Learning Arabic script is not enough for the Ottoman language

Learning Arabic script is not enough for the Ottoman language

While we are talking about the education summit held in Antalya earlier this month, what happens in the world meanwhile shows us where Turkey stands in the world… 

A photo of U.S. President Barack Obama was published in the papers the other day. He was learning to write a computer program with students around him. Obama thus became the first American president in history to write a computer program.

A square was drawn on the screen by the program Obama wrote, but it was not just a square. Computer programming starts with such basic operations, not by writing gigantic games with the help of complicated algorithms.  

While our president was saying “We will teach Ottoman whether you want it or not,” at the same time, in the U.S., the Computer Science Education Week was launched, led by nongovernmental organization “code.org.” That’s why President Obama was sitting with students to learn.

Obama posted a speech last year on YouTube announcing this computer science week. While he was addressing the students, he said, “Learning these skills isn’t just important for your future. It’s important for our country’s future.”

Meanwhile, two days before this event in the White House, while our Education Council was voting on the 179 advisory decisions it deemed significant, in the depths of space - about 5 billion kilometers away from our earth - a space probe named "New Horizons" was awoken from its long sleep by signals sent from the earth.

New Horizons was sent to space on Jan. 19, 2006 by NASA, while we were dealing with who knows what significant domestic issue. The space probe spent almost two thirds of its journey of nearly nine years in deep sleep.

Now, it has awoken as it is very close to its destination.

The destination is Pluto and its moon Charon.

Come on; let us continue talking about Ottoman classes.

Anyway, are we talking about old Turkish or Ottoman? The council did not define exactly what it meant by “Ottoman classes,” so there has been confusion.

Is the “Ottoman language” that they mentioned the “Old Turkish” of my childhood; the one I partially know, that my parents know to a great extent? Is it the same one that their parents were totally fluent in? Is it the language that the state and the elite class gathered around it wrote and spoke since the second half of the 19 century to the 1930s and 1940s? If they mean this, then actually developing our children’s vocabulary would be enough to revive this language. As a matter of fact, a separate course may not even be needed for that, it can perhaps be incorporated into literature classes.

But if by “Ottoman” they meant teaching the language that covers the entire Ottoman history, then only teaching the Arabic script may not be adequate for this. Because reading handwritten scripts is an talent of itself, even among Ottoman experts.

Learning the Arabic script is not very difficult, but simply knowing the script is not enough to read scripts. This is because of the spelling rules of the script. If you do not know the word, you cannot read that word; because several words that mean different things may be written similarly and to be able to read the correct word, you should be able to pick up the meaning of the word used in context.

This important feature that makes Arabic and Persian very beautiful languages, which makes the act of thinking an inseparable part of the act of reading, at the same time, makes learning these languages later in life unfortunately very hard.

Is it a separate language or not?

There were people furious at me when I said “Ottoman” was a separate language to be learned from scratch. Unfortunately, this is so.

Even Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu cited Atatürk’s Nutuk (The Speech) as an example, saying, “It cannot be read in its original form, as Atatürk had written it.”

I sometimes cannot understand certain words my 11-year-old son uses. The Turkish they speak in school is absolutely “new” for me. To teach “Ottoman” to these generations is not any different than teaching them Spanish, Arabic, Russian or English.