Ottoman nostalgia and the reality
According to the current discussion and advice that is flying around these days, you would think that whoever learns Ottoman will be able to read all the calligraphy while deciphering the epitaphs on gravestones at the speed of an alphabet book, as well as understand and explain them.
It is not so easy. Several books published in Ottoman have been transcribed into the Latin alphabet and re-published. Is it possible for the young generation to read and understand them today? The answer to this is a huge “No.”
Professor Hayati Develi wrote a while ago that a story by Haldun Taner, written I think in 1974, was read to young students, but they were unable to understand many of the words. Writing them in Latin letters does not necessarily guarantee that everyone will understand.
One publisher printed the books of several old writers in their original language: when you buy and read these books, you are struck by many of the words. The problem is not a language problem; it is a problem of a wide vocabulary. You can only understand these books by reading the Turkish equivalents of Ottoman words given in the footnotes.
Of course, we should look at this debate from different angles.
Let us assume that student have been taught Ottoman. Where will they use it? Will they use it only to read tombstones? With their limited Ottoman, they won’t be able to read them either.
Well then, what is the practical benefit of this learning? The answer to this question should be debated.
The expert and the interested have to learn Ottoman anyway.
Somebody who will learn Ottoman superficially, will he or she be able to understand Ottoman poetry? As long as he or she does not have any knowledge about it, as long as they are not trained in literature, then they cannot really comprehend the matter.
If the only reasoning to learn Ottoman is the need to seek out old culture, then one has to ask how much this will contribute to our culture and knowledge.
In all these debates, suggestions and decisions, the place the Letter Revolution has taken us is being neglected.
There is an attempt to erase the huge work done to simplify the language. Since the day Latin letters were accepted, numerous books from our old culture have been adapted to today’s language.
I am saying language because it is a separate matter that they were converted into Latin letters.
A literature was created from this purified language. If you accept the relation between language and culture – and I think you should – you cannot return from the place the purification of the language has arrived at today. I accept it enriches the language when literary people blend Ottoman and Turkish words. But by teaching the young generation Ottoman, trying to eliminate the purification is not real; it is against advancement.
Simplifying and making the language Turkish was done because out of necessity. The alternative of the purified Turkish is indeed not Ottoman; they have to be assessed together, as a whole.
It is a non-realistic wish to dream of trying to find the Ottoman equivalents of today’s new concepts and scientific discoveries.
It is just the right time to read the history of the Turkish language. Without knowing all the work done after the declaration of the republic, even before that, all the efforts to purify the language and just concentrating on Ottoman would mean neglecting one part of the problem.
This needs to be focused on.