Enis Erdem Aydin “Modernizing the Ottoman Script in the Early 20th Century: Revisiting the ‘Separated Letters’ ”

Enis Erdem Aydin presenting his paper during the Winter Academy Photo: Forum Transregionale Studien

Enis Erdem Aydin presenting his paper during the Winter Academy
Photo: Forum Transregionale Studien under CC BY-SA 4.0

Modernizing the Ottoman Script in the Early 20th Century: Revisiting the “Separated Letters”

Following the newborn Turkish Republic’s decision to ban the Ottoman script and opt for a Latin-based alphabet for modern Turkish in 1928, the almost century-old debate to reform the Ottoman script which attracted serious time, effort, intellect and resources seemed to run its course. By bringing one of those attempts (‚the separated letters‘) to light, I hope to unravel the late Ottoman intellectual mindset and the push for alphabet reform which brought ideological debates about progress, reform and modernity and while doing so, transcended borders. For the Philologies Across the Asias Winter School in Delhi in 2012, I had presented my work on the „Iranian-Ottoman link to orthography reform in the Middle East“, whereby I had tried to trace the fate of one proposal, ‚the separated letters‘ petitioned by an Iranian diplomat Malkom Khan to the Ottoman Tanzimat bureaucracy. In that presentation I tried to reflect on the civilizational, practical and security-related concerns of the Ottoman bureaucracy in rejecting the proposal. Now I plan to further develop my findings and look into the Constitutional Era (1908-1922) for attempts to modernize the Ottoman script, especially the separated letters‘ short-lived official implementation by the warring Ottoman state and also its non-official use in the society. I believe there is enough evidence that on contrary to the current literature, there was significant interest in the proposed alphabet which was developed on earlier findings, possessed a societal base rather than merely being an esoteric military experiment and had implications for the future of orthography reform in the Muslim world.

Enis Erdem Aydın is a PhD candidate at the Department of History in Bogazici University, Istanbul. He is majoring in Late Ottoman History with minors in Intellectual History and the Ottoman Middle East. His main focus is comparative Ottoman and Iranian intellectual history in the 19th century, where he deals with how intellectuals from both domains tackled with each others’ modernities. He is looking at the interactions between the Qajar intellectuals in Istanbul and the Ottoman state and society through a transnational perspective. Aydın has recently received the Best Doctoral Paper Award given by the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN) with his paper called “‘The Separated Letters’: The Ottoman alphabet reform as a gateway to Late Tanzimat Mentality”. Aydın is also a reporter at the World News Desk at CNN Türk and has written extensively on regional issues.


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