else: a total and exclusive symbol of evil. In translating the words “Satan” and “Devil” in his book Vocabulary of the Yorùbá Language (1843) [Digital Store 1333.f.23.], Samuel Ajayi Crowther had settled on “Èṣù” as the most appropriate word.

A listing of words including Satan along with its Yoruba translation
The entry on “Satan”. (Crowther, Samuel, Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language: Part 1 (London: Church Missionary Society, 1843). (General Reference Collection 1333.f.23)).
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Àjàyí Crowther was an early missionary and the first African Bishop on the Niger. A Yorùbá man himself — though he was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery. After his rescue by the British, he was educated in Sierra Leone and eventually returned home. He was intimately familiar with Yorùbá religious and cultural patterns, which made his choice of "Èṣù" for "Satan" an odd one. By settling on this rendering, however, history was forever changed. It had huge, perhaps unintended, consequences for the worship of the deity, the attitude to those who bore it as a root morpheme in their names (Èsùbíyì, Èsùgbàyí, Èsùlékè, Dáraléṣù, etc), and the perception of good and evil in Yorùbá culture and religion. (The same, later, happened in Igbo with “Ekwensu”).

Subsequent dictionaries of Yorùbá followed this particular tradition, retaining Èṣù as the appropriate translation of Satan, devil, or even demon. The Dictionary of Yorùbá Language, published by the Church Missionary Society in 1913 [X.208/3458.], did the same, as did many others. (See this review of Yorùbá dictionaries to see how Èṣù was rendered throughout history till current time). It was only natural that when technology took over as the repository of words and translations, Google Translate began to render the translation of Èṣù as “Satan” or “devil” or “demon” as well. This didn’t go well with a number of people. Adherents did not take too kindly to the association with evil, although for over a century they could not do anything about it.

Eshu_drawing
Oríta Mẹ́ta by Moussa Kone, ink and watercolour on paper, 76 x 56 cm, painted in 2020. (© Moussa Kone, used by permission).

When I worked at Google from 2015-2016, I worked on the first permanent fix of that online problem. I have written about that in a 2016 blog post. In the end, Èṣù, having no direct equivalent in English, was retained as “Esu" in English translation on Google Translate. Demon became “Ànjọ̀nú”, and Devil/evil became “Bìlísì” — a Yorubanized version of “Iblis”, an Arabic word for devil (which had also shown up in later translation of the bible in the line for “deliver us from evil” as “gba wa lowo bilisi”).

I had known for a while that Àjàyí Crowther had something to do with the misrepresentation of Èṣù in modern imagination — Wole Ṣóyínká in 1976 had alleged that the Bishop had “grovelled before his white missionary superiors in a plea for patience and understanding of his ‘backward, heathen, brutish’ brothers”. But many who have engaged with the topic over the years had assumed that this mistranslation happened during the Bishop’s translation of the Bible. It was, earlier this year, while working with the physical copy of The Vocabulary of Yorùbá at the British Library (referenced earlier) that I discovered the original source of the problem. It predated the work on the Bible by a number of years.

Figures of Esu2
Figures of Èṣù published in the Dictionary of Modern Yorùbá. (Abraham, Roy Clive, H. J. Sutton (illustrator), Dictionary of Modern Yoruba (London: University of London Press, 1958).) (12912.m.25)
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Now while one could argue that the skills used in dictionary lexicography are necessarily different from those used in prose translation, the eventual consequences of the choice of words used still point to the influence of Christian ideas about good and evil in the Bishop’s lexicographical choices. In today’s spoken Yorùbá, the word Èṣù is used interchangeably with ‘devil’ or ‘satan’, to the consternation of those cognisant of the initial error. But this is only in Nigeria. The diaspora Yorùbá in Cuba, Brazil, and other parts of Latin America appear to have kept the deity in his place of reverence and celebration, along with the other deities.

Most dictionaries of Yorùbá, alas, have followed Àjàyí Crowther. Even dictionaries published as late as Kayode Fakinlede’s 2003 Modern Practical Dictionary [YC.2006.a.19076] have retained that original “evil” association. Most who speak the language today do not even know of the time when the association wasn’t always present. To call someone “Ọmọ Èṣù” in Yorùbá today only means “child of the devil”. So whether the bell of the evil linkage can be successfully unrung is a question that will remain up in the air.

Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún is a Nigerian linguist and writer, author of Edwardsville by Heart, a collection of poetry. He is 2019/2020 Chevening Research Fellow at the British Library.
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References

Ayankunle, Lamidi (bata); Baba Lati (bata); Baba Nasiru (bata),Eshu (Erin Osun, Osun State, Nigeria: 1985). [Live performance] ( ^A184405)

Harper, Peggy (sound recordist), “Eṣu”, on Peggy Harper African Recordings (Otu, Iseyin district, Western State, Nigeria: 18 November 1968). ( ^A250464). Available for listening in the British Library reading rooms only.

Ogundipẹ, Ayọdele, Èșù Elegbára: change, chance, uncertainty in Yorùbá mythology (Ilorin, Kwara State : Kwara State University Press, 2012). [ Asia, Pacific & Africa YP.2020.a.678 ]

Ogundele, W., “Esu-Elegbara: Ambivalence in Yoruba philosophy,” in Bayreuth African Studies, 38 (2001), pp. 29-36. ( 1871.242550 )

Ogunyẹmi, Wale, Eshu Elegbara (Ibadan: Orisun Acting Editions, 1970.) ( X.908/25448 ).

 

Further readings

Adefarakan, Temitope, “ 'At a Crossroads': Spirituality and The Politics of Exile: The Case of the Yoruba Orisa ,” Obsidian, 9:1 (2008), pp. 31-58.

Bacelar da Silva, Antonio José, “Exu is not Satan – the dialogics of memory and resistance among Afro-Brazilians,” African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal, 13:1 (2020), pp. 54-67. (doi: 10.1080/17528631.2019.1637143)

Kone, Moussa, “ Yorùbá Dictionaries ,” Orisha Image Blog, 15 May 2018.

Oyèláràn, Ọ., “ Èṣù and ethics in the Yorùbá world view ,” Africa, 90:2 (2020), pp. 377-407. (doi:10.1017/S0001972019001098)

30 December 2019

African Literature through the Language Lens: The Yorùbá Example

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As one of the two 2019/2020 Chevening Research Fellows at the British Library, my work revolves around literature produced in Yorùbá.

Literature written by Africans in African languages existed before African literature in English (or other European languages). This fact, frequently overlooked, has coloured the discussion of what we talk about whenever we explore “African literature”. Some of the first writings we instinctively think or talk about when discussing African literature, for instance, are usually in English: Amos Tútùọlá’s Palm Wine Drinkard (1952), Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana (1961), among others. But the history of writing and publishing literature by Africans in Africa started much earlier, and in other African languages.

Periodicals
You can find some earlier newspapers published in Yorùbá at the British Library.
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On November 23, 1859, the first newspaper in Nigeria was published in Abeokuta, titled Ìwé Ìròhìn Fún Àwọn Ará Ẹ̀gbá àti Yorùbá. It was printed by the printing press of Henry Townsend, established five years earlier as an arm of the missionary endeavour he was involved in, and as a way to keep the few literate people in “high society” engaged in the day-to-day of society. The newspaper was published in both Yorùbá and English. It was published every fifteen days and sold for 120 cowries (about a penny at the time). Its readership rose to around 3000 subscribers before it went belly-up after the printing press was burnt during one of the skirmishes between the British visitors and the Ẹ̀gbá residents.

In 1891, another iteration of the paper resurrected in Lagos, retaining a version of the original name. Now it was called Ìwé Ìròhìn Yorùbá àti Èkó — the newspaper of Yorùbá and Lagos. The word “Yorùbá” at this point had just begun to be adopted as the general name for all the people who speak associated languages and dialect, and who live in South-western Nigeria. Before then, the word had only referred to the Oyo people. Others retained their own ethnic names: Ẹ̀gbá, Ìjẹ̀bú, Èkìtì, Ìjẹ̀ṣà, Yàgbà, etc.

Masthead of Yoruba paper Ìwé Ìròhìn Èkó. First page of Yoruba newspaper Ìwé Ìròhìn Èkó 9 May 1891.
Ìwé Ìròhìn Èkó (1891) was one of the first newspapers published in both Yorùbá and English. (1866.c.5.(18.))
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Through these publications, many of which were printed in both Yorùbá and English, the educated elite found ways to learn about what was going on in other parts of the world. Through letters to the editor, they were also able to respond, and participate in ongoing civil and social debates. It was not surprising to read then, for instance, that many Africans had read, debated, and written rejoinders to the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884 which codified the demarcation of the continent. According to this Al Jazeera news opinion , “a week before it closed, the Lagos Observer declared that ‘the world had, perhaps, never witnessed a robbery on so large a scale.’" The Lagos Observer was another one of those newspapers at the time, established in 1882. (The British Library holds copies from 1882 to 1888 in microfilm).

In 1928, another one of those newspapers was founded, called Akéde Èkó (The Lagos Herald). It was edited by Isaac Babalọlá Thomas (1888-1963), journalist and writer. In 1929, he wrote what has been generally agreed upon as “the first Yorùbá novel.” The work, titled Ìtàn Ìgbésí Ayé Èmi Ṣẹ̀gílọlá Ẹlẹ́yinjú Ẹgẹ́ Ẹlẹ́gbẹ̀rún Ọkọ L’áíyé ( The story of my life; me, Segilola, one with delicate eyes and a thousand living husbands ), was published first as a serial, disguised as a letter to the editor by a dying old lady willing to spill the story of her exciting and sometimes tawdry adventures on the pages of the newspapers. When it was eventually published, with the author being credited merely as a custodian of the story by the “anonymous” lady, it caused some scandal in the new society not used to reading such open discussion of sexual relationships.

Cover of Print Culture and the first Yoruba Novel.
Print Culture and the First Yorùbá Novel” edited by Karin Barber. (Print culture and the first Yoruba novel : I.B. Thomas's 'Life story of me, Sẹgilọla' and other texts , edited by Karin Barber (Leiden: Brill, 2012). (YD.2012.a.5228)
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There had been many pamphlets, religious texts, poems, tracts, etc. published before this time, some of them unattributed to anyone but religious organisations. But over the next decades, scores of literary works — short stories, novelettes, novels, travelogues, poetry and other personal narratives were published to limited audiences literate in Yorùbá and in the culture of the changing times. By the time the first notable English language novel The Palm Wine Drinkard was published in 1952, it had a whole generation of Nigerian Yorùbá literary oeuvre to longingly gesture towards, and borrow from.

The fame of the English language genre would come to eventually supplant and stunt the growth of Nigerian-language creative output in the subsequent generations. By the mid-eighties, long after the departure or nationalization of the earlier British establishment firms that had published some of the earlier Nigerian writers, including D.O. Fágúnwà, J.F. Ọdúnjọ and Adébáyọ̀ Fálétí, the creative output in the local language also seemed to gradually disappear. Today, there is no reputable institution publishing Nigerian language fiction or drama or poetry. There are still publications, but they are mostly self-publications with no peer review or professional vetting and critical appraising mechanism.

As a 2019/2020 Chevening Research Fellow, my work over this next year will examine the Yorùbá language collections in the British Library — containing over two hundred years of documentation and preservation — to draw patterns, find gaps, identify trends and relevant research directions for future researchers who will come to use the Library, and generally provide expert analysis of the Library’s Yorùbá language material holdings. And sometimes, non-Yorùbá texts of relevance will also come my way, as one did a few weeks ago when I discovered that the original typescript of Wọlé Ṣóyínká’s Ìdànrè, eventually published in 1965, resides in the manuscript section at the Library, still bearing the marking, handwritings and musical directions of the then 31 year-old-author.

I also happen to be a linguist, interested in the growth, development, and sustenance of the Yorùbá language (and other Nigerian languages) in literature, education, governance and technology in the 21st century. And so, I will be looking to better understand the evolution of the orthography of the language, through the texts that have carried it in literature from its early beginnings until today. The work of forbearers like Samuel Ajayi Crowther to Ayo Bamgbose stand as guiding lights, as do the work of faceless and notable writers of the Yorùbá language whose texts provide the most visible account of the language and its journey from just a spoken language to a medium of transmitting generations of stories, both in fiction and history, in the many written patterns and styles.

My thought process on these discoveries will be shared on the British Library blog as the year unfolds.

Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún is a Nigerian linguist and writer, author of Edwardsville by Heart, a collection of poetry. He is 2019/2020 Chevening Research Fellow at the British Library.
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05 August 2019

Charles Wilkins as a type designer: hand drawn Modi script

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Today’s guest blogger is Komal Pande, who was the Charles Wallace Trust Fellow at the British Library from February to May 2019. Komal is also the Assistant Curator for Numismatics and Epigraphy at the National Museum in New Delhi.

As part of my research fellowship in the Visual Arts section, I had the opportunity to research and arrange as a set of hand-drawn Modi letters. Modi, is the vernacular script used to write the Marathi language spoken predominantly in Maharashtra, India. The Peshwas, the ruling class of the Maratha empire from the mid-17th to early 19th centuries, used Modi script for administrative purposes ‘as preserved in the many parcels (rumals) of official documents in the Maharashtra State Archives in Mumbai’. Marathi merchants also used the script for their business transactions. In 1917, Modi was replaced with Devanagari. Since few people can read Modi, these hand-drawn letters are important to India’s vernacular cultural past. The orientalist Sir Charles Wilkins (1749-1836) prepared this set of Modi letters in the early 1800s.

Image showing four examples of Modi script on seperate cards
Cards with the Modi script for vowels, British Libary, Foster 5702

Wilkins, an employee of the East India Company, was assigned as the superintendent of the Company’s factories in Malda (western Bengal) from 1770. Wilkins studied a range of languages and became proficient in Sanskrit, Bengali and Persian. Based on his expertise and knowledge of Bengali, the Governor-General of Bengal, Warren Hastings commissioned Wilkins ‘to undertake a set of Bengal types’. Wilkins manufactured a set of metal printing founts or typefaces, that could be used to mechanical print the Bengali language as exemplified in Nathanial Halhed’s instructional volume, A Grammar of the Bengal Language (Hoogly, 1778). Wilkins returned to England in 1786.

The set of sixty-nine hand-drawn Modi letters was prepared after Wilkins returned to England. According to Graham Shaw (formerly, Head of Asian and African Collections, British Library), ‘they may well be associated with [Wilkins] connection to the East India Company’s Haileybury College from 1805, perhaps to be used in printing text-books for the Company’s new recruits to learn the Modi script’.

Each card features one Modi letter: its transliteration in English and Hindi written below it, making the cards bi or trilingual. A card may contain vowels or consonants, along with some variations of half, conjunct and compound consonants. While each card measures approximately 75 x 25mm,  slight variations can be noticed in width of these cards. While the vowels and consonants are of similar size, the half letter cards are written on narrower pieces of card. The cards for the compound consonants are broader to accommodate the form and clarity of the fount.

An example, showing the difference in the width of the cards, British Library, Foster 5702.
An example, showing the difference in the width of the cards, British Library, Foster 5702.

The letters are written in black ink. The calligraphy on these cards is particularly intriguing as its purpose is more utilitarian than ornamental. The stylization of these letters was created to understand the fount in three dimensions, as these cards were prepared as functional typeface that had the potential to be used for creating matrices and punches.

Interestingly, the set also includes some blank, unfinished and cancelled cards. These cards are as important as the complete cards, as they elucidate Wilkins’ method of scribing. On the card, the pencil rules were drawn in the upper centre creating a space for the Modi letter. Since the card was to be bi or trilingual, keeping Modi as the prime script, a Modi letter of 35x25 mm dimensions was drawn in pencil. Once the form of the letter was decided, the outline was made in ink and its transliterations was scribed under the letter. Finally, the outlines of the letter were filled in black ink giving it dimension and volume. Most of the complete cards show, voluminous Modi letter in the centre along with its transliteration in small Devanagari and Roman scripts for the purpose of identification of each letter.

Alongside the process of scribing, it is equally interesting to study the method of corrections carried out by Wilkins. A few of the cards in the set show the process of how the corrections were made on the inscribed Modi letters. These include correcting the form of the letters and reflect how the three dimensionality of the letter was rectified by adjusting angles and curves by scraping off all imperfections. The cancelled signs, the scalpel marks and the pencil ruled lines inform us of Wilkins’ efforts to achieve perfect typefaces.   

According to Graham Shaw, ‘as far as it is known, no work was ever printed using a Wilkins Modi fount. When James Robert Ballantyne published his A grammar of the Mahratta language’ in Edinburgh in 1839 (for use at Haileybury), he noted in the preface “The lithographic press has been employed because no fount of Mahratta [i.e. Modi] types was to be found in London”. The only other early Modi fount cast was at the Serampore Mission Press in Bengal, used in 1808 to print the second edition of the Baptist Missionary William Carey’s A grammar of the Mahratta language’ (after criticism for the use of the Devanagari script in the 1805 first edition.’

Further reading:

Ross, F. and Shaw, G. (2003) 'An unexpected legacy and its contribution to early Indian typography', in: Randle, J. and Berry, J. (eds.) Type and typography: highlights from Matrix. Mark Batty Publisher, New Jersey, pp. 169-181

With thanks to Graham Shaw for his invaluable comments for this blog post.

08 January 2018

The script of the Naxi, their religious literature and early translation attempts

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This week’s guest blog post is by Dr Duncan Poupard, Assistant Professor (Translation) at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Naxiologist. He sheds light on some of the most extraordinary, mysterious and visually interesting manuscripts we hold in the Chinese section of the Library: the Naxi dongba manuscripts, commenting also on some of their early translations in the Library

The British Library holds a modest but important collection of religious texts from a lesser-known people: the Naxi of the Himalayan foothills in southwest China. Among China's officially-recognised ethnic minorities, the Naxi are a relatively small group, especially when compared to their more populous neighbours to the north, the Tibetans. But the Naxi are nevertheless significant, not least for the unique way in which they record their religious literature: the dongba script.

Naxi picture 1.jpg
Example of Naxi script, from the British Library volume containing Or.11417A to Or.11426A
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This script can probably be dated to at least as early as the Mongol period (1253 -1382). The Naxi ritual texts, hand-written in books and read from left to right, form the basis for what we know about the culture and beliefs of the Naxi people. The dongba script is often touted as the world's last living pictographic script, although this classification is problematic as they are not really in active use, and are not strictly pictographic either.

The graphs can be seen in and around the city of Lijiang (centre of the Naxi population in Yunnan province), on shop fronts and road signs, but as the general populace cannot read or write the script, these signs are mostly for show.

Naxi picture 2 with circle.jpg
Starbucks Coffee shopfront, Lijiang old town. Intercultural globalisation in action
© the author

In this picture, the Naxi (top) and Chinese (bottom) names for 'Starbucks' can be seen on the board above the English lettering. In Naxi, 'Starbucks' is translated as 'gee bbaq kee'.

Naxi picture 3.jpg
The first character above means 'star' (gee, depicted as three stars), the second and third graphs being phonetic loans, the flower (bbaq) and the dog (kee) together approximating the sound of the English 'bucks'; it is a combination of literal and phonetic translation.

In fact, the script was historically reserved for the dongba religious practitioners and was primarily used for ritual, not secular (or Starbucks-related!) purposes. The books are recited by a dongba during the performance of religious ceremonies such as funerary rites, or when appeasing a vast pantheon of gods and spirits. Looking at the Naxi manuscripts themselves, which are written on specially made paper, and knowledge of which was historically only passed down the male family line, we would be forgiven for thinking they looked like comic strips: especially as they are separated into clearly marked rectangular sections. Of course, however, there's a lot more to this writing than meets the eye.
Naxi picture 4.jpg
Detail from the opening page of British Library Or.11417A
 noc

The image above is from a manuscript titled Ssee zhul: El-miq Rherq Zhail (Increasing longevity: calling upon the power of great dongba El-miq), recited at a ceremony held after a funeral to prolong the life of the surviving members of the family. This particular book is a call to a powerful dongba from Naxi history, El-miq, entreating him to aid the dongba who is conducting the ritual by investing him with power. In the first section on the top left, after the page decoration on the left, there are a total of ten graphs.

Naxi picture 5.jpg
Here we have the character for the sky, beneath it three stars (just as in the Starbucks sign), beneath the middle star a piece of jade, to its right a svastika (a symbol of good luck in Naxi culture that was likely borrowed from Tibetan Buddhism), then an image that looks like a cross on a triangle that originally meant 'to hang (as an object hanging off a cross)', and below it the earth, sprouting tufts of luxuriant grass. To the right we have the more easily identifiable sun, above a person pointing to their left (but our right) and the moon above someone pointing to their right (our left). Lines emanating from the celestial bodies indicate light being cast (and for the sun, by extension, warmth).

This first section is an opening benediction, an incantation that is supposed to bring about good fortune for the ceremony to come, but also contains much of the cosmological wisdom of the Naxi people. These ten characters, when read out during a performance of this text (for all such ritual texts are to be orally performed, not read silently), will become 40 spoken Naxi words. How can this be so? Simply because the relationship between what is written and what is said follows no clearly defined rules. The characters are often called in to use more than once, and much of what is said is not actually written. Despite this, every dongba would be able to recite this section without any problems. An English translation might read,

The stars shine bright in the sky
And today they shine brightest
The grass grows green on the earth
And today it grows greenest
The sun comes from the left, giving off its warmth
The moon comes from the right, giving off its light

One may wonder why the sun is on the left and the moon is on the right. The Naxi have a creation myth that tells the story of how, after the heavens and the earth were separated, the people all came together to build the holy mountain Jjuqnalsheel’loq, which acted as an axis mundi, propping up the heavens. Once the mountain was completed, they used a giant iron chain to tie the sun to the left of the mountain and the moon to its right. Thus, in the Naxi cosmogony, the sun and moon rotate around the holy mountain, in between the sky and the earth, and these opening lines are a microcosm of the Naxi cosmogony.

Alongside 107 dongba manuscripts, the British Library holds a number of Chinese and English translations of several of the texts: these were in fact the first Chinese and English translations of Naxi manuscripts to be completed, making them especially important to the history of Naxi studies. The Library's translations were commissioned by the British Foreign Office after a recommendation by S Wyatt Smith (1887-1958). They were acquired by a Pentecostal missionary (probably James Andrews, a British missionary in Lijiang during the 1920s and 30s) on the consul's behalf, and translated into Chinese, with the help of a Naxi to read the manuscripts and a Chinese translator to translate them. Some of the manuscripts were subsequently translated into English at the consulate. As is the case in much of translation history, the translators remain invisible, as the identities of the Naxi, Chinese and English translators have, it seems, been lost to history. The translation work stopped in 1931 as it presumably became prohibitively expensive: three translators were required to get the final English translation, and prices of the original manuscripts in Lijiang were rising as Joseph Rock, the Austro-American explorer and Naxiologist, began to make bulk purchases in the region.

Naxi picture 6.jpg
First page of Or.11417C, containing an early Chinese translation of Or.11417A
 noc

In 1934 the collection was given to the British Museum and the India Office. The 1930s were an exciting time for translations of Naxi manuscripts: many of the English versions that we have today were completed in this decade. There was a serious popular interest in the Naxi during this period, fostered by Joseph Rock's National Geographic articles on the region which highlighted this ‘strange tribe’. Joseph Rock began seriously translating and publishing his work on the Naxi in the 1930s, and he eventually went on to monopolise the field, with a somewhat unassailable combination of exhaustive (some may say pedantic) scholarship, a knack for self-promotion, and deep pockets.

Naxi picture 7.jpg
Provenance note on the first page of Or.11417C to 11426C, containing the Chinese translations of the correspondent “A” volumes in Naxi
 noc

Rock is dismissive of the Library's translations, writing that they have ‘totally wrong titles and explanations in Chinese’. This is, I believe, an unfair assessment. Even a preliminary look at the translation of this first manuscript shows a quite accurate rendition, with the title, Si Chong, being the correct name of the ceremony in romanisation. Perhaps Rock was unhappy as to the nature of the Library collection's acquisition: some fifty Ssee Zhul texts were acquired by the missionary acting on behalf of the Foreign Office from the officiating dongba after the Ssee Zhul ceremony had been performed for Rock. This was a purchase that transpired without Rock's knowledge.

Naxi picture 8.jpg
Cover page of British Library manuscript Or.11417A
 noc

The British Foreign Office's translations were pioneering, despite being somewhat unilluminating. They are presented without introduction and without any exegesis, which, combined with the large number of proper names present in the texts, makes for slow and mystifying reading for the uninitiated.

Anthony Jackson has suggested that a dictionary (as yet undiscovered) was compiled from this translation work, which would have been used to translate more of the texts without going through a Naxi intermediary. This was probably wishful thinking; to this day, Naxi dongba are required to give a reading of a book before it can be translated. This is because the texts are fluid: there is so much that is not written, there are graphs that are written and not read, and there are incantations that are recorded in a phonetic system separate to the picture-based graphs.

Translation of the Naxi texts is a practice that has all but died out in the modern era, as the remaining dongba grow fewer in number and their traditions become less relevant to modern life in Lijiang. This makes the library's collection all the more invaluable, for there will come a time when such translations will be all but impossible to carry out.

 

Further reading:
Jackson, Anthony. 1966. “Mo-So Magical Texts,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 48: 141-74.
Poupard, Duncan. 2015. “Beyond the pictogram: echoes of the Naxi in Ezra Pound’s Cantos”. Neohelicon 43 (1): 233–249.
Rock, Joseph F. 1963. A Na-Khi - English encyclopedic dictionary. Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.


Duncan Poupard, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
duncan@arts.cuhk.edu.hk
 CC-BY-SA

 

20 November 2017

Il Kaulata Maltia – The only extant copy of the first journal in Maltese

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Since September I have been working on the Maltese collection at the British Library, where I am tasked with cataloguing Maltese publications. The library boasts an impressive range of material ranging from 16th century publications by the Knights of Malta to books published in 2017. Amongst these there are some of the earliest references to the Maltese language as in Jean Quintin’s historical and geographical survey of the islands Insulæ Melitæ descriptio (1536, BL 795.g.6.(1.)), contemporary accounts of the Great Siege of Malta from 1565, some of the earliest works on the Maltese language by Agius De Soldanis from 1750, and a complete collection of Mikiel Anton Vassalli’s works from 1791.

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Map of the Maltese islands in Jean Quintin’s Insulæ Melitæ descriptio ex commentariis rerum quotidianarum (1536). (BL 795.g.6.(1.))
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The turning point in the history of Maltese publications was the liberalisation of the press in 1839, which formally came into force in March of that year following a wider drive for political autonomy in the British colony throughout that decade. The earliest wave of independent newspapers to be published in Malta came on the heels of this development. These newspapers were a largely multilingual affair, with the vast majority being in Italian or English, bilingual Italian and English (Il Mediterraneo, BL NEWS8160 NPL), and even trilingual in Italian, English and French (Il Corriere Maltese, BL NEWS8160 NPL). However, a number of short lived journals in Maltese started popping up at the same time, with one issue of the English-language publication The Harlequin published on the 6th of December, 1838, under the title L’Arlecchin, jeu Kaulata Inglisa u Maltìa, (Cassola, 2011,p. 22), being entirely in the vernacular. One month later, on the 15th of January, 1839, the first issue of the first Maltese journal Il Kaulata Maltia was published followed by two other issues. Only one copy of the first issue was thought to have survived in a private collection in Malta, and a reproduction of its frontispiece was first published by Ġużè Cassar Pullicino (1964). The second and third issues have thus far eluded researchers for decades until I recently discovered a copy of the full three-issue set in the British Library newspaper collection (view Kaulata pdf here).

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The frontispieces of issues 1 and 3 of Il Kaulata Maltia (1839) (BL NEWS8160 NPL)
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The editor of Il Kaulata Maltia was James Richardson[1], an Anglican missionary for the Church Missionary Society (CMS) who was also the editor of the aforementioned The Harlequin as well as The Phosphorous. The CMS was no stranger to publishing in Maltese in the years prior to the liberalisation of the press. In fact, the society’s own press, established by William Jowett in 1822, was one of the few allowed to operate before 1839 despite stringent press laws, and serviced other non-Catholic Christian denominations such as the Methodist Wesleyan Missionary Society. Its operations were nonetheless limited in the nature of the material which could be published, and were subject to the governor’s approval. The British government gave the green light to Anglican and other Protestant groups to operate and publish material in Malta yet pledged to protect the local Catholic population (Zammit, 2008, p. 258). This meant that no material of a religious nature intended for local circulation was allowed, and so output was limited to religious and educational material in Arabic, Turkish, Syriac, Italian and Greek and educational material in Maltese or about the Maltese language. Most notably, the CMS’s press was responsible for the publication of a number of works by Mikiel Anton Vassalli, known as “The father of the Maltese language”, including a revised edition of his Grammatica della Lingua Maltese (1827, BL 621.e.4), Motti, aforismi e proverbii Maltesi (1828, BL 14599.c.43), and Storja tas-Sultan Ciru (1831, BL 14599.b.58). All of these books fail to credit the CMS for their publication, instead using simply “Malta” or “Published by the author” despite their non-religious content, although this may have been done to avoid announcing Vassalli’s close ties with a Protestant group (Zammit, 2008, p. 259). In fact, Vassalli’s 1829 translation of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles (BL 14599.ee.17) was also published by the CMS, albeit in R. Watts’ press in London, thus circumventing the ban on religious material. Of particular note are the Wesleyan Missionary Society’s Ktyb -yl-Qari Ghat-tfal (1831, BL 14599.c.3) and Ktyb yl Qari fuq bosta h̡uejjeg mah̡tura myn kotba Kattolici (1832, BL 621.a.9), both written by Cleardo Naudi which despite their religious content, were allowed to be printed as they were intended for exclusive use in its Malta Charity School.

Ktyb-yl-qari
Excerpt from Cleardo Naudi’s Ktyb -yl-Qari Ghat-tfal (1831), which uses Mikiel Anton Vassalli’s original orthography before the further Latinised variety used in Il Kaulata Maltia. BL 14599.c.3)
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The CMS’s focus on nurturing the Maltese language was a well calculated effort. In an article in the 1831 issue of CMS’s The Missionary Register, which compares the inhabitants of Malta and Syria, the linguistic situation is described thus (vol. 19, p.317):

The Maltese, in general, are not a reading people, and their language can scarcely be said to be a written language: it is only a few years since it was reduced to writing; and nearly all the books which have ever, to my knowledge, been published in it have been published within a very short time, and mostly by Mr. Jowett, or at his press […] and perhaps not twenty persons can be found, among the native population of the whole island, who are able to read them.

This may have been seen as a hindrance to the missionary efforts of the CMS which consequently undertook a role in education. It is in this context that Il Kaulata Maltia should be seen. Rather than a newspaper, it was meant to be a compilation of opinion pieces by its author George Percy Badger, together with poetry, idioms and aphorisms. The 13th December, 1838 issue of The Harlequin included an advert for it, saying (reproduced in Cassola, 2011, p. 30. My translation):

There is no need to spell out the usefulness and prestige of such a publication, these are obvious matters to everyone. Who is to say that this paper might not one day be the first to establish the Maltese language on a level and solid foundation, and produce a literature that could fill the Mediterranean with its praiseworthy and glorious revelations?

The second and third issues of the journal had scathing attacks on the Maltese educational system, in particular with regard to language instruction, perhaps acting as a precursor to Badger’s own publication Sullo stato della educazione pubblica in Malta (“On the state of public education in Malta”) later that year.

The second issue tackled suggestions brought forward by the Royal Commission of 1836, in which the two commissioners sent to Malta, John Austin and George Cornewall-Lewis, reviewed the educational system of the islands. In their report they had suggested that all elementary school children should first learn Maltese, followed by Italian, which they deemed to be the de facto language of the educated, through the medium of the former. Consequently, English should be taught on the basis of the country being a British colony, followed by Arabic. Badger criticised the idea of teaching students four languages and rubbished the need to learn Italian except for those businessmen who required it for their trade. He declared pro-Italianism as the domain of irredentists and Carbonari wanting to secede from the British Empire, and suggested that the Maltese people as a whole wanted to be British and should thus be taught English. His article highlights the vehemently pro-British nature of the publication.

The third issue picked up the issue of linguistic education by turning the spotlight onto the Maltese language. Here Badger criticised those who had wilfully neglected the language by discouraging its use. This was no doubt an attack on the Knights of Malta who had ruled the country until 1798, and was by extension a thinly veiled attack on the Catholic Church. Despite a seemingly anti-Catholic stance, the very same issue included a poem dedicated to St. Publius by the Catholic priest Dr. Ludovico Mifsud Tommasi, who, in spite of his religious differences, showed an overlap with the CMS’s support for the freedom of religion and press, and was also a pioneering translator of religious texts into Maltese.

Il Kaulata Maltia also sheds some light on another aspect of the Maltese language that was topical at the time of its publication: orthography. As written Maltese was still in its infancy there were different opinions on how it should be written, particularly in terms of the sounds that have no equivalent letters in the standard Latin alphabet, such as the għajn and the rgħajn, equivalent to the Arabic ع and غ respectively. Some writers preferred to use the Arabic letters mixed in with the Latin alphabet, while others like Vassalli added specially designed characters to it, as can be seen from the image reproduced above from the spelling book by Cleardo Naudi. More radically, others proposed the exclusive use of the Arabic consonantal script, an example of which can be seen below. 

Chtieb-ilkari Maltese_abjad

Left: An example of the Arabic ع , غ and ه mixed into the Latin alphabet from Francesco Vella’s Chtieb-ilkari yau dahla عal ilsien Malti (1824) (BL 14599.b.1)
Right: Excerpt of a dialogue in Maltese written in Arabic script from Rev. C. F. Schlienz’s Views on the improvement of the Maltese language and its use for the purposes of education and literature (1838) (BL 14599.c.4)
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The CMS, however, opted for a modified version of Vassalli’s Latin orthography which became the basis of its Maltese publications, including Il Kaulata Maltia. In fact, it seems that the journal was intended to introduce the orthographic system to the general population, as the second page of the first issue lists the whole alphabet with a guide to its pronunciation and an explanation. Different opinons gave rise to some animosity between their respective proponents, and in this description the author taunted Rev. Giuseppe Zammit, known as Brighella, by jokingly requesting that he bless his orthography. Brighella published a response in the journal Bertoldu in January, 1839 in answer to that taunt (Cassola, 1994, pp. 59-60), and a reply to that was in turn published in the third issue.


Further reading
Cassar-Pullicino, Joseph,  Kitba w Kittieba Maltin, it-tieni ktieb, l-ewwel taqsima. Malta: Università Rjali ta' Malta, 1964.
———, Il-kitba bil-Malti sa l-1870. Pieta: Pubblikazzjonijiet Indipendenza, 2001.
Cassola, Arnold,“Two Notes: Brighella and Thezan”,  Journal of Maltese Studies (1994): 25-26, 58-62.
———, Lost Maltese newspapers of the 19th century. Malta: Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism, 2011.
Zammit, William, Printing in Malta, 1642-1839: Its cultural role from inception to the granting of Freedom of the Press. Malta: Gutenberg Press, 2008.

I would like to thank Dr. William Zammit and Dr. Olvin Vella from the University of Malta for the help and information provided.

Karl Farrugia, Asian and African Collections
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[1] The final pages of each of the three issues, as well as The Phosphorus, say that they were published for the editor of The Harlequin. For this reason, I regard Richardson as the official editor and Badger as the author.

08 May 2017

Okinawan manuscripts digitised

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The British Library has recently digitised two important manuscripts relating to the Okinawan language (click on hyperlink to get to digital copies): English-Loochooan dictionary: with many phrases in the higher style of the literati, and a glossary of derivatives from the Chinese language (BL Or.40) and Elements or contributions towards a Loochooan & Japanese grammar (BL Or.41), written by the missionary Bernard Jean Bettelheim (1811-1870) and presented to the British Museum on 2 May 1867.

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Dedication from Bettelheim’s Dictionary (BL Or.40 f.2r)  noc:

As this dictionary was written while I was in part supported by kind English friends, and in grateful remembrance of many favors, both temporal and spiritual, recevied from Englishmen while in England & at Loochoo & especially for the gracious protection received from the English Government while in my mission field I wish this volume to become the property of the national museum in London, Great Britain. Cayuga, Illinois, U.S.A., Apr 10th 1867.

Bettelheim’s career
Bettelheim, the first Protestant missionary in what was then the independent Kingdom of Ryukyu (technically a tributary state of Qing China but de facto under the control of the Satsuma Domain on behalf of the Japanese Shogunate), was born in June 1811 in Pressburg (Bratislava) of Jewish descent. He was educated in Budapest and Vienna before moving to Italy where he obtained a doctorate of medicine at the University of Padua in September 1836. He converted from Judaism to Christianity in 1840 while serving as a military surgeon in Smyrna. Some months later he moved to London where in 1843 he married an Englishwoman, Elizabeth Mary Barwick (1821-1872), and took British nationality. The same year he joined the ‘Loochoo Naval Mission’, founded by Lt. Herbert Clifford, as a lay preacher and medical missionary, and on 1 May 1846 he arrived in Naha, Okinawa on board the ‘Starling’ accompanied by his wife and their two young children.

Bettelheim port
Bernard Jean Bettelheim (Okinawa Prefectural Museum)

From the outset Bettelheim met with strong opposition from the local authorities and he and his family endured many slights and hardships. His efforts to preach were disrupted by officials and according to one account, ‘People even went so far as to put buckets of filth at his feet while he was speaking’ (Pierre Leturdu, quoted by Cary, p.23). Nevertheless Bettelheim remained in Ryukyu for eight years, working as a missionary, using his medical skills to treat the sick, studying the Okinawan (or ‘Loochooan’ language)[1] and translating parts of the Bible. Throughout these years he maintained a detailed journal which chronicles his trials, tribulations and successes as well as providing a vivid account of life in Ryukyu at that time. Bettelheim finally left Okinawa, to the relief of the authorities, aboard an American warship (part of Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet) in July 1854 and went to Hong Kong where his translations of the Gospels of St Luke and St John, and of the Acts of the Apostles and Romans were published in 1855 at the instigation of George Smith (1815-1871), Anglican Bishop of Victoria.

From Hong Kong Bettelheim moved to the USA, settling in New York. During the Civil War he served as an army doctor and was living in Cayuga, Illinois when he presented his works to the British Museum. He died of pneumonia in Brookfield, Missouri on 9 February 1870. In 1926 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of his arrival, a memorial was erected on the site of his former home in the precincts of the Gokokuji Temple in Naha. Although it was destroyed in World War II, a new memorial has since been set up.

Bettelheim_Monument_at_Gokokuji
Memorial to Bettelheim at Gokouji, Nara (Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo by LordAmeth)

Bettelheim was a controversial figure both in his own day and since, with biographers disagreeing over his personality, importance and legacy. His presence was a source of constant irritation to the Ryukyu authorities and his journal details the hardships he faced. His success as a missionary appears to have been limited - according to the highly critical account by George Kerr, he made just ‘one avowed convert in seven years’ (Kerr, p. 288). However, Earl Bull, a Methodist missionary in Okinawa, considered him a remarkable and self-sacrificing man but one who was ‘not fitted temperamentally to be a successful missionary’ (Bull, p. 122). Otis Cary said of Bettelheim, ‘The Kingdom of God is not to be built up by the disregard of the rights of others, and it is to be questioned whether its progress was not retarded rather than hastened by what was done in Loochoo’ (Cary, p.22). One of his more sympathetic critics, Anthony Jenkins, who edited his voluminous journal, wrote ‘A man of science, linguistics, theology, music and even amateur aesthetics, Bettelheim was one who whose brilliance was parallelled by self-importance’ (Jenkins, p.viii).

Grammar and Dictionary
When he arrived in Ryukyu, Bettelheim had very few resources to assist him in his efforts to learn the language. He had a copy of Medhurst’s Japanese-English Dictionary [2], Karl Gützlaff’s Japanese translations of portions of the Bible, and a glossary of Okinawan compiled by Clifford in 1818 which Bettelheim found to be full of mistakes. In his study of the local language, therefore, he was compelled to start from scratch, relying principally on what he could learn from the Okinawans themselves.

Bettelheim set to work on compiling his grammar shortly after his arrival. The British Library’s manuscript has a preface dated 4 September 1849 but as early as 10 September 1846 he noted in his journal that he had ‘already begun to collect notes towards a grammar of the Loochooan’. Work on the dictionary must have begun around the same time for by 20 March 1847 he wrote in the Dictionary ‘I am at “Brib”’. His linguistic labours continued for five years until finally he recorded in his journal - with a characteristic lack of modesty (Jenkins, Vol. I p.616):

25 Dec 1851 … the greatest entry of this day, yea The Greatest Entry of the Year I have to make is that the Dictionary is finished. Thanks be to God for patience & health given to accomplish such arduous work. With such materials as I had, I am sure never man wrote such Dictionary. And I am equally sure, notwithstanding all the defects the work may have, the degree of completeness to which it is brought was never given to a dictionary by one man [….] What a beastly labour of hand & back bending, besides mental toil & anxiety.

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Title page of Bettelheim’s Okinawan grammar (BL Or.41 f.1r)

The status of Okinawan as an independent language or as a dialect of Japanese has been much debated. It seems Bettelheim himself was confused at times - the title page of his grammar shows that the original title was Elements or contributions towards a Japanese grammar with ‘Loochooan &’ being added later. In his preface he writes ‘I have never been in Japan nor did I hear natives from Japan speak more than three times, we being entirely prevented from coming into contact with those arriving here’. Nevertheless he states:

From a regular comparison between our language spoken here, and that contained in the books referred to [3], I hope I am not at all mistaken in calling ours Japanese, with the exception of a trifling difference between the sounds’. He concludes that ‘though there may be,as in any other language there are, dialectic differences in the Japanese, and that therefore a Yedoman [4] may as much differ from a Shuri-samuré as a London Cockney does from a broadmouthed Scotchman, yet the language of both to all ends and purposes is the same, and they will be able to understand and converse with each other.

Perhaps he later came to change his mind and added ‘Loochooan’ to the title when presenting the manuscript to the British Museum.

Following the annexation of Ryukyu by Japan, the Ryukyuan languages were customarily regarded as Japanese dialects. They are now recognised as independent languages belonging to the Japonic language family, related to – but distinct from – Japanese. Nowadays, the language described in the grammar and dictionary is defined by linguists as ‘Shuri Ryukyuan’ or uchinaaguchi, the language of the royal court in Shuri, capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which enjoyed greater prestige among the various Ryukyuan languages [5].

Or_41_f003v katakana
‘On the Japanese Letters’ – katakana as used to write Okinawan (BL Or.41 f.3v)

Although Bettelheim’s Bible translations into Okinawan were published in 1855, his grammar and dictionary were long overlooked. The grammar was finally edited and published in the 1980s (Kina et al. (1980-1984)). It contains 100 pages with sections ‘on the Japanese Letters’ (i.e. katakana), the phonology, morphology and syntax of Okinawan as well as some exercises and examples of the language. The dictionary, which runs to over 1,300 pages from A to Zoology, remains unpublished.

Or_40_f626v_zoology
The last page of Bettelheim’s dictionary – ‘Zone’ and ‘Zoology’: ‘Through the help of God finished Christmas Day 1851’ (BL Or.40 f. 626v)

The British Library also holds copies of Bettelheim’s Okinawan translations of the Gospel of St John (16011.a.8, 16011.a.11), Gospel of St Luke (16011.a.10), Acts of the Apostles (16011.a.6, 16011.a.9) and Romans (16011.a.7,16011.a.12), and a further translation of the Gospel of St Luke into Japanese (16011.a.13).

16011.a.8  St John 16011.a.10 St Luke
Bettelheim’s Okinawan translations of the Gospels of St John (left) and St Luke (right) (BL 16011.a.8 & 16011.a.10)  noc

16011.a.12 Romans t.p 16011.a.9 Acts
Bettelheim’s Okinawan translations of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (left) and Acts of the Apostles (right) (BL. 16011.a.12 & 16011.a.9)  noc

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First chapter of Bettelheim’s Okinawan translation of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (BL. 16011.a.12)  noc

Whatever his successes or failings as a missionary, later generations have reason to be grateful for Bettelheim’s energy and dedication to recording the Okinawan language. His Grammar and Dictionary constitute an extremely valuable resource for the study of the language.


Further reading
Bull, Earl R., Okinawa or Ryukyu – the Floating Dragon. Newark (Ohio), 1958.
Cary, Otis, A History of Christianity in Japan. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co, 1909.
Griesenhofer, Christopher, ‘B. J. Bettelheim 1849 : The first grammar of Ryukyuan’ in Handbook of the Ryukyuan languages: history, structure and use. Berlin ; Boston, Walter Gruyter GmbH, 2015.
Jenkins, Anthony P., The Journal and correspondence of Bernard Jean Bettelheim 1845-1854. Parts I-II. Naha: Okinawa-ken Kyōiku Iinkai, 2005-2012.
Kerr, George H., Okinawa: the history of an island people. Rutland ; Tokyo : Tuttle & Co., 1958.
Kina Chōshō et al., “Betteruhaimu-cho ‘Ryūkyūgo to Nihongo no bunpō no yōkō’, Nantō bunka ; 2 (1980)-6 (1984).

Hamish Todd, Asian and African Collections
 CC-BY-SA

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[1] Okinawan is one of the five (some argue six) Ryukyuan languages. The obsolete terms ‘Loochoo’ and ‘Loochooan’ derive from Liuqiu, the Chinese pronunciation of the characters 琉球 which are read in Japanese as Ryūkyū.
[2] An English and Japanese, and Japanese and English vocabulary : compiled from native works, by Walter H Medhurst. Batavia, 1830.
[3] i.e. Medhurst’s dictionary and Gützlaff’s translations.
[4] i.e. citizen of Edo (Tokyo).
[5] For a detailed description of the grammar contained in Elements, see Griesenhofer.

24 April 2017

Raising Kurdish Armenia: Kurdish Children’s Books from Soviet Armenia

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Among the stateless peoples of the world, the Kurds are perhaps the most numerous. Although they are believed to have originated in central and western Iran, their current areas of concentration are largely located in one of four countries: Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Smaller communities exist elsewhere, including the small Caucasian state of Armenia. Here, Kurds make up the largest ethnic minority – 1.3% of the total population. They are largely speakers of a northern dialect of Kurmanji, the Kurdish language that dominates communities in Turkey, north-western Iraq and Syria. In contrast to the assimilationist policies of many of the other states under which Kurds find themselves, Soviet nationalities policy recognized the existence of a separate Kurdish nation and, at least in theory, supported its cultural and social development. While Kurds in Turkey or Iraq were barred from giving their children Kurdish names, celebrating Nowruz or, at the most extreme, using the letters X or W (which do not figure into Turkish phonology, but do appear in Kurdish), Soviet Armenia’s Kurds had access to state-funded mother-tongue education.

YP2017a773 Cover Page
The cover of Şêrê Çevqul, or Greedy Lion, a collection of children’s poems in Kurmanji (YP.2017.a.773) © Hamoê Rizgo

Nevertheless, Kurds faced the same ups and downs of nationality policies that affected many of the other national minorities in the USSR. Among these were the codification, and re-codification, of the Kurdish language throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s. In the early 1920s, Armenian letters were first used for Kurdish, although this was abandoned in favour of the Latin alphabet in 1927. Among the Kurdish titles from Armenia held by the British Library, Қteba Zmane Kyrmançi, a reader for native Kurdish-speaking 4th year students from 1933 (14997.b.20), shows us the second stage of this journey. The work is written in a modified Latin script similar to those employed for Turkic languages within the Soviet Union during the same period. The idea was to create a uniform representative of the phonemics – the underlying sounds – of each of the languages to which it was applied. There is therefore no attempt at harmonizing this Latin-script Kurmanji with similar dialects further south in Turkey or Syria. This is understandable, given that the goal of Soviet linguists and central planners was not linguistic unification, but rather socio-economic unification leading to the creation of one, unitary Soviet nation.
14997b20 Title Page 2 14997b20 Oktjabr
Title page of Evdal’s 1933 edition of the Kurdish reader Қҭeba Zmane Kyrmançi in Latin script and Oktjabr, a Socialist-themed poem  (14997.b.20) © Emînê Evdal
 
This is even more evident when we look at the content of the readers, rather than their form. Although the reader dates from the first five years of Stalin’s reign, it already shows the hallmarks of the “National in form, Socialist in content” ethos of Stalinist nationalities management. Poems about October (an allusion to the October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power) mingle with illustrated folk tales and traditional stories. Children are entertained with pictures of warriors, bandits and princes in traditional Kurdish garb while also reminded that “Oktjabr – şabuna proletara” (October is the rebirth of the proletariat), and that “Bǝjraqed sor bьlьnd dьkьn zor” (Many will raise red flags). The 1933 reader is clear proof that the codification and standardization of a language – albeit within the confines of the Soviet state – could be used to serve a cause other than nationalism.

14997b20 Chariot Image  14997b27 Şerê Davit
Chariot Image – An excerpt from the 1933, Latin edition of Şerê Davit in Evdal's reader (14997.b.20) and the Cyrillic version of the same poem from the 1957 edition (14997.b.27) © Emînê Evdal

The author of this particular reader, Eminê Evdal, evidently survived the ravages of the Great Purge and the Second World War, and continued writing in Kurdish – this time in the Cyrillic alphabet – in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The Library holds a number of his poetry collections, including Memê û Zinê (14997.f.63), the name of one of the stories in the 1933 reader, and P’êrişan (14997.f.51), as well as other readers for the fourth year of classes at Kurdish schools in Soviet Armenia. In the 1957 edition (14997.b.27) the poem Oktjabr is no longer present. In its stead is Lenin, written by C. Genco. It is a panegyric to the father of the Soviet Union, complete with sketched portrait. Evdal’s poem Şerê Davit did survive the decades, and thanks to the copy held by the British Library, we can compare the 1933 and 1957 versions, picking out the orthographic, syntactic and semantic deletions and additions, while also marveling at the sheer visual differences between the Latin and Cyrillic renderings of Kurmanji.

YP2017a666 Title Page Armenian YP2017a666 Title Page Kurdish
Kurdish and Armenian titlepages of  Jndi’s H’k’yatêd Jimaeta Kurdiê/H’k’yatêd Jimaeta Kurdiê (YP.2017.a.666) © Hajie Jndi

During the 1960s, the task of compiling readers for a new generation of Kurdish-language students fell to Hajie Jndi, one of Soviet Armenia’s most prolific Kurdish authors. His H’k’yated Jimaeta K’urdî (YP.2016.a.666) contains a wealth of Kurdish folktales, short stories, poems and the like, all rendered in proper Cyrillic Kurdish. They are sanitized of any suspect ideological components, and occasionally illustrated to bring home a particular point. These collections, by a man who is believed to have authored some 110 books, articles, studies and other written works, demonstrate the central role played by Kurdish folk culture in identity-formation processes for Kurdish communities, even in the nominally post-national Soviet Union.

YP2017a770 Cover Page YP2017a770 Heft Rreng
The cover page of Gezgezk (Thistle), decorated with personalized animals and the poem Heft Rreng (Seven Colours) (YP.2017.a.770) © Şerefê Eşir

Part of the process of countering overly nationalistic content was the heavy reliance on ideological and class-conscious elements within the compositions. Other items held by the Library show the extent to which Marxist-Leninist ideas were woven into children’s stories and poems. In the anthology entitled Gezgezk (Nettle) (YP.2017.a.770), personified animals on the cover clue us into the allegorical nature of these poems and stories. We see a monkey and a bear dragging off a wolf – an animal that Soviet children would soon become acquainted with as an underhanded cheater, thanks to the cartoon Nu, Pogodi!, which first aired in 1969. Gezgezk contains simple poems that introduce children to meter, rhyme, prosody and an expanded vocabulary of the Kurdish language, while also indoctrinating them with State-sponsored ideology. Animals and villagers were indeed favourite means of doing this, as we can see in another anthology of children’s poetry held by the Library, Şêrê Çevqul (The Greedy Lion) (YP.2017.a.773). This collection includes works such as Ker û Ga (Ass and Cow), and Padşa û Gundi (King and Village), both of which harken to the rural imagination generally contained in Kurdish folktales and other oral literature, while also hammering home core components of the Socialist struggle.

YP2017a773 Ker u Ga copy YP2017a773 Padsha u Gondi
Ker u Ga, an allegorical story about an ass and a cow and Padsha u Gondi, a Socialist-tinged tale about a King and a village (YP.2017.a.773) © Hamoê Ȓizgo

Kurdish children’s literature from Soviet Armenia provides us with a valuable component to understanding a culture fractured along linguistic, political, social and economic lines. Although numerically small, the publishing history of Armenia’s Kurds highlights the importance of education as an agent of reproduction of both national culture and language, and State-sponsored ideologies. While the Kurds of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran faced severe restrictions on the use and propagation of their native language, those living in the Soviet Union were able to transform fully their mother tongue into a literary standard. In spite of this, the Socialist, anti-nationalist content of the materials produced kept the core of the struggle for cultural and political self-determination far to the south of Armenia, paving the way for these publications to become relics of a parochial, historically bounded arena of Kurdish cultural production.

 Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator, Asian and African Collections
 CC-BY-SA

30 December 2016

A Rose by Any Other Name: Turkish in its Various Apparitions

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For those who have learnt foreign languages, the presence of a loanword can be both comforting and surreal. In languages written in non-Roman scripts, a borrowed word – take computer as an example – greatly eases the task of building vocabulary; it is far simpler to remember the Japanese konpyutaa than the Hungarian számítógép. However, such loan-words can also be disorienting, triggering memories of one’s mother tongue while confronting it with the sight of a totally foreign representation. Now imagine that nearly every word in a text was much the same. This phenomenon is referred to as allography, and, in the period before standardized orthographies, state-sponsored schooling and the mass media, it was an exceptionally common occurrence. Among the most famous of cases are the Jewish languages of Yiddish and Ladino, but in the Ottoman Empire, where secular, state-directed education was not enforced until the 20th century, Turkish in scripts other than Arabic was a matter of routine business.

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Ahd-i Atikten On Yedi Kitap, yani Doğuş Kitabından Ester Kitabınadek, or The Old Testament from Genesis to the Book of Esther. Izmir: Grifilyan Basmahanesi, 1841 (BL 14400.c.4)
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The two largest allographic communities were the Armenians and the Greeks. Armeno-Turkish – a rendering of Ottoman Turkish in Armenian letters – gave rise to a vibrant publishing industry and cultural community. The orthography was largely phonetic and based upon Western Armenian readings of the letters. It was in Armeno-Turkish that many French and other Western European works came into Turkish. This was a situation assisted by the reticence of the Sublime Porte to authorize Ottoman Turkish printing presses, despite the expansion of Armenian, Greek and Jewish ones. Many volumes printed were religious works, for example BL 14400.c.4, shown above, a copy of the Old Testament. The growth of an Armenian middle class gradually permitted the flourishing of secular publication as well, allowing for the appearance of translations, adaptations and original works. A case in point is the collection of şarkılar, or folksongs, in Armeno-Turkish shown below, BL 14499.a.14(5). That the Armeno-Turkish cultural sphere was a world in its own right is attested to by an Armeno-Turkish guide to the works of Professor Bezjian published in Aleppo in 1932, four years after the introduction of a Latin script for Turkish, and more than a decade and a half after the tragic events of 1915.
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Left: Yeni Şarkiler Mecmuası, or The Journal of New Folk Songs. [Istanbul?]: n.p., 1871 (BL 14499.a.14(5))
Right: Prof. Y. A. Bezciyan ve Bazi Onun Eserleri, or Prof. Y. A. Bezjian and Some of His Works. Aleppo: Halep Kolej Matbaası, 1932
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Turkish written in Greek characters also laid the foundation for a vibrant publishing industry, with a heavy emphasis on religious materials. The language, known as Karamanlidika in Greek and Karamanlıca in Turkish, was the everyday idiom of the Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox Christians of Anatolia. Despite being ethnically and linguistically Turkish, their religion required them to be classified as Rum or Greek Orthodox under the Ottoman system. The Orthodox clergy controlled education, and a tradition of literacy in Greek letters, rather than modified Arabic script. Although many of the Library’s holdings in Karamanlidika are translations of the New Testament – usually published by British missionaries, for example BL 14400.a.28 below – there are also a few non-scriptual examples. One is a play based on the story of Abraham’s sacrifice, a story that is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike (BL 14469.c.4).
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Left: Incili Şerif, yani Ahd-i Cedid, or The Holy Gospel, or the New Testament. London: Rildert and Rivington Publishers, 1873 (BL 14400.a.28)
Right: Hazreti Avraamin: Ziyade Cok Cana Menfaatı Kurban Hikayesi, or Saint Abraham: The Sacrifice Story, of Great Use to Many Souls. Istanbul: Ignatious Basmahanesi, 1836 (BL 14469.c.4)
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The final example of allography from the Ottoman Empire is a much less common one, but no less interesting. It is of the newspaper Leshānā d’umthā, Syriac for Voice of the Nation (BL 753.k.35). This bi-weekly was produced in Beirut, Lebanon from 1927 until 1946 and had articles in Syriac, Arabic and Turkish. Arabic written in Syriac script is a common occurrence throughout the Christian Orient, and is referred to as Garshuni. Turkish written in Syriac characters, however, is far rarer, and represents a unique view into the linguistic, political and cultural identity of Beirut’s Christian communities decades after the end of Ottoman sovereignty. Unlike Armeno-Turkish, the author of the Ottoman Turkish articles in this periodical adhered to Ottoman orthography as much as possible, even when it did not conform to the spoken language. This indicates that the compiler of the articles was educated in Ottoman Turkish, yet opted to write in Syriac script; a reminder of just how powerful the visual aspects of language were and are in the Middle East.

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Left: The Syriac-script, trilingual (Syriac-Arabic-Turkish) biweekly Leshono d’Umtho, or Tongue of the Nation. Beirut, 1928 (BL 753.k.35(2))
Right: İlm-i Hal, or Catechism. The complete collection of faith-based knowledge for Muslims, printed in a modified Perso-Arabic script. Istanbul: Tevsi-i Tabaat Matbaası, [1910?](BL ITA.1994.a.128)
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Questions of script, orthography and language were not limited to the minority communities. Indeed, perhaps the most vibrant discussions were held about the majority language itself. Ottoman intellectuals frequently debated script and grammar reforms in discussions that impinged on issues of identity, power and connectivity. The edition of the Islamic theological tract, İlm-i Hal, produced by the Society for the Teaching of a New Script in the second decade of the 20th century, exemplifies this latter push for change (BL ITA.1994.a.128). One of only three publications by the Society, it sought to reconcile orthographic efficiency with tradition by adding vowel characters to the Arabic script, some of which were based on Old Turkic runes. Like the allographies of the Armenians, Greeks and Syriac Christians, this attempt would fall victim to the drive for standardization and generalization of the new age of nations ushered in by the end of the First World War. Today these publications remain as memorials to the colourful and pluralistic cultural milieus of the age of empires.

Michael Erdman, Curator Turkish and Turkic Collections
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