To Translate or Not to Translate? 19th Century Ottoman Communities and Fiction

in Die Welt des Islams
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In the 19th century, Turcophone communities of the Ottoman Empire displayed a keen interest in European fiction. This study questions whether translating European works was simply linguistic substitution or rather had intrinsic dimensions such as cultural appropriation. It also investigates the reciprocity of literary production, and offers some observations on how translation influences and inspires “the making of literature”. The methods used are mainly based on statistical interpretation of bibliographic data and comparative sociological analysis. Turkish works printed in Arabic, Armenian and Greek alphabets are the objects of investigation. The findings demonstrate that translation in the Ottoman mind is actually an active literary appropriation primarily due to differences in the criterion of “modern fiction” from European standards where the differences are exaggerated by the Ottoman notion of translation, lending the translator liberating space and opportunity to interfere with the original text. Moreover, the intermingling between the oral and print cultures that obscures the definition of literary genres adds another level of complexity. It is also revealed that the millets of the Empire affected each other’s choice and taste resulting in a web of interactions that exhibit the literary market and literary “canon” of the period.

To Translate or Not to Translate? 19th Century Ottoman Communities and Fiction

in Die Welt des Islams



 Paker“Ottoman Conceptions of Translation and Its Practice” p. 330.


 Ibid. p. 331.


 Ibid. p. 345.


 Ibid. p. 343.


 Cf. Nuri Akbayar“Tanzimat’tan Cumhuriyet’e Çeviri”Tanzimat’tan Cumhuriyet’e Türkiye Ansiklopedisivol. 2 Istanbul 1985 447–51 pp. 450f.


 See Özlem Bay“Fransız Edebiyatından Yapılan İlk Edebi Çeviriler Üzerine Analitik Bir Uygulama (1860–1900)”, unpublished dissertation, Hacettepe University, Ankara 2013; Cemal Demircioğlu, “19. Yüzyıl Sonu Türk Edebiyatında ‘Tercüme’ Kavramı”Journal of Turkish Studies 27/II (2003) 13–31; Ayşe Banu Karadağ “‘Batı’nın Çevrilmesi Üzerine: Tanzimat Dönemi / Sonrası Çevirilerini ‘Medeniyet’ Odağıyla Yeniden Okumak” Kritik 2 (Autumn 2008) 306–24; Melahat Gül Uluğtekin “Ahmet Vefik Paşa’nın Çevirilerinde Osmanlılaşan Molière” unpublished thesis Bilkent University Ankara 2004. Işın Bengi-Öner in her article “Türk Edebiyatında La Dame aux camelias Çevirileri” compares and contrasts three translations of the novel in Turkish and concludes that contrary to the embraced judgement Ahmed Midhat’s is the one which is the most loyal to the original text (Çeviri Bir Süreçtir… Ya Çeviribilim? Istanbul 1999 45–66). Her article on the other hand which focuses on the corpus of translations made by Ahmed Midhat demonstrates that his endeavors can be categorized in various levels of translation oscillating between the poles of “adequacy” and “acceptability” (“Bir Söz Ustası ve Bir Devrimci: Ahmed Midhat Efendi” ibid. 67–76 p. 73). Saliha Paker in her seminal article “Translated European Literature in the Late Ottoman Polysystem” compares Ahmed Midhat’s and Şemseddin Sami’s approaches to translation and observes that the latter preferred adequacy at the risk of forcing the limits of the language for the reward of being acknowledged by the first generation of the republic (pp. 75–78).


 Ibid. p. 62.


 Strauss“Is Karamanli Literature Part of a ‘Christian-Turkish (Turco-Christian) Literature?” p. 194.


 BerkTranslation and Westernisation in Turkey from the 1840s to the 1980sIstanbul 2004 p. 67.


 Turgut A. Kut“Ermeni Harfli Türkçe Telif ve Tercüme Konuları I: Victor Hugo’nun Mağ­durin Hikayesinin Kısalmış Nüshası”Beşinci Milletler Arası Türkoloji Kongresi Tebliğlerivol. 1 Istanbul 1985 195–214 pp. 202–14.


 Johann Strauss“Who Read What in the Ottoman Empire (19th-20th Centuries)?”Arabic Middle Eastern Languages 6.1 (2003) 39–76 p. 46.


 Ibid. p. 50.


 Strauss“Who Read What in the Ottoman Empire” p. 63.


 Balta“Périodisation et typologie de la production des livres karamanli” p. 146.


 Strauss“Who Read What in the Ottoman Empire” p. 75. n. 210.


 Ibid. p. 63.


 Balta“Périodisation et typologie de la production des livres karamanli” p. 150 152.


 David Blamires“The Later Texts in Gustav Schwab’s ‘Volksbücher’: Origins and Character”The Modern Language Review 94.1 (1999) 110–21 pp. 112f. Also see H.W. ­Puckett “The ‘Genoveva’ Theme with Paticular Reference to Hebbel’s Treatment” Modern Philo­logy 13.10 (1916) 609–24.


 Merry“Melás, Leon”Encyclopedia of Modern Greek LiteratureWestport CT and London 2004 268f.


 Strauss“Who Read What in the Ottoman Empire” p. 54.


 Petropoulou“From West to East: The Translation Bridge” p. 102. She also cites positive reader responses. Ibid. pp. 102f.


 Ibid. p. 106.

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