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85 posts categorized "Language"

01 February 2019

Unlocking Access to Ancient Science in Renaissance Italy: the vernacularization of Pliny’s ‘Historia Naturalis’

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In most cases, literary works which have marked a turning point, a watershed moment in the history of literature, are new and original creations. However, in some cases, a similar literary outburst has come from a translation rather than the original text. It will suffice to recall the Latin version of the Bible by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century, the so-called Vulgate and the enormous historical and cultural impact it had on Western Europe at the time.

A less known case, but no less historically important in its impact on the formation of the European Renaissance culture, is the vulgarization of the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder published in 1476 by the Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino, on which new light has been shed from the recent study of the Italian philologist Antonino Antonazzo in his Il volgarizzamento pliniano di Cristoforo Landino. (Messina, 2018; YF.2019.b.21).

Landino study

In a period which witnessed the rediscovery of classical literature, through the revival of Greek and Latin authors fallen into oblivion during the Middle Ages, the translation of Pliny’s text truly marked an epochal event: Landino’s great historical merit was to make a grandiose 37-volume encyclopedia of Greek-Roman antiquity accessible in the vernacular for the first time: the editio princeps of the translation is a monumental 830-page folio volume.

The British Library holds two copies at shelfmarks IC.19693 and C.3.d.2.

Pliny IC.19693 Dedication Translator’s dedication (f.2) from Historia naturale di C. Plinio Secondo tradocta di lingua Latina in Fiorentina per Christophoro Landino (Venice, 1476) Above: IC.19693 ; below: C.3.d2.

Pliny C.3.d.2

Landino’s laborious work filled an important cultural void that could no longer wait. Many readers from different backgrounds benefited from it: poets, such as Luigi Pulci; artists – to name one, Leonardo da Vinci; and even explorers such as Christopher Columbus. The aftermath was so great throughout Europe, that Landino’s translation remained the only vernacular translation of Naturalis historia for almost a century: the first French translation was published in 1562 (Antoine du Pinet), the English was published in 1601 (Philemon Holland ), the Spanish in 1624 (Gerónimo de Huerta) and a complete German translation as late as 1764 (Johann Daniel Denso).

Pliny IC.19693 Preface
Opening of Pliny’s preface from Historia Naturale (IC.19693)

The Florentine vernacularization became a key work because it placed itself at the confluence of many questions until then unanswered: was it acceptable to translate classical literary works into the very vernacular used in everyday life by common people? How to translate a peculiar lexicon of scientific disciplines, such as astronomy, meteorology, zoology, botany, medicine and mineralogy?

And, among the many vernaculars spoken in the regions of Italy, which one was the most suitable? The debate around this last question was in fact now centuries old: it had been a burning one since the origins of Italian literature in the 13th century and had left many conflicting theories; Dante Alighieri in his unfinished De Vulgari Eloquentia (1303-04) reviewed 14 Italian vernaculars in order to identify the most ‘illustrious’ and suitable for poetry, and ended up discarding them all, including the Florentine itself – which is the reason why scholars believe he interrupted the work, the theory conflicting with the practice, as the Divine Comedy would demonstrate.

Cristoforo_Landino_-_Wikimedia

 Portrait of Cristoforo Landino from a fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, ca 1486-90. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Landino’s translation answered all these questions, and even though it did not please some humanists, it was received with enthusiasm by the general public. A significant example of this is its success with a female public, as we read in Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti’s description of his wife with her books in Gynevera de le clare donne.

...havea piacere assai in audire legere li versi de Virgilio; legea lei voluntiera Plinio de naturali hystoria, posto in materna lingua, et de li libri spirituali et sancti.
[...she very much enjoyed having Virgil’s verses read to her; she gladly read Pliny’s Naturalis Historia in her mother tongue, and holy and spiritual books...]

The relevance of this testimony is reinforced by the reaction of Francesco Florido Sabino, who, 60 years later, in his Apologia in Marci Actii Plauti aliorumque poetarum et linguae Latinae calumniatores, cursed Landino for allowing not just anybody access to Pliny’s work, but even to women. (See Antonazzo’s study p. 50)

Landino’s intention to reach a wide audicence is expressed in his dedicatory letter to the King of Naples Ferrante d’Aragona, which begins with these words:

Essendo gli animi nostri per loro natura di tanta celerità quanta né mia né altra lingua exprimere non poterebbe, né essendo altro cibo che gli pasca et nutrisca se non la cognitione, chi non vede che nessuna più grata chosa può alloro adivenire che havere vera scientia di tutte le cose?
[Our soul in its nature being as rapid as neither mine nor any other language can express, and there being no other nourishment that satisfies and feeds as cognition does, how can anyone not see that there is nothing that makes it happier than the true knowledge of all things?]

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Collections

References

Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia, a cura di Enrico Fenzi, con la collaborazione di Luciano Formisano e Francesco Montuori (Rome, 2012) YF.2013.a.25815

Sabadino Degli Arienti, Gynevera de le clare donne (Bologna, 1888). 12226.de.8.(1.)

Francesco Florido Sabino, In M. Actii Plauti aliorumque Scriptorum calumniatores apologia ... (Basle, 1540) C.81.i.9.

11 December 2018

A Mysterious Linguistic Enclave in Southern Poland

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Wilamowice, a small town in southern Poland in the Silesian voivodeship, is the home of speakers of one of the most endangered languages on the linguistic map of Europe according to UNESCO’s Atlas of the world’s languages in danger (Paris, 2010; fm10/.1073). The language is known under a few names: Wymysorys, Vilamovian or Wilamowicean. Linguists tend to consider it one of the West German dialects, though the origin of the speakers is not clear.

Wilamowice postcard
An early 20th-century postcard of Wilamowice, reproduced in  Antoni Barciak (ed.), Wilamowice : przyroda, historia, język, kultura oraz społeczeństwo miasta i gminy  (Wilamowice, 2001) YF.2005.a.19308

In the 13th century, during the Mongol invasion the native Slavic population of the area was greatly reduced. It was later colonised by German, Scottish and Flemish settlers. In the course of a few centuries the foreign colonists blended into the local communities, with one exception, i.e. Wilamowice. The inhabitants of this town have always considered themselves to be people of Flemish descent preserving their distinctive language, costumes and customs.

Wilamowice women 010291i.38
Women from Wilamowice in the 1930s. The two on the right wear traditional costumes, the two on the left wear a more modernised variation. From Viktor Kauder, Das Deutschtum in der Wojewodschaft Schlesien (Plauen, 1937) 010291.i.38

After the partition of Poland in the late 18th century the area was under Austrian rule until the end of the First World War. German and Polish were the dominant languages. To sort out the linguistic issue of Wilamowice, in 1875 the authorities introduced Polish as an official language. This was the first step towards the polonisation of the town. Although education was offered both in Polish and German, most parents chose to send their children to Polish-language schools with German and the local dialect also taught. The only period when German became compulsory was during the Nazi occupation of Poland in the years 1939-1945. The Polish language was abandoned and, in some cases, forbidden from the official use, whereas Vilamovian, viewed by the Nazis as the local dialect of German, was even promoted. However the slow decline of the dialect had already started at the end of the 19th century, and apart from this short revival in the Second World War, it got almost extinguished in the Polish People’s Republic.

The Vilamovians were regarded by the post-Second World War communist authorities as Germans despite the fact that they stressed their Flemish origin. During the war the majority of the Vilamovians had been forced to accept the Volksliste and as a result they were subject to a harsh treatment in communist Poland. In the postwar period many people were arrested and their property was confiscated; some families were persuaded to relocate to the “Recovered Territories”. A decree issued in 1946 banned the use of the dialect and costumes. Soon people stopped speaking and teaching Vilamovian to avoid severe punishment. The social structure of the town also changed and many newcomers mixed with the native population. The ban was eventually lifted, but by that time no young people could speak or understand the language. The postwar period was the most traumatic in the long history of Wilamowice.

Vilamovian has seen a revival of interest among young members of the community in the last decade. Academics have also engaged in language revitalization, and Vilamovian can now be studied at the University of Warsaw. Nowadays about 300 people can understand it and approximately 60 people have the ability to speak it with varying degrees of fluency. It has been recognized as a separate language by a number of international bodies, but in Poland it has not yet been given the official status of a regional language.

You can read some poems in Vilamovian (with Polish and German translations) here, and listen to the language being spoken by a native of Wilamowice in this YouTube clip.

WilamowceBlog
A modern regional folk ensemble from Wilamowce  (Photo by Wymysojer from Wikimedia Commons
) 

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

Further reading:

Tomasz Wicherkiewicz, The making of a language: the case of the idiom of Wilamowice, southern Poland, Trends in linguistics. Documentation; 19. (Berlin, 2003). YD.2005.a.3195

Józef Latosiński, Monografia miasteczka Wilamowic, (Kraków, 1910). 10292.s.8.

Zbigniew Rokita, ‘Kumże tu!’ in: Polityka, no. 13, 2017. MFM.MF1241D

Hermann Mojmir, Wörterbuch der deutschen Mundart von Wilamowice. (Kraków, 1930-1936.) Ac.750/109

25 October 2018

‘Where are your Olympic Games?’ Panagiotis Soutsos (1806-1868)

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Throughout the early 19th century, the contrast between the glories of ancient Greece and the servile humiliation imposed on modern Greeks by the Ottoman Empire was a frequent theme for poets there and abroad. Lord Byron, before going off to join the cause of Greek independence, lamented in his poem ‘The Isles of Greece’:

'Tis something, in the dearth of fame,
Though linked among a fettered race,
To feel at least a patriot's shame,

while in Germany Friedrich Hölderlin was writing in his novel Hyperion of the struggles of a young Greek to raise awareness of his country’s plight and find a place in the wider world. The fight for national autonomy and liberation, however, was just one aspect of the Greek endeavour to recreate the splendours of past ages. As well as its reputation for freedom and democracy, ancient Greece had been renowned for the richness of its language and literature and the prowess of its athletes as displayed in its many festivals, including the Isthmian, Delian, Pythian and, of course, the Olympic Games.

Soutsos portraitPortrait of Panagiotis Soutsos (from Wikimedia Commons)

It was in this field that the poet Panagiotis Soutsos was especially active. Born in 1806 in Constantinople, he belonged to a distinguished family of Phanariote origins, with a brother, Alexandros, and a sister, Aikaterini, who were also writers. This privileged background enabled the brothers to study at the famous school of Chios under Neophytos Vamvas, who translated the Bible into modern Greek, and to enjoy opportunities to travel unusual among Greeks at that time. In 1820, on the death of their father, they joined their uncle in Transylvania, and set out to Paris with a letter of introduction from him to Adamantios Korais, a leading figure in the Greek Enlightenment whose linguistic work laid the foundations of a purified form of the language known as Katharevousa. It was in this that Soutsos wrote the first version of his poem Ὁ Ὁδοιπόρος (‘The Wayfarer’) in 1831, although the subsequent ones of 1842, 1851 and 1864 included increasing numbers of archaisms. This ‘tragedy in five acts’ is in fact a poem in dialogue describing the love of the Wayfarer and his sweetheart Ralou and their tragic end, and is regarded as one of the seminal works of the First Athenian School which flourished between 1830 and 1880 in Athens and the Ionian Isles. Because of the origins of many of its members, it was also known as the Phanariotic School.

Soutsos Odoiporos 1608-2101 Title-page of Ὁ Ὁδοιπόρος (Athens, 1864) 1608/2101.

Of equal importance was Ὁ Λέανδρος (‘Leander’) in 1834, a novel which adopted the epistolary form used by Hölderlin and comes to a similarly pathetic conclusion as the hero writes to his friend Charilaos, ‘Hear the hour of midnight, signifying: This is the hour of my death; I am coming, death! Why are you calling me? I am coming. I take up my weapon…’, typical of the Greek Romantic movement in its patriotic theme and the influence of French Romanticism.

Soutsos Leandros 1458.b.25Title-page of Ὁ Λέανδρος (Athens, 1834) 1458.b.25.

It was prudent of Soutsos to concentrate on his literary activities, as his professional life was not a success. Settling in Nauplion (Nafplio) in 1833, he embarked on a political career and was appointed secretary of the senate by Ioannis Kapodistrias, but lost his position through his outspoken opposition to the latter’s policies. In any event, his progress was blocked by the heterogeneous law of 1843, barring citizens born in occupied territories from employment in the public sector, and his political views became increasingly conservative.

However, in the year of his arrival in Nauplion, then the capital of the newly-independent Greek state, he wrote a poem with still more far-reaching effects. Its title, ‘Dialogue of the Dead’, recalls Lucian of Samosata’s work of a similar title, and it portrays the spirit of Plato returning to Greece to gaze upon it in despair with the words: ‘Where are all your theatres and marble statues? / Where are your Olympic Games?’ Two years later, he followed this up with a letter to the Greek Minister of the Interior, Ioannis Kolettis, proposing that 25 March, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, should be declared a national holiday, marked by festivities including a revival of the ancient Olympics. Early the next year a wealthy Greek merchant based in Romania, Evangelis Zappas, offered to fund the Olympic revival, complete with cash prizes for the victors. On 13 July 1856 Soutsos published an article unveiling Zappas’ proposal to the public, and on 15 November 1859 the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens.

It was not only in politics that Soutsos stirred up controversy. His cosmopolitan outlook and French contacts had made him aware of Ernest Renan’s Vie de Jésus (1863), and his second novel, Charitine, or The Beauty of the Christian Faith, subtitled ‘Antidote to the nonsense of Ernest Renan against the deity of Jesus Christ’ (Athens, 1864; 4823.aa.43) launched an impassioned attack on it, as might be expected from the author of The Messiah, or the Sufferings of Jesus Christ.

Soutsos Messias 1343.i.13 Title-page of The Messiah (Athens, 1839) 1343.i.13

In linguistic matters, too, Soutsos provoked disputes. In 1853 he expounded his opinions on language in his essay New School of the Written Word, or Resurrection of the Ancient Greek Language Understood by All, advocating the revival of Ancient Greek and dismissing Demotic Greek as not universally intelligible. The academic Konstantinos Asopios retaliated with The Soutseia, or Mr Panagiotis Soutsos scrutinized as a Grammarian, Philologist, Schoolmaster, Metrician and Poet, leading to a torrent of pamphlets by other scholars all exposing one another’s alleged shortcomings and promoting their own systems.

Despite this and the trials of increasing ill health, financial losses and marital troubles, by the time of his death on 25 October 1868 Soutsos had seen his Olympic vision realised and his work translated into German as early as 1844 – a further chapter in the mutual fascination between Greece and Germany throughout the 19th century.

Soutsos Ode bilingual 1461.h.3Title-page of Ode: Erinnerung an die wiedererstandene Hellas (Wrocław, 1844) 1461.h.3., a parallel Greek and German language edition

 Susan Halstead. Subject Librarian (Social sciences) Research Services

 

        

26 September 2018

Languages of Reckoning: The Gagauz Number System

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The more languages you speak, the more perspectives you have on the world. Bulgarian, Czech and Hungarian proverbs capture this observation: ‘Човекът е толкова пъти човек, колкото езика знае’ (Bulgarian: a person is as many times a person as many languages knows), ‘Kolik jazyků znáš, tolikrát jsi člověkem’ (Czech: as many languages you know, as many times as you are a person), ‘Ahány nyelvet beszélsz, annyi ember vagy’ (Hungarian: as many languages you speak, as many persons you are). And a similar proverb has also been attributed to that famous polyglot, Emperor Charles V. By drawing on linguistics and anthropology, Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf suggested that the proverbial language-thought nexus is universal, so that the structure of a language has an influence on the speaker’s thinking and behaviour even if the speaker is unaware of this influence.

Does the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis apply to non-alphabetic – in particular, numeric – languages as well? Learning numeric systems other than the prevailing Arabic and Roman ones, however, would be a challenge, as only a few other systems are preserved in Europe, mainly alphabetic numerals, for instance in Georgian, Greek and Hebrew. Why do we ‘speak’ so few numeric languages in comparison with alphabetic languages? If Sanskrit, the origin of Arabic numerals, and Latin, the origin of Roman numerals, had their own numeral systems, can we assume that each language once had its own symbols for writing numbers? If so, how, when and why did they abandon their own numerals?

A recent addition to the British Library’s Gagauz collection, Gagauz yortulari, adetleri, siralari (Gagauz Holidays, Customs, Rites), presented by the Gagauz linguist and ethnographer, Todur Zanet, in four parallel languages, Gagauz, English, Romanian and Russian, reveals numerals, which seem to be specific to Gagauz (p. 9). Considering how few languages maintained their numerals, the Gagauz model prompts a closer look.

Gagauz Cover YF.2018.a.9388
Cover of Todur Zanet, Gagauz yortulari, adetleri, siralari (Gagauz Holidays, Customs, Rites) (Chişinău, 2017) YF.2018.a.9388

 

2-Zanet-numerals-p9
Gagauz numerals, from Gagauz yortulari, adetleri, siralari, p. 9

The Gagauz are a Turkic people of Orthodox Eastern Christian religion. One of Europe’s 60 regional and minority languages, Gagauz belongs to the Oghuz, south-western branch of the Turkic language family, together with Turkish, Azerbaijani and Turkmen. Spoken by 140,000 people in Moldova, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece and other countries, Gagauz – in addition to Romanian and Russian – is the official language of Gagauzia, an autonomous region of the Republic of Moldova. Gagauz was mainly a spoken rather than written language until the mid-20th century. The orthographic changes from Greek letters to Cyrillic under Soviet governance and from Cyrillic to Latin after gaining independence imply profound political and cultural changes. Re-connecting with the Gagauz numerals and number system may perhaps be part of the efforts to construct a new identity.

Personal communication with Todur Zanet (May 2018) and Vitalie Sirf of the Moldovan Academy of Sciences (Aug 2018) reveals that the Gagauz numerals are not used any more, except in rare publications by leaders in cultural revitalisation. Gagauzians today use the Latin (Roman) script and Roman and Arabic numerals. Sirf adds that Gagauzians, both in Bessarabia and the Balkans, have been using Arabic and Roman numerals since the end of the 19th century.

The same set of Gagauz numerals Zanet brings to our attention (p. 9) were already published almost a century ago by Atanas I. Manov, a Bulgarian linguist. Manov’s brief account includes a statement that adds to the significance of these numerals, namely, the Gagauz men and women who used these numerals were illiterate.

Can numeracy precede literacy? The examples of other pastoralists, farmers, navigators and many other illiterate artisans who used complex calculations suggest an affirmative answer. Joseph Mazur, an American mathematician proposes that ‘mathematical writing predates literature by more than a thousand years.’ One can be illiterate and mathematically literate. This may sound counter-intuitive in our age of computers when literacy is more valued than numeracy and large portions of our population suffer under an alarmingly low level of numeracy.

Gagauz Manov
Cover of Atanas I. Manov, Potekloto na gagauzitiei tiekhnitie obichai i nravi (Varna, 1938) YA.2002.a.20996

4-Manov-numerals-p173
The Gagauz numerals in Bulgarian, from Potekloto na gagauzitiei tiekhnitie obichai i nravi
 

Gagauz numerals are written using four basic symbols (vertical stroke, cross, half-circle, full circle) and their superimposition (vertical stroke in a circle, cross in a circle). The six icons are easy to notch with a few strokes or made as impressions by simple tools, characteristics they share with others number symbols, which Karl Menninger has labelled ‘folk’ and ‘peasant’ numerals.

The symbol for hundred represents the highest value carried by an individual icon. This may suggest a base 10 (decimal) thinking, however, the Gagauz number system seems to combine decimal and vigesimal (base 20) elements. Base 10 is used up to 19 and base 20 from 20, similar to what Georges Ifrah found in Danish, Celtic (Breton, Welsh, Irish) languages, Basque and Georgian. The French for eighty, quatre-vingts, which literally means ‘four twenties’ is also a vestige of base 20 thinking.

Gagauz numerals are read from left to right and formed in three ways: (i) adding, (ii) multiplying adjacent symbols or (iii) combining addition and multiplication. For instance, addition is applied up to 499; multiplication for 500 and 1,000, and their combination for 600 and above. No sign but the relative values of adjacent numerals indicate the algorithm change from addition to multiplication and combination: if a lower value numeral precedes the next, the lower is interpreted as a multiplier. The algorithm change from addition to multiplication marked by sequence exists also in other number systems, for instance Ge’ez, the ancient Ethiopian, and ancient and current Chinese.

5-Addition-Multipl-Comb
Examples of Gagauz numerals formed by addition, multiplication and their combination

Let’s convert some Gagauz, Roman and Arabic numerals and experience the joys of learning a new numeric language (the key is at the end of the post).

6-Quiz
Quiz to convert Gagauz, Roman and Arabic numerals

Converting one system to another raises awareness of the challenges people faced when trying to translate between different ways of counting. These transactions may have facilitated processes in which local numerals and number systems got lost in translation, and more widely shared systems for commercial, administrative and scientific communication were adopted.

According to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger all four Gagauz dialects are endangered, without any reference to their numerals. The Gagauz number system may be extinct, yet it is an important part of the world’s cultural heritage, even if not listed in the UNESCO list of Intangible Heritage , because it highlights the diversity of knowing the world, well, more precisely, the diversity of reckoning. Losing local number systems, just like losing alphabetic languages and local knowledge sensu lato, is a stark reminder of losing important perspectives we could have on the world.

Andrea Deri, Cataloguer


Key_25Sep2018-2
Key to quiz: converting Gagauz, Roman and Arabic numerals

Acknowledgements
Contributions to this post from Todur Zanet, Vitalie Sirf (Moldovan Academy of Sciences) and Rossitza Atanassova, Saqib Baburi, Anna Chelidze, Bob Chen, Sara Chiesura, Eyob Derillo, Michael Erdman, Bink Hallum, Arani Ilankuberan, Marja Kingma and Geoff West (British Library) are much appreciated. 


References/Further reading:

Florian Cajori, A History of Mathematical Notations (New York, 1993) YK.1996.a.5633

Tobias Dantzig, Number, the Language of Science (New York, 2005) YK.2006.a.18415

Georges Ifrah, The Universal History of Numbers. Volume 1. The World’s First Number-Systems. Volume 2. The Modern Number-System (London, 2000) YC.2001.a.17568

Georges Ifrah, From One to Zero: a Universal History of Numbers (New York, 1985) 85/33662

Elizaveta N. Kvilinkova, ‘The Gagauz Language through the Prism of Gagauz Ethnic Identity’. Anthropology & Archeology of Eurasia. Volume 52: Number 1(2013), pp. 74-94.  1546.502670

Joseph Mazur, Enlightening Symbols: a Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers (Princeton and Oxford, 2014) YC.2014.a.5849

Karl Menninger, Number Words and Number Symbols: a Cultural History of Numbers (Cambridge, Mass., and London, England, 1970) qAL69/5025

Joseph Needham with the collaboration of Wang Ling, Science and civilisation in China. Vol. 3, Mathematics and the sciences of the heavens and the earth. (Cambridge, 1959) OIK 509.51

Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass, Regional and Minority Languages in the European Union (Brussels, 2016) 

James A. Picton, On the Origin and History of the Numerals. A Paper Held before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool, November 30, 1874. ([Liverpool, 1874]) 8531.dd.28.(1)

Edward Sapir, Language: an Introduction to the Study of Speech. (London, 1921) 012902.f.44.

Thomas Zitelmann, ‘Numbers, Numerals, Numeric Systems’ in Encyclopaedia Aethiopica. (Wiesbaden, 2007) OID 963.003

 

11 September 2018

The Portuguese Hobson-Jobson

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One of the things I wanted to explore as part of my tenure as the British Library’s translator-in-residence was the way in which dominant or colonial languages absorb minority languages and the tongues of the colonised, from speech patterns in Welsh or Irish forms of English that obviously originating in the Celtic languages (‘I’m just after seeing him’ ‘Cold I am’), to the many words from Hindi, Arabic, Nahuatl, Yiddish etc., that are so essential in modern English. After all, where would we be without, ‘Chocolate’, ‘Chutzpah’, or indeed ‘Alcohol’? Or indeed, the words ‘thug’, ‘loot’, ‘juggernaut’ and ‘shampoo’, all of which entered English from Indian languages over the course of the 300 or so years of British presence in India.

Hobson-Jobson spine Henry Yule and A.C. Burnell, Hobson-Jobson: a glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words ... New edition edited by William Crooke (Delhi, 1968). LEX.26

The son of an Indian father, I’ve for a long time been aware of the great lexicon of British India, A.C. Burnell and Henry Yule’s Hobson-Jobson, first published in 1903. The name itself, a mangling of the mourning cries of ‘Ya Hassan! Ya Hosain!’ in the Shia festival of Muharram, this eclectic and idiosyncratic glossary of words that entered English from the Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Persian, Chinese and Indian languages, has been called ‘the legendary dictionary of British India’ by none other than Salman Rushdie. Its influence has been great, with over 500 of its entries ending up in the OED, and the variety of its entries, including discussions of etymology, political asides and witty anecdotes, makes it a highly entertaining read. The entry for ‘mosquito’, for example, ends with the tale of a Scottish woman who, upon arrival in India apparently thought the first elephant she saw was an example of the dreaded mosquitoes she’d heard so much about!

Hobson-Jobson BumbaAn entry from Hobson-Jobson for the word ‘Bumba’, borrowed by Hindi from Portuguese and by English from Hindi.

Of course, English was not the only colonial language, and at its pinnacle the spread of the Portuguese empire was wide enough to rival that of its British counterpart. Likewise, Portuguese has been similarly marked by its encounters with, for example, Tupi in Brazil, Kimbundu in Angola and the many Asian languages spoken in former Portuguese territories, from Konkani in Goa to Tetun in Timor. Two of my favourite examples of loan words in Portuguese are actually both Arabic in origin: ‘salamaleques’, from the Muslim salutation, meaning an excessive or exaggerated greeting, and ‘mameluco’, taken from the Egyptian Mamluk dynasty, which in Brazil came to be used to describe the offspring of one European and one Native parent, and more generally people of mixed race-origin. Working in the other direction, food lovers may have noted that the name of the popular Mumbai snack, Pav Bhaji, where a curry is soaked up with Western-style bread comes from the Portuguese word for bread, ‘pão’.

In a conversation with Barry Taylor, the BL’s curator for Spanish and Portuguese, I asked if he knew of a Portuguese version of Hobson-Jobson, detailing the Asian words used during Portuguese rule in Asia, or in Portugal itself. All Barry had to do was email the right person, and within a week I was in possession of both volumes of Sebastião Rodolfo Dalgado’s Glossário Luso-Asiático, the format of which pretty much mirrors that of Yule and Barnell’s tome.

Glossario Luso-Asiatico X.0909-919 Sebastião Rodolfo Dalgado, Glossário Luso-Asiático (Hamburg, 1983), X.0909/919

Though the Glossário lacks some of the wit of Hobson-Jobson, in its own way it’s as unique and idiosyncratic as its English-language cousin, by which it was clearly influenced, and which provided a source for some of its entries. Of Indian rather than European ethnicity, Dalgado was born into a family of Goan Brahmin Catholic converts, and as well as being a Catholic priest, wrote numerous studies of language in India, including a Konkani-Portuguese dictionary and several glossaries of Indo-Portuguese dialects across the sub-continent. Eschewing scholarly impartiality, his preface starts with a lament for the short-lived glory of Portuguese Asia, which despite leaving its traces across the continent in place names such as Colombo, Bombay and Formosa was very small by 1919. He takes solace in his belief that Portugal was ‘(the) heroic nation which, opening up the doors of the Orient, was the first to plant the seeds of Western civilisation, conquering lands for the king and gaining souls for Christ’, but is also quick to insist that ‘the Portuguese conquest is distinct from the others…owing to its efforts in bringing civilisation…and its highly egalitarian politics’.

Sebastiao Rodolfo Dalgado

 Sebastião Rodolfo Dalgado. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Just as Dalgado himself was the product of a complex Luso-Indian colonial context, cross-referencing the Glossário and Hobson-Jobson produces some interesting case studies For example, the English word ‘nabob’ did not come straight from the Hindustani ‘nawab’ but from the Portuguese corruption, ‘nababo’. The word originally described only the high-ranking governors who served under the Great Moghul, before becoming a ‘a title occasionally conferred, like a peerage, on Mohammedan gentlemen of distinction’. In English, however, it became far more familiar as a term used to describe those English people who returned from the East with great riches. Elsewhere, Hobson-Jobson notes that the term ‘Bengal’ once denoted a kind of wood from that region, but that it was barely used at the time of publication. The Glossário, on the other hand, describes how the specific term ‘cana de Bengala’ (Bengal-wood cane) was a specific term which was eventually shortened simply to ‘Bengala’, and in modern Portuguese is the common term for any kind of walking-stick.

Glosario Bengala Entry for ‘Bengala’ from Glossário Luso-Asiático

Leaving aside other aspects of empire and colonialism for a moment, I feel one would be hard pressed to argue that English and Portuguese were not enriched by their encounters, violent or otherwise, with cultures in Asia, Africa and the Americas. To put these two books side-by-side is a fascinating comparative study of the differing fates of each country’s colonial project and a testament to the remarkable adaptability of language itself.

Rahul Bery, Translator in Residence

12 July 2018

Announcing the British Library’s new Translator in Residence

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I am delighted, excited, and ever so slightly daunted to be embarking upon my journey as the British Library’s second-ever Translator in Residence. When I saw the advert it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring together the things I have been most occupied with over the last decade or more: language, education, translation, cultural exploration and of course, books.

Translator in Residence Rahul
New Translator in Residence Rahul Bery at his desk in the British Library

I came to literary translation relatively recently, and more or less by chance, when a friend of mine, who had recently set up The White Review, asked if I’d be interested in translating a short essay by the Argentinian writer, Cesar Aíra, followed by a longer piece by Enrique Vila-Matas. Having just moved to Cardiff and given up my job to look after my then two-year old son, cerebral activity of this kind was most welcome. Translating work by very much established Spanish-language writers, and seeing them out in the world, was a real kick so early on. Before long I translated my first piece from Portuguese, a wonderful essay on video games by the Brazilian Daniel Galera, and soon after was selected to go to Paraty, Brazil, for a BCLT/British Council organised literary translation winter school. Since those heady days translation has become an activity I can’t do without, and I’ve worked with some brilliant authors, publications and anthologies, as well as exhibitions, universities, and even Portuguese food export firm. However, I’m still chasing that first book-length translation.

At the same time, I have spent a good part of the last five or so years working as a teacher, first as a languages teacher in secondary schools in London and the Rhondda Valleys, and then as a teacher and co-ordinator of English as an additional language (EAL) in Fishponds, Bristol. This last experience, where I had the privilege of working closely with young people who had only recently arrived in the UK, sometimes from very difficult situations, made a profound mark on me, and will be just as instrumental in my approach to the residency as my experience with translation. Witnessing the difficulty some young people have adapting to their new surroundings, combined with the ease with which they pick up English (many of the children I worked with were already fluent in two or more languages) has really altered my perspective on a lot of things.

Over the course of my residency I want to draw attention to the wealth of skills and knowledge contained within UK schools, where unfortunately many multilingual children still think of their home language as a source of shame rather than a gift. I want to bring young people from all backgrounds into the library to learn about translation and themselves contribute to BL’s incredible collection, through creative collaborations and, if all goes to plan, creating their own entries for the library’s sound archives.

Inspired by the AHRC’s current Translating Cultures project, I also want to focus on how people’s identities change and adapt as people start existing in other languages. Though I grew up speaking only English, 3 of my grandparents spoke 4 languages between them (Hindi, Sindhi, Punjabi and Welsh) but spent most of their lives existing in English. I also want to play a small role in challenging the hegemony of English, which, under the guise of utility, ends up being ubiquitous, making the world a more predictable and less exciting place.

As well as celebrating the wealth of community languages spoken somewhere like Camden, or any notable UK town or city, I’d also like to bring the many native UK languages—Welsh, Cornish, Gaelic, Scots, Manx, as well as different dialects— to the attention of people in the capital. I grew up in London but have lived in Wales for half a decade; both of my children are educated through the medium of Welsh, and I am finally learning the language myself. I’m often astonished as to how little people outside of Wales know about the thriving bilingual communities that exist there, even in a city like Cardiff. So much media attention denigrates these tongues as ‘pointless’ or ‘dead’, even while simultaneously celebrating multilingualism in general. Again, I hope to redress that balance through events, open days and online activity.

Translator in Residence book covers
Books from the British Library’s collections in (clockwise from left) Irish Gaelic, Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Scots and Cornish 

Of course, these are big ideas, and one thing I hope to take away from this year is the ability and the know-how to transform them into concrete things, with the help of the wonderful and talented staff of the library itself. I’m also hoping to involve other translators, to whom I owe so much, as collaborators, advisers, guest speakers, bloggers, and everything else!

Translation can be a hobby, a necessity, an occupation, a way of life, a process, and I’m honoured to have been given the opportunity to explore it in all its different guises, over a full year, and in such an amazing setting.

Rahul Bery, Translator in Residence

Charles Forsdick, “Translating Cultures” Theme Leadership Fellow, Arts and Humanities Research Council, said:
The AHRC “Translating Cultures” theme is delighted to be working with the British Library and the IMLR on the translator-in residence scheme for a second year, following the highly successful inaugural residency of Jen Calleja. We look forward to supporting Rahul in the role, and to ensuring that AHRC-funded researchers from among the 100 or so “Translating Cultures” projects are fully engaged in the activities he plans. The collaboration is an excellent way to enhance public understanding of translation, and to demonstrate that the multiple languages spoken in the UK are a key national resource and an integral part of everyday life.

Catherine Davies, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, said:
Collaboration with the British Library and the AHRC on the translator-in-residence scheme is a new venture for the IMLR, and one we hope to continue in future years. IMLR promotes research in Modern Languages and of course this includes Translation and Creative Writing. Rahul’s priorities, to work with schools, migrant communities and community languages, are also priorities for the IMLR. Everyone who can speak a language other than English should be proud of their languages, and should be given due accreditation and recognition. Rahul's work at the British Library will help make this a reality and inspire us to cross borders and celebrate Britain's rich language diversity.

Janet Zmroczek, Head of European and American Collections at the British Library, said:
The British Library is thrilled to be hosting its second translator in residence and to be working with Rahul, and our partners at the AHRC and the IMLR to build upon the success of the inaugural residency scheme that the BL began last year with Jen Calleja. The Library is a natural home for translation and translators, holding as it does incomparable contemporary and historical collections in a vast range of languages, from historical dictionaries and print publications in most written languages of the world, to the archives of literary translators, sound recordings and oral history interviews. Rahul’s ambitions to bring together the Library’s dedicated multilingual staff, local communities and an international community of researchers, students and visitors will I’m sure make it a busy and fascinating year ahead for us all. 

13 April 2018

Esperanto – not what you thought?

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Today is the opening day of the British and Pan-Celtic Esperanto Conference in Aberystwyth.

EsperantoBlogoceltic-dragonLogo of the Conference

Esperanto speakers? You’re probably thinking there can’t be many of them – and moreover that the few who do exist are probably crazy as well. Yes, you’re right that they are far fewer in number than the people who are learning English or, these days, Chinese. But how many are there? The truth is that nobody knows. If the figure of “more than 100,000” is good enough for Encyclopaedia Britannica, far be it from me to contradict it by giving my own estimate.

In any case, we can confidently say that there are a few million Esperanto speakers scattered throughout the world. If there weren’t, the Esperanto Wikipedia would not now be the 32nd largest in terms of the number of articles (as recorded in June 2016). Not to mention the 1.6 million learners who have signed up for the Esperanto courses with the language-learning site Duolingo

Esperanto speakers are everywhere. The World Esperanto Association has members in over 120 countries. Esperanto speakers can also be found in the sort of places where you would never think of looking, such as East Timor and New Caledonia, and there are fascinating stories about the development of Esperanto in various countries, from China to the Czech Republic. The British Library’s Esperanto Collections reflect the history and diversity of the Esperanto movement and its publications.

EsperantoBlogHistoriesMontage
 Books from the British Library Esperanto Collection on the Esperanto movement in different countries and regions

Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, belonged to those 19th-century visionaries who dreamt of universal brotherhood, peace and understanding. But during the very first World Congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France in 1905, a more practical group came to the fore, asserting that Esperanto was just a language, a means of facilitating international communication, and had nothing to do with airy-fairy dreams of a better world.

These are not the only divisions among Esperanto speakers. There are those who are working for it to become the world’s universal second language, and those who are happy for it to remain a niche interest and prefer to concentrate on developing its cultural potential. This second approach has a name: Raŭmismo, the Rauma movement, after the Finnish town where the World Esperanto Youth Congress  was held in 1980.

As a world-wide phenomenon the Esperanto community is exposed to many influences. During the last century numerous special-interest groups were founded, contributing to a truly colourful panorama. One of the earliest was the International Union of Catholic Esperantists. But unsurprisingly the Catholics were followed by the Protestants, then by the Orthodox Christians, to say nothing of Buddhists, Ōmoto (a Japanese religion), Muslims, Bahá’í and Mormons. Naturally, in response to all this religious activity the atheists could not fail to put in an appearance – but oddly enough, there is no Jewish association at the moment, although there is no lack of Jews in the movement as a whole. All these diverse groups have found common ground between the Esperanto movement and their own ideals.

EsperantoBlogoKoranoCxapitro1Opening ot the Koran in Esperanto translation: La Nobla Korano, translated by Italo Chiussi (Copenhagen, 1970). YF.2009.a.5354

Afterwards came the Communist Esperanto speakers, the Socialists, Anarchists and other splinter groups who even fought in the Spanish Civil War, but now are more likely to fight amongst themselves. At the same time professional associations came into being, who used Esperanto as their working language and published specialist periodicals. You may be surprised to learn that there are doctors who discuss surgery in Esperanto.

MedicinaInternaciaRevuo1974
Cover of  Medicina Internacia Revuo. (July 1974)  5533.51000

 Then there are the railway workers, the journalists, the ecologists, the feminists and numerous others. Teachers are particularly important in a movement whose aim is to teach a language. Their association is the International League of Esperantist Teachers.

EsperantoBlogoKunvojagxuCover of Paul Gubbins, Kunvojaĝu: Internacia kurso de Esperanto (Pisa, 2006). YF.2008.a.23702

You might well ask yourself what all these diverse groups have in common. In fact, there is something.

The first general trait is being interested in “the other”. Esperanto was born with the aim of facilitating communication between people speaking different languages, and so curiosity about other cultures is part of its DNA.

EsperantoBlogoIntervjuoj Books of interviews with Esperantists wordwide about their reasons for learning Esperanto

The second trait is tolerance. No one cares if you support some cranky fringe movement; you will be accepted anyway. The Esperanto-speaking world is open to groups who may be subject to some rather odd looks in the rest of society. Nobody in the UK now finds anything remarkable about being a vegetarian, but that was not the case as recently as the 1960s. The British Esperanto movement contains a higher proportion of vegetarians than society as a whole, as was shown in Peter G. Forster’s study The Esperanto Movement (The Hague, 1982; X.0900/323(32)). Homosexuals were welcome in the Esperanto movement at a time when homosexuality was still a crime in many countries.

In the 130 years since the first book in Esperanto was published, Esperanto speakers have been creating their own culture of novels, poetry, songs and jokes. Hundreds of thousands of books have been published, both translated and original. Many Esperanto authors are known for their writing in their own languages as well as Esperanto, for instance the British writer Marjorie Boulton

  EsperantoBlogBeletraAlmanako

Literary serial Beletra almanako (New York, 2006-). ZF.9.a.7847

Musicians singing in Esperanto can be heard online (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27BP5sXwuTs), and many of the thousands who have started learning with Duolingo create videos for YouTube. You will also find many Esperantists on social media platforms.

EsperantoBlogoKajtoKajto (Ankie van der Meer and Nanne Kalma from Netherlands) singing at the London Esperanto Club (Photo by Olga Kerziouk).

And finally, the last trait that all Esperanto speakers share, whatever their backgrounds or beliefs, is their love for the language itself and for the Esperanto-speaking community. For many couples Esperanto has even become their family language, particularly when they belong to different nationalities. They chat in Esperanto over the dinner table and use it to talk to their children.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto / Anna Lowenstein,  Esperanto author and journalist

Further reading

Esperanto in the New York Times: 1887-1922, edited by Ulrich Becker. (New York, 2010).YD.2010.a.12499

Roberto Garvía Soto. Esperanto and its rivals: the struggle for an international language. (Philadelphia, 2015) m15/.11262

Esther H. Schor, Bridge of words: Esperanto and the dream of a universal language (New York, 2015). Waiting for shelfmark.

Geoffrey  Sutton, Concise encyclopedia of the original literature of Esperanto, 1887-2007  (New York, 2008). YC.2008.a.12495

07 March 2018

Amid a thousand and one stars: the Crimean Tatar language

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One of the most momentous historical events in Crimean Tatar history was when the Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Djemilev addressed his people in the Crimean Tatar language at the opening of the first Crimean Tatar Mejlis (Parliament) in 1991 after his return to Crimea. Although giving a speech in one’s mother tongue might be considered as the most natural thing, in this case it proves the significance of preserving that mother tongue despite the Soviet Union’s efforts to destroy the Crimean Tatar language. In 2009 Crimean Tatar was categorised as ‘severely endangered’ in the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.  

CrimeanTatarMustafaDzhemilevCover of Mustafa Dzhemilev: “Na protiazhenii desiatiletiĭ golos krymskikh tatar ne byl uslyshan...",  edited by G.Bekirova (Kyiv, 2014). YF.2014.a.27330

The early history of the Crimean Tatars and the development of their language is naturally complex. The Mongols called themselves ‘Tatars’ and it was only after the death of Chingiz Khan that they were called ‘Mongols’. Crimean Tatars are the descendants of Kipchak Turks who took a big part of the Mongol army, under the command of Batu Khan, grandson of Chingiz, to the doorstep of Europe. This western division of the Mongol Empire is called the Golden Horde; the Crimean Tatars belonging to this division settled in the Crimean Peninsula in the 12th century and consequently the Crimean Khanate was founded.

Crimean Tatar is linguistically a part of the Kipchak branch of the Turkic family. Edward Lazzerini points out that “a semi-nomadic eastern Kipchak people who settled eventually in the north-east of the peninsula, the Nogays enriched Tatar vocabulary with respect to natural objects, the concerns of daily life and certain forms of economic activity.” He adds that these elements “were of limited though significant influence, affecting the lexicon primarily and providing the literary language with an unusual array of synonyms”. As the Crimean Tatars are followers of Islam, Arabic and Persian served to broaden the Crimean Tatar language.

CrimeanTatars1872
Crimean Tatars in traditional costumes from Th. de Pauly,  Description ethnographique des Peuples de la Russie (St Petersburg, 1862). Tab.435.a.14

In the 19th century, Ismail Bey Gaspirali/Ismail Gasprinski realised the need for reform in education for the Turco-Muslim peoples of tsarist Russia, recognising the resolution of the language question as the first condition. Gaspirali wanted to create a pure Turkic lexicon of Crimean Tatar and simplify its syntax. Following these changes, he tried to modify the Arabic script by including vowel symbols and eliminating redundant letters as well as introducing punctuation. In 1883 Gaspirali, whose dream was “unity in thought, unity in language, unity in action”, founded the newspaper Tercuman/Perevodchik, which lasted until 1918. The language Gaspirali used in Tercuman was simplified in form that it would be understood by Turkic readers not only in Crimea but in Ottoman lands, Central Asia, and the Volga regions. Gaspirali was interested in one simple common literary language that would bring all the Turkic people in Russia together.

 After October Revolution in 1917, Crimean Tatar’s fate followed that of other minority languages in the USSR.

CrimeantatarGrammar1925 cropped
Above: Cover of Bekir Choban-Zade. Qırım Tatar ilmi sarfı (Simferopol, 1925), a grammar of the Crimean Tatar language in Perso-Arabic script:    14499.s.84. Below: Cover of the journal İleri: Ayda bir kere çıqar siyasi, ictima'i, 'ilmi ve edebi jurnaldır (Simferopol, 1926-[1927?]. 14499.tt26

CrimeanTatarIleri

 The new language policy of the Soviet Union replaced the Arabic script with a 31-letter Latin alphabet in 1929, only be replaced by Cyrillic as it was for all other nations in 1938.The changes of script have meant that not only the Crimean Tatars but the Central Asians and other nations lost the whole of their pre-revolutionary written culture as well as the first hand sources regarding the formative first decades of Soviet rule.

The Crimean Tatar people were deported on the orders of Stalin on 18 May 1944 to Central Asia, the Urals and Siberia where they were forced to live in ‘special settlements’ for more than a decade, stripped of all the rights they had enjoyed as Soviet citizens – including that of calling themselves Crimean Tatars. Schooling for the Crimean Tatars was either in Russian, or in the national language of the region where they had been settled. The national literature was destroyed and the Crimean Tatar language reduced to a pre-literate state. Esher Shemizade, Crimean Tatar poet, rightfully voiced what all the Crimean Tatars were feeling “a nation can exist only under the condition that it has its own literary language.”

With the lift of the ban by the Soviet Authorities, the Crimean Tatars managed to publish their first newspaper Lenin Bayragi (‘The Banner of Lenin’) in Uzbekistan in 1957. It appeared three times a week, with an initial circulation of 23,000. It used to be four pages and only the last page gave a glimpse of the language, the meaning of words and explanations for preserving the Crimean Tatar language and teaching it to the younger generation. This newspaper was published until 1990, when the Crimean Tatars started to return home. At this time its title was changed to Yani Bunya (‘New World’) and publication moved to Simferopol in Crimea.

CrimeanTatarNewAcquisitionsRecent acquisitions: Bi-lingual (Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian) anthologies of Crimean Tatar poetry and prose: Molytva lastivok: antolohia krymsʹkotatarsʹkoï prozy XIV-XX st.  (Kyïv,  2005-2006) ZF.9.a.6651 and Kuneshten bir parcha = Okrushyna sontsia (Kyiv, 2003). YF.2006.a.11779 

The Crimean Tatars regard their native language as a treasure worth preserving for its own sake. The poet Remzi Burnish captured this essence in his poem ‘Ana tilim’ (‘My Mother Tongue’):

Each nation has its own tongue
in which lovers confide,
To it, that tongue is sweeter than honey,
It will never be forgotten.
My nation is kinsmen, too.
Has its own tongue that sings,
Amid a thousand and one stars
This tongue, in my cradle,
Raised me with its lullaby,
It pulled forward from my youth
Holding me by the hand…

(translated by Edward Allworth with S Ahmet Kirimca)

Melek Maksudoglu, independent researcher

Further reading:

Gulʹnara Bekirova, Piv stolittia oporu: krymsʹki tatary vid vyhnannia do povernennia (1941-1991 roky): narys politychnoï istoriï (Half century of resistance: Crimean Tatars from deportation to return (1941-1991)) (Kyïv, 2017). YF.2017.a.20021

Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars: from Soviet genocide to Putin’s conquest (London, 2015). YC.2017.a.6553

V.E.Vozgrin, Istoriia krymskikh tatar. Ocherki etnicheskoi istorii korennogo naroda Kryma v chetyrekh tomakh. (Simferopol', 2014). YF.2015.a.3442

Mehmet Maksudoglu, Kırım Türkleri (Istanbul, 2009) 

E Allworth (ed), The Tatars of Crimea: return to the homeland: studies and documents (Durham N.C., 1998) 98/11840

Edward Lazzerini, ‘Crimean Tatar: the Fate of a Severed Tongue’ in: Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Soviet National Languages: their past, present and future, edited by Isabelle T. Kreindler. Contributions to the Sociology of Language; 40 (Berlin, 1985) X.0900/323(40) pp. 109-124

M. Ülküsal, ‘Colonialism and the Soviet Russia’ Emel İki Aylık Kültür Dergisi (EMEL JOURNAL) issue 2, Cilt 1, 1961 14498.c.20 

R. H. Hanoglu “Kırım Edebiyatı” Emel Iki Aylık Kültür Dergisi (EMEL JOURNAL) issue 13, Istanbul, 1962 14498.c.20 

Şevki Bektorë , Tatarça sarf, nahiv: Tatar oku işleri, ilmi heyeti tarafɪndan tasdik boldu (Sevastopol, 1923). ITA.1986.a.1063

 

21 February 2018

The first grammar of modern Ukrainian: 200 years ago

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“The year 1818 […] turned out to be crucial for Ukrainian national development”, says prominent Ukrainian historian Serhiy Plokhy in his book The Cossack Myth: History and Nationhood in the Age of Empires (Cambridge, 2012, p.353; YC.2012.a.16183). And the first important book amongst three “major literary works” of this year quoted by him is the first grammar of the modern Ukrainian language. Published in St Petersburg in 1818 with the title Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia... (The Grammar of the Little Russian dialect), it was the first book which described the basic phonetics and morphology of the Ukrainian language of the time. The British Library’s copy is now digitised.

PavlovskyGrammar1818Title-page of Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia (St Petersburg, 1818)  1332.e.5.(1.)

Not much is known about its author, Oleksiy (Aleksey) Pavlovich Pavlovsky (1773-1822?). He was born in the Ukrainian-Russian borderland (now the village of Sosnivka, Sumy Region in modern Ukraine), and after studies in Kyiv moved to St Petersburg where he continued his education at the Teachers’ Seminary. He spent almost 30 years working on the grammar (it was ready by 1805, but published only years later) and was the first to use phonetic principles in describing the contemporary spoken Ukrainian language.

In 1822 Pavlovsky published a brochure called Pribavlenie k Grammatikie malorossiiskago nariechiia (Additions to Grammar of the Little Russian dialect) as an answer to the review of his first book by prince Nikolai Tsertelev  in the influential Russian journal Syn Otechestva in 1818 (PP.4840 and Mic.B.994). This 34-page brochure is also digitised.

PavlovskyAddition1822Title-page of Pribavlenie k Grammatikie malorossiiskago nariechiia (St Petersburg, 1822) 1332.e.5.(2)

“The author’s attitude toward the Ukrainian language was ambivalent, for although he wished to refine it, he still regarded it as a dialect of Russian”, notes Orest Subtelny in Ukraine: A History (Toronto, 1994, p.230; YA.1995.b.7319). “But Pavlovsky’s achievement, like that of Ivan Voitsekhovych, who in 1823 compiled a small dictionary of Ukrainian, was significant”, he continues. Modern linguists agree about the importance of this first grammar. The short Ukrainian dictionary with Russian translations (pp. 24-78) still evokes a lot of interest.

PavlovskyLetterVLetter B (V) from: Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia

The book of 1818 gives also Ukrainian proverbs with their Russian equivalents and a few examples of spoken Ukrainian language.

PavlovskyProverbsUkrainian proverbs and maxims from: Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia


The Ukrainian language had a very difficult time in the 19th century. Two infamous tsarist ukazes in the second part of the century – the Valuev Circular of 1863 and Ems Ukaz  - prohibited the use of the Ukrainian language in print. Yet it survived the persecutions of the tsarist regime and later the limitations on its use during Soviet times. As we are celebrating International Mother Language Day today we pay our tribute to the first grammarians of all languages, especially of those which were prohibited and persecuted.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator, Ukrainian Collections

Further reading:

V.V. Nimchuk, Z istoriï ukraïnsʹkoï movy. Do 150-richchia “Hrammatyky” O. Pavlovs’koho. (Kyiv, 1972). X.908/28597.

Ivan Dziuba, Internationalism or Russification?: a study in the Soviet nationalities problem. 3rd ed. (New York, 1974). X.709/30122

Ilarion, Metropolitan of Winnipeg and All Canada. Istoriia ukraïnsʹkoï literaturnoï movy (Kyiv, 1995). YA.2000.a.13453

Istoriia ukraïnsʹkoï movy: khrestomatiia, compiled by S. Yermolenko, A.K. Moĭsiienko. (Kyiv, 1996). YA.1999.a.168

The battle for Ukrainian: a comparative perspective, edited by Michael S. Flier and Andrea Graziosi. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, [2017]) On order.

Article about the Ukrainian language from online Encyclopedia of Ukraine 

 

16 February 2018

Silent Witnesses: Two Manuals of the Sart Language

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We’ve all heard of dead languages: the Latins, Ottomans, Manchus and Arawaks that dot the pages of historical texts. These are languages that have ceased to be spoken, whether as first languages or taught ones, by anything more than a handful of scholars. Some dialect groupings disappear altogether for reasons of politics (consider Ottoman and Manchu); social change (Gaulish and Messina Greek); or simple brutality and terror (Arawak and Beothuk). For many others, their “death” is merely a fudge: Latin developed into Italian, French, Spanish and other Romance languages by the same process that brought us contemporary English from Old English, although the latter grouping was never considered to have died. But what of languages that have disappeared through bureaucratic measures? The Sart language might be considered one such example.

Sart is, or was, a Turkic language spoken by the Sart people of Central Asia. Although ethnic identity in pre-Soviet Central Asia is an exceptionally thorny issue, consensus seems to be that the Sarts were a sedentarized Turkophone population in various urban centres throughout the region. They were assumed to be Iranic by descent, but a quick look at two works in the British Library’s collections confirm that their speech, as recorded by Russian officials and travellers at the end of the 19th century, was very much Turkic. This was a basis for their distinction from the neighbouring Tajik peoples of the Pamir range, a community with whom 19th and early 20th century ethnographers assumed they shared a common ancestry, as Maria Subtelny explores in ‘Symbiosis of Turk and Tajik’.

RB23b6250 Sayid Kerim Sayid Azimbaev Portrait

 Portraits of Sayid Azimbaev (above) and Palvan Tapylbaev (below), two Sarts whose lives and genealogies are studied in N.P. Ostroumov’s 19th-century ethnographic work on Sart communities, Sarty: etnograficheskie materialy (Tashkent, 1896) RB.23.b.6250. 


RB23b6250 Palvan Akhmad Tapylbaev

The first of the two works in question is a phrasebook entitled Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie (‘Phrases in the Sart Language’), authored by Z. A. Aleksieev in 1884 and published in Tashkent. It was intended to be of “useful benefit for landlords and landladies, buyers and farmers, and [with] a good chrestomathy for Russians learning literacy in Sart and for Sarts beginning to read in Russian.” This was only 19 years after the city of Tashkent had fallen into Russian hands, and five years before the arrival of the Trans-Caspian Railway. It is a good indication of the pressure Russian officials felt to cement their interests among the mercantile classes of a sensitive part of the Empire abutting British interests in the Sub-Continent.

14489d15 Frazy na sartovskom iazyke Cover PageCover of Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie … (Tashkent, 1884) 14489.d.15

Although the work was advertised as being a learning resource for Sarts, it was clearly aimed at Russians: it is organized into three columns, with a Sart phrase on the far right; its Russian translation on the far left of the page; and a Cyrillic transliteration of the Sart in the middle. No Arabic transliteration of the Russian exists.

14489d15 Frazy na sartovskom iazyke Sample page A page from Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie, dealing with tree planting

The table of contents shows just how heavily it was geared towards functional interactions: while there is no section on small talk, there are stock phrases about buying birds or carpets; teacher-student interaction; farming; and the repair of telegraphic lines.

14489d15 Frazy na sartovskom iazyke TOC
Table of contents from Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie showing the diversity of commercial topics covered by the book

It is difficult to compare Sart to contemporary Turkic languages from the region. These reflect heavy state intervention on the part of the Soviet authorities and bear the scars of often traumatic social disruption, such as the collectivization and sedentarization campaigns of the 1930s. Nonetheless, what we can say about it is that it resembles considerably contemporary Uzbek, as well as certain features of Kazakh and Kyrgyz, all of which are spoken today in the regions where the Sarts lived.

12975l21 RusskoSartovskii Slovar Cover Page

 Cover  of V.P. Nalivkin, Russko-Sartovskii i Sartovsko-Russkii Slovar’ (Kazan, 1884) 12975.l.21.

The second work is a dictionary and short grammar of the language compiled by Vladimir Nalivkin. Published in 1884 as well, this time in Kazan’, it focuses on the dialect of the Namanganskii Uezd, in contemporary eastern Uzbekistan. Russko-Sartovskii i Sartovsko-Russkii Slovar’ is not, unfortunately, as telling of the social relations between Russians and Sarts as is Frazy, but it does reveal many important features of the language. Much of the vocabulary is not far from that of the Turkic languages of today’s Central Asia, although there are some remarkable departures, including in the names of months. The grammar is far from systematic, and provides only a sketch of the most important morphological structures of the language. Nevertheless, it is easy to see that Sart behaved very much like other Karluk Turkic languages;  it would not have been hard for anyone versed in Chagatai or even contemporary Uyghur or Uzbek to pick up.

12975l21 RusskoSartovskii Slovar Grammar

Sketch of Sart grammar, from Russko-Sartovskii i Sartovsko-Russkii Slovar’

As an important vehicle of commercial communication, it would be easy to assume that Sart would function as a crucial tool in extending Moscow’s authority over Central Asia in the 20th century. Such was not the case. In the 1920s and 30s, the Soviet government sent out teams of ethnographers and anthropologists in order to determine the region’s ethno-linguistic make-up; a key step towards the division of the territory into national republics. As Francine Hirsh has explored in Empire of Nations, this was a fraught process, occasionally led by political fiat rather than evidence. Throughout it, the Sarts fared badly. It was assumed that, in the march towards Socialism, they would be absorbed into the Uzbek nation. As a result, their language was not provided official recognition, and their culture ignored in favour of a Socialist Uzbek one. Sarts disappeared from the 1926 census and official discourse. The Sart language, along with dozens of other dialects that were no longer deemed to be expedient in the march towards Communism, was expunged from the historical record. These two items in the British Library’s collections, however, remain as testimonies to the vibrancy and importance of the language in the pre-Soviet period, and the people who spoke it.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections

References/Further reading

Sergeĭ Abashin, Natsionalizmy v Sredneĭ Azii: v poiskakh identichnosti (St Petersburg, 2007) YF.2009.a.901 

Maria Subtelny, ‘The Symbiosis of Turk and Tajik’, in Central Asia in historical perspective, edited by Beatrice F. Manz (Boulder, 1994) ORW.1996.a.1330

Frances Hirsch, Empire of nations: ethnographic knowledge & the making of the Soviet Union (Ithaca, N.Y., 2005) YC.2005.a.7999

Polveka v Turkestane : V.P. Nalivkin biografiia, dokumenty, trudy = Half a century in Turkestan : Vladimir Petrovich Nalivkin : biography, documents and works, Redaktory-sostaviteli: S.N. Abashin [and five others] (Moscow, 2015) YF.2017.a.4115