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The Caucasian language material in Evliya Çelebi's “Travel book” A Revision, by Jost Gippert

This is a special internet edition of the article
“The Caucasian language material in Evliya Çelebi’s ‘Travel Book’. A Revision”
by Jost Gippert (1991).

It should not be quoted as such. For quotations, please refer to the original edition in
Caucasian Perspectives, ed. G. Hewitt, Unterschleissheim / München 1992, 8-62.

The Caucasian language material in Evliya Çelebi’s “Travel book”
A Revision
Jost Gippert

When in 1934, Robert Bleichsteiner published the Caucasian language specimina contained in the “travel book” of the 17th century Turkish writer Evliya Çelebi1, he was struck by the amount of reliability he found in Evliya's notations: “(Die Sprachproben) sind, von einzelnen Mißverständnissen abgesehen, und wenn man die falschen Punktierungen und Irrtümer der Kopisten abrechnet, außerordentlich gut, ja zuweilen mit einem gewissen phonetischen Geschick wiedergegeben, was der Auffassungsgabe und dem Eifer Evliyas ein hohes Zeugnis ausstellt. Man muß bedenken, wie schwer das arabische Alphabet, ohne weitere Unterscheidungszeichen, wie sie die islamischen Kaukasusvölker anwenden, die verwickelten, oft über 70 verschiedene Phoneme umfassenden Lautsysteme wiederzugeben imstande ist. Wenn trotzdem die Entzifferung der Sprachproben zum größten Teil geglückt ist, so muß man der ungewöhnlichen Begabung des türkischen Reisenden und Gelehrten schrankenlose Bewunderung zollen” (85).

Bleichsteiner's judgment must be seen under the aspect that the material he had to rely upon was far from being apt for a thorough linguistic analysis: As is widely accepted today, neither the first edition (by Ahmet Cevdet), published in Istanbul between 1896 and 19012, nor Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall's translation, which had appeared half a century earlier3, offer a sufficient basis for detailed studies, both being based on late and incorrect manuscripts only. Now, however, we are in a happier position, since Evliya's original autograph has been identified in the so called Bağdat Köşkü series of Istanbul manuscripts4. On the basis of this autograph, a reconsideration of the Caucasian language material, which in the case of Abkhaz, Ubykh, Circassian, and Megrelian represents the oldest cohesive material available at all, suggests itself. Having Evliya's manuscript at hand, Bleichsteiner's judgment must, as we will see, not only be sustained but even reinforced. No longer having to face the “wrong punctuations and errors of the copyists”, we are in the position to elucidate quite a lot of problematical words and phrases in the language specimens of interest to us here. In addition, even some new material can be adduced.

In the following treatise, Evliya's Caucasian material is arranged in the order he himself presents it: It starts with Abkhaz (in Evliya's words: lisān-i ՙacīb u garīb-i Abāza, i.e. “the strange and peculiar language of the Abaza”; as is well known, Abkhaz was Evliya's mother's tongue) and Ubykh (lisān-i Ṣadşa-Abaza, “language of the Sadşa-Abaza”), both appearing in pag. 258b f. of manuscript Bağdat 304, within the second book of the Seyāhat-nāme. Later on in the same book, we find the Georgian (Şawşad Gürcileriniŋ lisānı, “the language of the Şawşat=Šavšeti – Georgians”) and the Megrelian (Megrel kavminiŋ lisānları, “the languages of the Megrel tribe”) specimen, on pag. 320a and 332b, respectively. The Circassian (lisān-i Çerākize-yi māmalūqa, “language of the Mamluk-Circassians”) specimen is contained in pag. 157b of the manuscript Bağdat 308 within the seventh book.

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1934, RobertBleichsteinerpublished the Caucasian language specimina contained in the “travel book” of the 17th century Turkish writer Evliya Çelebi1, he was struck by the amount of reliability he found in Evliya's notations: “(Die Sprachproben) sind, von einzelnen Mißverständnissen abgesehen, und wenn man die falschen Punktierungen und Irrtümer der Kopisten abrechnet, außerordentlich gut, ja zuweilen mit einem gewissen phonetischen Geschick wiedergegeben, was der Auffassungsgabe und dem Eifer Evliyas ein hohes Zeugnis ausstellt. Man muß bedenken, wie schwer das arabische Alphabet, ohne weitere Unterscheidungszeichen, wie sie die islamischen Kaukasusvölker anwenden, die verwickelten, oft über 70 verschiedene Phoneme umfassenden Lautsysteme wiederzugeben imstande ist. Wenn trotzdem die Entzifferung der Sprachproben zum größten Teil geglückt ist, so muß man der ungewöhnlichen Begabung des türkischen Reisenden und Gelehrten schrankenlose Bewunderung zollen” (85).
Bleichsteiner's judgment must be seen under the aspect that the material he had to rely upon was far from being apt for a thorough linguistic analysis: As is widely accepted today, neither the first edition (by AhmetCevdet), published in Istanbul between 1896 and 19012, nor Joseph vonHammer-Purgstall's translation, which had appeared half a century earlier3, offer a sufficient basis for detailed studies, both being based on late and incorrect manuscripts only. Now, however, we are in a happier position, since Evliya's original autograph has been identified in the so called Bağdat Köşkü series of Istanbul manuscripts4. On the basis of this autograph, a reconsideration of the Caucasian language material, which in the case of Abkhaz, Ubykh, Circassian, and Megrelian represents the oldest cohesive material available at all, suggests itself. Having Evliya's manuscript at hand,Bleichsteiner's judgment must, as we will see, not only be sustained but even reinforced. No longer having to face the “wrong punctuations and errors of the copyists”, we are in the position to elucidate quite a lot of problematical words and phrases in the language specimens of interest to us here. In addition, even some new material can be adduced.
In the following treatise, Evliya's Caucasian material is arranged in the order he himself presents it: It starts withAbkhaz(in Evliya's words:lisān-i ՙacīb u garīb-i Abāza, i.e. “the strange and peculiar language of the Abaza”; as is well known, Abkhaz was Evliya's mother's tongue) andUbykh(lisān-i Ṣadşa-Abaza, “language of the Sadşa-Abaza”), both appearing in pag. 258b f. of manuscript Bağdat 304, within the second book of the Seyāhat-nāme. Later on in the same book, we find theGeorgian(Şawşad Gürcileriniŋ lisānı,“the language of the Şawşat=Šavšeti – Georgians”) and theMegrelian(Megrel kavminiŋ lisānları,“the languages of the Megrel tribe”) specimen, on pag. 320a and 332b, respectively. TheCircassian(lisān-i Çerākize-yi māmalūqa,“language of the Mamluk-Circassians”) specimen is contained in pag. 157b of the manuscript Bağdat 308 within the seventh book.
Of the five specimina, the Ubykh alone deserves no further exhaustive study, because it was the object of a detailed investigation by ElioProvasi5recently who did use the autograph manuscript (although he seems not to have recognized its actual value). It will be included here for the sake of completeness only.
For all five languages, Evliya's material will be presented in the following way: For all single entries, first the Turkish equivalent is given both in (Osmanist) transcription and in Evliya's original Arabic-Ottoman notation. Then, former interpretations of the Caucasian word or sentence in question are quoted for comparison; except for Ubykh, where G.Dumézil's study is used as a reference6, this is normally R.Bleichsteiner's interpretation. Next, for all languages but Ubykh, an equivalent of Evliya's entry in today's “normal” language (and orthography) as well as a phonological interpretation is proposed. Every entry closes with Evliya's original notation of the words he heard, together with a “Turkicizing” transcription, which is intended as a means of linking the — most often ambiguous — Arabic notation with what can be assumed as its contents. In the transcription, I make use of the methodic principles as developed by R.Dankofffor his “Evliya Çelebi Glossary” of “Unusual, Dialectal and Foreign Words in the Seyahat-name”, the preparation of which gave rise to the present study7. Especially the following rules should be kept in mind here: Arabicalif( ا ) is transcribed asaorä, the mark ofa-vocalization,fatḥa( ـَ ), aseorá, Arabic( ى / ي ) and the mark ofi-vocalization,kasra( ـِ ), asioré, Arabicwāw( و ) and the mark ofu-vocalization,ḍamma( ـُ ), aso, u, ö,orü,according to the sounds they are likely to represent. For some of the languages, additional principles have turned out necessary; these are explained in the introduction to each treatise. Whenever a single entry deserves an explicite commentary, this is added immediately after it.
For all five specimina, the part of the manuscript containing it is presented here as a facsimile in order to allow for an examination of the readings. Note that in his second book, Evliya chose an interlinear arrangement for the foreign material and its Turkish translation (each pair of lines belonging together is marked by an additional brace, here), whereas the Circassian is arranged in a succeeding way (except for the numbers).
No attempts will be made here to deal with a four (half-)verse poem within Evliya's material that was formerly regarded as Laz8: The poem, contained in page 253a of the second volume of Evliya's book, occurs in a nearly identical shape in vol. 8 (336b) again, where it forms part of the specimen of the Trabzon Greek dialect, and there are only Greek elements to be detected in it; cf.Dankoff's glossary (114) for this.

Maybe some readers will find that the translation of Evliya's examples sounds a little bit too rough or straightforward at times; to them, we may quote as an apologia what Evliya felt necessary to state himself on behalf of his Megrelian material:

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