SUMMARY:This multidisciplinary roundtable examines how debates about bilingualism and multilingualism in the fields of linguistics, history, literature, and diaspora studies, influence the study of Middle Eastern societies, empires and nation states. During the last two decades, scholars reexamined the dynamics between several Middle Eastern languages, such as Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Paying heed to issues of translatability and untranslatability, political power, and the formation of new educational and cultural institutions, innovative studies within Middle Eastern Studies shed important light on language hierarchies, canon formation and literary production and circulation. This new body of work, moreover, investigates the ways in which a specific language can echo another or others in works of literature and literary theory and in daily speech; how translations and commentaries produce new meanings; and how multilingual communities of speakers and readers respond to sociopolitical and sociocultural challenges, which alter existing language hierarchies. Such studies explore imperial settings, with their courts and networks of patronage, and the movements of writes, poets, and translators between different empires. In the era of nation states, exploring multilingualism becomes a matter of battles for language justice, cultural heritage rights, and equality formed against ethnonational politics.
Our roundtable offers a longue durée approach to the study of Middle Eastern languages and the relationships between them. We look at different empires, such as the Abbasid and the Ottoman, and at different locales, from imperial and national capitals to marginal and marginalized peripheries. Studying the influence of Persian on Arabic and Turkish verse, the relationships between the knowledge of multiple languages and social capital, the bilingual Ottoman and Arabic modern print culture, and the attempts of silenced minorities in nation states, like Iraq and Israel, to preserve their language rights, each presenter will reflect on the methodologies they consider most useful in their research, and on the major developments in their academic discipline.
We hope that the panel will subvert an Orientalist logic according to which Middle Easterners ought to learn from the so-called successful models of Western national monolingualism, by pointing to the richness, complexity, and fluidity of Middle Eastern linguistic models. Finally, our presenters will reflect on how we ought to train graduate students interested in multilingual questions, given limitations on time to degree in many universities, which curtail academic training in a few languages, and the recent challenges on travel and archival work under Covid19.
DESCRIPTIONS OR SUMMARY:
MEMBERS:Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter; Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;
(University of Toronto)
E. Natalie Rothman is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto, specializing in the history of Venice and the Ottoman Empire in the early modern period. Her broader interests include the history of cultural mediation, the relationship...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter; Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter; Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter; Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;
(University of California, Berkeley)
Alda Benjamen is the Avimalek Betyousef post-doctoral Fellow in Assyrian history, and a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for the Middle East, at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to that, she was a Fellow at the John W. Kluge Center at...