Edebiyat-? Cedide on Modern Language: A Case Against Linguistic Purification

By Monica Katiboglu
Submitted to Session P5028 (Language and Identity, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
Like the Tanzimat literary period which preceded it, Edebiyat-? Cedide (New Literature, 1896-1901) is part of late-Ottoman cultural history and the impetus to modernize literary form and language. Yet, Edebiyat-? Cedide authors invigorated literary language that in important ways went against the Ottoman project of linguistic modernization of the nineteenth century, a state sponsored project to simplify the composite nature of Ottoman written language. Countering these efforts, Edebiyat-? Cedide writing, directed at forging artistic writing with the power of conveying complex emotional states of the individual, incorporated Arabic and Persian vocabulary and grammatical structures to coin new words and expressions to represent and replace European (mostly French) words, concepts, categories and so on.

I examine Edebiyat-? Cedide’s response to the Ottoman project of linguistic modernization, as articulated by leading figures of Edebiyat-? Cedide Tevfik Fikret (1867-1915) and Halit Ziya U?akl?gil (1866-1945), who, in articles published in Servet-i Fünun (Wealth of Science), delineate what constitutes a modern aesthetic language within a structure of unequal power relations. If the project of linguistic modernization involved processes of suppression of Arabic and Persian in written language, the Edebiyat-? Cedide movement might best be understood as releasing them—the very aspect that caused discomfort to advocates of linguistic simplification like Ahmet Midhat (1844-1912). Tevfik Fikret and Halit Ziya U?akl?gil’s discourses on Edebiyat-? Cedide writing lay bare the tensions implicated in this release at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century. For, as I argue, drawing on Arabic and Persian was not an attempt to restore the increasingly disintegrating (because increasingly suppressed) hybrid “Ottoman interculture,” to borrow from Saliha Paker, but to forge aesthetic language comparable to western European languages.