‘The Clamour of Babel, in all the Tongues of the Levant’: Multivernacular and Multiscriptal Constantinople around 1900 as a Literary World

With a focus on the crafting of Constantinople as a literary world, this article considers how the city’s particularly rich and composite soundscape, linguascape and scriptworld around 1900 contributes to a vernacular poetics. Such a poetics, I suggest, could be described in terms of a heterolingual and multivernacularforegrounding of linguistic difference and asymmetry. Issues relating to the materiality of language and linguistic diversity, including the role of scripts, are explored in a selection of ten Western European travelogues and narratives set in Constantinople during the last period of the Ottoman era (1876–1922) and written in Italian (De Amicis), French (Loti), Danish (Jerichau-Baumann), Norwegian (Skram), and Swedish (Lindberg-Dovlette and Beyel). Proceeding from the soundscape via the linguascape to the scriptworld of the city, it is demonstrated how these ‘-scapes’ and worlds are established, rendered, thematised, transcribed, and inscribed as heterolingual, multivernacular and multiscriptal in Constantinople as a literary world. Different textual and paratextual strategies are identified and analysed with regard to their auditory, visual and material features. However, as a part of monoscriptal Western European literature using Roman script, this literary world becomes cosmopolitanised. In this case the vernacular poetics did not embrace the many scripts of Constantinople.


author Helena Bodin

Textual Practice 34.5: 783-802.

published 2020