The description is submitted to:


Session R6356 (The Multilingual Shift in Middle Eastern Studies), 2021
Starting in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Arab intellectuals in Egypt and the levant, began to express concern over the future of the Arabic language. This was, in large part, a reaction to European colonial influence and also a response to Ottoman attempts at Turkification. Historians tend to see this concern for Arabic as a feature exclusive to this era. And while it is true that the nature of the concern and the reaction it elicited was unique -whether in literary terms (e.g. the rise of neoclassical poetry) or in institutional terms (e.g. the establishment of the Academy of the Arabic Language of Damascus) – serious concern for Arabic and its future predates the nineteenth century. It was in fact born, as I will argue in this presentation, out of the peculiar power relationship that Arabic had with Ottoman-Turkish throughout the early modern period- where Arabic was both a language of considerable importance in the domains of literature and religion, but less so in the political, technological, and administrative realms. Confronted with this marginalization, early modern Arab scholars, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, reacted by historicizing Arabic and by emphasizing its civilizational prestige. While turn-of-the-century intellectuals will mostly reject the literary works of their early modern counterparts, (often seeing them as archaic and derivative) the precedent that these early modern scholars set in their reaction to what they saw as a threat to their language will inform the way in which modern intellectuals will react. This presentation will thus offer a longue durée account of Arabic and its relationship to imperial and colonial languages throughout the early modern and modern periods.