CfP: Toward a Social History of Ottoman Languages

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Call for Papers

Toward a Social History of Ottoman Languages

The University of Chicago | May 10-11, 2024

A Symposium Organized by Hakan T. Karateke and Helga Anetshofer 

This symposium seeks to bring together inquiries into the social history of the various languages spoken in the Ottoman domains. Studies of languages as “sensitive indicators of cultural change,” in Peter Burke’s words, or as social markers of various communities, have contributed to a fast-growing field known as the “social history of language.” This rich field encourages the methodologies of several disciplines—such as history, philology, contact linguistics, cultural anthropology, and psychology—to intersect in fruitful ways. The organizers of this symposium wish to explore what it meant to be a speaker of a particular language or dialect in a pre-modern multi-lingual and multi-ethnic Ottoman society. We believe there is much to be recovered to understand the relationship between language communities, prestige languages and vernaculars, written and spoken languages, urban and rural varieties, the language of women and men, and the politics of language.

Participants are encouraged to read their sources between the lines and against the grain, follow inconspicuous leads to reconstruct perceptions about languages, and conduct comprehensive text-based studies to demonstrate socio-linguistic realities and transformations between the 15th century and the beginning of the 19th century. We seek contributions that explore the languages spoken in and around the Ottoman domains, such as Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Greek, Armenian, Kurdish, Ladino, Lingua Franca, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Albanian etc. The organizers welcome papers exploring the relationship of Ottoman languages with their particular social and cultural environment and the social connections or tensions between spoken languages, jargons, and accents. The range of topics we want to investigate include but are not limited to:

·Language as a means of defining the self and others

·How citizens of cultural centers viewed the speech patterns of people from the provinces

·How the bureaucratic language or the language of the court was perceived

·The social and cultural implications of bilingualism or multilingualism 

·The sociolects spoken by various communities (administrators, devşirme, religious scholars, trans-imperial merchants) 

·Religious associations made with languages, such as debates about Lingua Sacra, the language of Paradise, etc., in comparative perspective

·Evidence of code-switching, register alterations, and their potential causes. How such flexibilities allowed speakers to navigate in the society

·Language campaigns and standardizations. The impact of the printing press on linguistic communities.

We encourage historians, literary historians, cultural anthropologists and linguists working with historical data, and those who think they would bring original contributions to submit a proposal for the symposium.

Pending funding, round trips to Chicago and accommodation will be covered by the organizers.

NOTICE: The organizers are determined to collect the developed articles by December 31, 2024, and prepare the volume for publication as quickly as possible. Therefore, those who think that they cannot provide an article by that deadline are kindly asked not to apply for the symposium.

Please send your 300-word abstracts to symposium coordinator Theo Knights <> by May 15, 2023.

Categories: CFP