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Session R6356 (The Multilingual Shift in Middle Eastern Studies), 2021
Nineteenth-century Ottoman intellectuals engaged in a milieu of translation and multilingualism. While until recently most scholarship focused on the translation of ideas coming from Europe, there was a circulation of ideas between the empire’s languages generated by these multilingual intellectuals. By examining press from the late-nineteenth century and early twentieth century Ottoman Iraq, it is possible to observe the printed multilingualism of this diverse linguistic region. Moreover, as some of the journalists were experimenting with cataloguing and printing in colloquial Arabic, it is also possible to unearth not just multiple languages but also multiple registers and multiple religious-based dialects of the same language, as reflected by the press.

Through considering the fixed nature of print to convey the different valences of power in language, I have found that visual analysis is useful. Visual analysis of newspapers with regards to assessing power dynamics of multiple languages—even if they are using the same script, such as Arabic and Ottoman Turkish—is a great tool because it illuminates space taken up by a certain language vis-à-vis the other. Is everything an exact one-to-one translation in a bilingual journal or are only parts of it? Which parts? Is the masthead in one language but the fine print in another? What does that signify to someone who can only read one? Moreover, when thinking about the diffusion of multiple languages in a region, I consider how someone might have had different functionalities and skills for different languages, reflecting in their different social and intellectuals uses and needs.

By working with multilingual and bilingual newspapers and by assuming the journalists assembled—as well as others—had multilingual capabilities to a certain degree, my research complicates some accepted ideas that different ethnolinguistic groups could not and did not talk to each other, read ideas, and respond to them. Furthermore, my research raises the question of different kinds of bilingual publications. Ottoman state-run bilingual publications had one kind of objective, whereas local privately-owned bilingual publications had different objectives. Examining why, when, and how multilingualism was deployed in the same publication reveals political aims, ideas about production and consumption in print media, identity and affiliation in civic practices, among others.

Wider digitization, internet databases, and open access of nineteenth-century and early-twentieth century press has made it easier to explore and evaluate press, multilingual or otherwise. It is a group effort and it needs to continue that way.