This paper investigates the şarkı song form, composed in the late nineteenth century, discussed with regards to the linguistic registers that characterised the use of Turkish in the same period. It considers the production and circulation of this popular vocal repertoire in relation to reforms in language education and an intense, public conversation about the place of Turkish in a society on the verge of a controversial modernity. My aim has been to suggest new ways of thinking about the role of song in supporting or subverting – and occasionally, both – language practice and efforts at standardisation, as well as considering it in the more general framework of language debate. The material chosen is a small group of songs appeared in the newspaper Ma’lûmât in December 1895. By particularly focusing on the way that various registers interweave in the texts, I have suggested that we look at this repertoire as a reflection of wider linguistic/cultural tensions. While Ottoman-period Turkish has often been regarded as an unreadable, impenetrable language belonging to the elites, the case of the şarkı and its urban, newspaper reading public suggests that we should begin looking at it as a language spectrum encapsulating a multitude of registers, chosen according to the intended meaning and occasion. I propose to consider song in its capacity to maintain affections and authority, as well as providing a tool for self-mapping in history and tradition. In the late Ottoman scenario, this translates into reconsidering notions of cultural and social schisms in favour of a fluidity in both language and music practice, that is manifest in the şarkı text.
Şarkı, Language education, Language reform, Diglossia, Linguistic registers