MESA Banner
Reading the Borderland: Linguistic and Religious Border Crossings in 17th through 19th Century Ottoman Literature
What tongue does the borderlands speak? Gloria Anzaldúa famously theorized her Chicana blend of Mexican Spanish and U.S. English as a “forked tongue” and a “bastard language,” one that not only crossed the cultural, linguistic, and geographical border of US-Mexico but that resided in the border space itself, much like herself and her pluralistic identity. The Ottoman Empire was a motley of borderlands where multiple forked tongues existed depending on the region and historical moment. I argue that Armeno-Turkish is a borderlands language. More than just a forked tongue, Armeno-Turkish draws on two distinct languages – the script of Armenian and the syntax and vocabulary of Turkish – to both ease the use of the Turkish language while increasing the language’s readability and accessibility, particularly for Ottoman Armenians. This paper asserts that the linguistic border between Armenian and Turkish subjects is surpassed with the borderlands tongue of Armeno-Turkish. I further claim that this borderlands language, while overcoming one type of border, highlights another: religion. To that end, I take the Armeno-Turkish novel Akabi Hikayesi and narrative poem “The Jewish Bride” as literary exemplars of the ways in which a hybrid language necessarily facilitates cross border exchange. The central premise in both texts is an interfaith marriage that causes outcry from each respective community and leads to tragedy. In Akabi Hikayesi, this dilemma is between Apostolic and Catholic Armenians whereas “The Jewish Bride” revolves around a Jewish and Greek Orthodox relationship. By reading the borderlands in these texts, the tensions created by religious borders between a single ethnic community as well as those in neighboring communities is drawn out. My paper asserts that this tension is the result of existing boundaries changing and opening up space for the borderland motley to exist. I further claim that the borderland makes impossible border crossings a possibility. The protagonists’ interfaith relationships not only attempt to cross religious bounds but form a generative “third space” that belongs to neither of the two sides but exists within its own right, much like Armeno-Turkish itself. I claim that this alternate to dichotomous divisions within these literary works is the borderland. My paper ultimately reclaims these texts by not attempting to mold them into “Turkish” or “Armenian” literature but rather demonstrating the rich insights and new perspectives one can gain by embracing the plurality rather than attempting to simplify it.
Geographic Area
Ottoman Empire
Sub Area