Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

“Muftis, Dragomans and Ottman Law in Translation: Multilingual Fatwas from the Chancellary Republic of Ragusa”

November 28, 2013 at 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Seminar in Ottoman and Turkish Studies presents:

Selma Zecevic, York University
“Muftis, Dragomans and Ottoman Law in Translation: Multilingual Fatwas from
the Chancellery of the Republic of Ragusa”

Thursday, 28 November 2013, 4-6 pm, NMC Department Conference Room (BF200B)

Abstract: Current studies on the production and reproduction of Ottoman legal expert-opinions (Tur. sing. fetva) ignore the effects of translating these documents from Ottoman Turkish and/or Arabic into other languages. This is not surprising considering that there has been little evidence of such practice: the bulk of existing Ottoman fetvas are preserved in these two languages. They were in fact they only languages used by Ottoman legal scholars and practitioners throughout the Empire. Having in mind that the Ottoman Empire encompassed various communities whose members knew neither of these languages, three questions come to mind: How did these non-speakers and non-readers of Ottoman Turkish and/or Arabic participate in the Ottoman legal discourse? What role did mediators, interpreters, and translators play in the process of vernacularization of Ottoman legal texts and documents? And, what kind of interpretive strategies did they use in this process?In this study, I examine a selection of multilingual Ottoman fetvas issued by Ottoman muftis—including shaykh al-Islams—currently archived in the Dubrovnik State Archive’s collection Acta Turcarum. In doing so, I address the significance of the linguistic transmutations that these texts underwent, from their composition in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic to their translation into Italian and/or Ragusan Slavic. In addition, I trace the various stages of the formation and transformation of these texts as they cross cultural and ethno-linguistic boundaries between the Ottoman Empire and its vassal-state, the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), by reconstructing the history of the fatwa-texts under consideration. Crucial for this process is the analysis of the activities of the Ottoman muftis and Ragusan dragomans who were involved in the creation of each fatwa-text and/or its corresponding translation. Whether by virtue of their ethno-cultural origins or as a function of their job, these functionaries often shared knowledge of both the vernacular Slavic language and the language of the Empire, Ottoman Turkish. Due to their respective professional skills, they were able to transcend ethno-linguistic boundaries and position themselves as members of multiple, local, and trans-local communities simultaneously. Nevertheless, Ottoman muftis and Ragusan dragomans operating in distinct cultural contexts and these differences informed their individual interpretive strategies. A close comparison of fatwa-texts in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic with the texts of the corresponding Italian or Slavic translation provides solid ground for an analysis of the manner in which Ottoman muftis and Ragusan dragomans mediated between the imperial legal texts and their own cultural contexts. Furthermore, this comparison shows that numerous textual interventions—truncation, omission, and addition of words and phrases—in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic, and in Italian and Slavic texts attest to the instability of muftis’ and dragomans’ identities themselves as they consistently negotiated their positions with respect to the trans-local and local, imperial, and vernacular.


November 28, 2013
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category: