Languages are a vital tool for conveying past events to the present, and if history and language are thought of independently, one of them will be missing a crucial piece. We begin our article, Turkish – Persian Translation, with a bit of historical background which goes back to the 13th century. We believe the past is as volatile and real as the figures in the stories on the folding fans first used by Japanese samurais and aristocrats. For this reason, we should always look back, dust them off and retell the stories out loud over and over. We will explain how Persian words made their way into the Turkish language under the shadow of politicians and academicians and try to inform you about their literary worlds from a historical perspective.
The Language Contact of Turkish and Persian Languages
We begin by remembering the battle of Manzikert, which led to the expansion of the Turkish principalities to the Anatolian region. These principalities included Danishmend, Greek Seljuks, Saltuqids, and Turkish migrants. Seljuks were already familiar with Persian culture before they dominated the Anatolian region. Also, the legal system and legal terminology before the Republican era had been based upon “Fıhık”, which would be called Islamic law later during the modern era. This legal terminology consisted primarily of Arabic and Persian words. As you may already know, the language of education in the madrasahs was Arabic at the time. Also, during the same period, Seljuks cooperated with Ilkhanids to make Anatolia a safe haven for intellectuals, writers, poets, and bureaucrats who fled from their homelands when the Mongols occupied Mesopotamia. Therefore, the scholars, writers, poets, and other prominent people settled in a suitable place where they could harmonize their own language and culture and create masterpieces in their own languages. It was one of the most important places at that time in the Anatolian region. Their language, dialect, literature, and perceptions had been blended under this diversity. Although there were varied dialects where the Seljuks settled, their literary language and legal terminology were Persian for a long time. By the 16th century, Islam had spread far and wide, and the Turkish language had an extensive Persian and Arabic vocabulary. But what does this show us? What happens when one language is under the influence of another?
Works about the Language Contact of Turkish and Persian Languages
You probably remember Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk (a compendium of the languages of the Turks), which was written by Mahmud Kashgari. It was introduced to us mainly as the oldest Turkish dictionary. The purpose of that dictionary was to teach Turkish to Arabs. But when we look back on our history, we realize that this is not the only work reflecting the relationship between Turkish and Persian languages. After a short period, Uzbek poet Edib Ahmet Mahmut Yükneri wrote a book, titled in Arabic “Atabetü’l-Hakayik” in Eastern Turkish. As you know, Turks were in the midst of an inevitable and rapid change at that time. There were few foreign words in the works written in Eastern Turkish that opposed the dominance of Islam. The most important reason was the huge opposition to foreign cultures at that time. For example, during the domination of the Karakhanids, there was again a resistance against Arabic and Persian words. The first work in Turkish is “Kutadgu Bilig” (knowledge of being happy), written by a Muslim-Turk, Yusuf Has Hacib in 1067. Then in the 15th century, Turkish Poet Ali Şîr Nevaî wrote a book called “Muhakemetül-Lugatein” comparing the two languages to prove the Turkish language’s superiority over the Persian language. Having been under the dominance of foreign cultures for a long time, in the 16th century, we don’t come across the Turkish language in written sources. Also, the dominant language of the Ottoman Empire was Turkish, which had rich Arabic and Persian vocabulary. The situation was very serious because Turkish became a second language in Ottoman society and it was only used by the Turkish society. On the other hand, those in the palace spoke a different language, abundant in Arabic and Persian vocabulary. From the 16th to the 19th century, Turkish society, language, and culture were greatly influenced by foreign cultures and words. However, the situation was getting out of control, and a language and the culture shaped by it was disappearing.
With the Tanzimat Fermanı (imperial edict of reorganization), the Ottoman Empire embarked on a period of transformation, and it was the first concrete step towards westernization. After years of eastern influence, the Ottomans turned towards western culture. So, it was the beginning of the enlightenment period, and in time cultural, ideological, and scientific transformations had changed society and its mindset. One of the most important changes was ridding the Turkish language of foreign words. So, during the reformation period, many new newspapers, magazines, and periodicals emerged, aiming to purify the Turkish language. Also, the writings of Namık Kemal, Ali Suavi, Ziya Paşa, Şemsettin Sami, and Ahmet Mithat Efendi appeared in the new publications. With the establishment of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on 1st November 1928 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and alphabet reform, Turkish society began a completely new era. Also, Ziya Gökalp, the advocate of Turkism, made a great effort. At the beginning of the 1900s, “Young Writers” magazine was published led by Ali Canip Yöntem and Ömer Seyfettin under the New Language Movement. It also brought the National Literature Movement to the forefront and was then criticized by the intellectuals of Istanbul. The origin of the relationship of Turkish and Persian languages goes back to the Ottoman period, yet even the translated works were mainly on Sufism. Today it is tough to find translators who can work with this language pair, although there was a great effort to remove the grammar structure of Persian and purify the Persian words from Turkish. Because few qualified interpreters can translate between these languages, in the translation sector, English has to be used as a buffer language for Persian translations. What a sad situation! Right?