After the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, Middle Eastern national elites seemingly adopted monolingualism as a state policy. Language reform in the Turkish Republic, the emphasis on Pan-Arabism in various Arab nation-states, and the celebration of the Sassanian-Persian traditions of Iran all underscored the connections between one national language and its nation-state. In the interwar period, poets, novelists, journalists, linguists, historians, state bureaucrats, and educators all advanced the notion that national subjects used the national language to chronicle the nation’s past and compose works that constituted the national literature. The identification of the new nation-state with the new, modern national language and literature became accepted as a given. This conference, however, wishes to challenge some of these narratives. We thus examine multilingual literary and historical accounts and practices and the ways they challenged state policies. We take note of language modernization efforts that predated the establishment of the nation-states. We explore how people cultivated multiple and intimate relations to different languages, the nostalgia they expressed and fostered to their multilingual imperial pasts, and the civil rights battles for language justice they conducted, especially in ethno-nationalist and colonized states.
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This conference has been organized by the Quest for Modern Language Between the Mediterranean and Black Sea project at the Neubauer Collegium.