The Sciences of the Arabic Language in the Ottoman Empire: Scholars, Works and Issues

3 December 2020

ISAR Ottoman Sciences Symposium Series VI

The Sciences of the Arabic Language in the Ottoman Empire: Scholars, Works and Issues

The established understanding, which dominates academic studies on Islamic culture and civilization, is based on the assumption that Islamic thought has lost its productivity since medieval times. As a result of this point of view, the assumption that the Ottoman period, which lasted from the middle ages to modern times, was a stationary period with the most optimistic expression in the field of Islamic sciences. However, revisionist / critical studies in recent years have started to question these assumptions. Beyond the reductionist conceptualizations such as the Ottoman knowledge and culture accumulation, productivity and stagnation, the Ottoman era needs studies to understand this tradition from its own context. ISAR designed a series of scientific meetings aiming to redefine its place in the context of Islamic sciences as well as in the context of world thought history, with a multi-layered approach to the Ottoman science tradition as an extension of this approach. The first five symposiums of the series were allocated to theology, fiqh, mysticism, tafsir and hadith sciences. The sixth, on the other hand, will be held on the subject of Ulûm al Arabiyye in the Ottoman period.

Studies pertaining to the Arabic language, which started with the objectives such as finding solutions to the linguistic distortions caused by the conquests and the mixing of the Arabs with different nations in the first century hijri, and to ensuring the correct understanding and transmission of the Qur'an and hadiths, have divided into many disciplines in time. With the compilation activities carried out at the inception stage of the language sciences, works began to be produced in the fields of lugha (lexicon), ṣarf (morphology), naḥw (grammar),  ʿarūḍ (prosody), balāgha (rhetoric) and adab (literature) in the early period and over time an extensive literature has emerged in each discipline.

In the second century, the most important works in ṣarf and naḥw like Sībawayh’s al-Kitab were continuously produced by the representatives of the language schools that emerged in Basra and Kufa, and many concise and detailed works in the field were penned. The works in the field of ṣarf and naḥw that were taught as textbooks and entered the madrasah curriculum have been the focus of attention throughout history; numerous commentaries and glosses were written mostly on such works especially during the late classical period. In the Ottoman period and geography many works were produced in different sizes and for different functions without interruption in the field in question. Although these works attract the attention of the scientific world, many of them are found only in manuscript form today; they await investigation and works of analysis. In this context, the history of Ottoman education offers us the opportunity to read and evaluate the history of teaching Arabic to non-Arabs.

The science of balāgha was one of the important areas where the tradition of Abdulqāhir al-Jurcānī, Sakkākī and Qazwīnī was inherited and developed in the Ottoman milieu. A wide range of literature has developed around the commentaries and glosses written by scholars such as Taftāzānī, Sayyid Sharīf Jurjānī and Isfarāyīnī based on the third part of Sakkākī’s Miftāḥ al-ʿUlūm related to rhetoric, and the Telkhīsu al-Miftāḥ of Qazwīnī. In the Ottoman milieu studies and discussions in the science of balāgha have continued through these commentaries and glosses along with some other independent works. The illumination of the Ottoman balāgha literature, which has not yet been fully extracted from its inventory, will fill a gap in the history of the science of balāgha.

A large number of Arabic-Turkish and Turkish-Arabic dictionaries of different sizes have been compiled in verse and prose during the Ottoman period. Studies on these works, some of which are still handwritten, are a fertile field that can give us new horizons in both the Arabic and Turkish language domains. One of the languages ​​that has interacted the most with Turkish is Arabic. In this context, comparative studies and translations from Arabic to Turkish or from Turkish to Arabic in the Ottoman period have the capacity to offer rich material for the field of translation.

Works pertaining to the branches of science such as waḍʿ, balāgha, ṣarf and naḥw show us that some problems that constitute the topics of discussion in philosophy of language and linguistics were also discussed in the Ottoman milieu. In this context, the studies to be carried out regarding these works will reveal that this rich heritage has a depth that can make new contributions to contemporary language studies.

In summary, this symposium, which will be held regarding scholars, works and issues pertaining to the Arabic sciences in the Ottoman Empire, aims to reveal the contributions of the Ottoman tradition to the knowledge domains related to the Arabic language.

The link will be shared before the symposium.

Click here for the communiqué booklet.

Click here for the symposium program.