Turkish Translations

World Languages & Literatures Professor Creates Open Source Resource for Turkish Literature

| in Community

By Haiyi Bi (COM`25)

When a student asked Roberta Micallef if there were any Turkish feminist works that had been translated into English, she was stumped.

Micallef, a professor of the practice in Turkish language and culture in the Department of World Languages and Literatures, who had studied Ottoman and Turkish women’s writing, knew translations could be hard to come by. She herself had struggled to find translations for her courses on Turkish literature.

Roberta Micallef

“If you google, you can find bits and pieces of poetry and translation, but it’s not always certain that the translator was paying attention to exactly what artistically the poet or writer was doing,” Micallef says. “Key materials become available and then disappear.”

So Micallef, an expert on Turkish language and culture, decided to solve the problem.

Micallef teamed up with three colleagues in the field and, with a mini grant from the Geddes Language Center, created an online resource for translations of Ottoman and Turkish writings. They call their website “Artichoke: Ottoman & Turkish Literature in English Translation,” because artichokes — known as enginar in Turkish — are seen as a symbol of prosperity in Turkey and frequently used in Turkish cuisine, medicine — and, “just like Turkish literature, they also have many layers,” Micallef says.

The website, which was published in April 2023, features original Turkish texts, bibliographies and translations from Turkish and Ottoman to English, as well as small biographical notes about the writers. Examples include poems in Turkish about social and economic justice by Gülten Akın, who has won awards for poetry; short stories by Ayla Kutlu, who writes about problems that ordinary people face; and poetry and letters by Ziya Gökalp, a sociologist, writer, and poet, one of the most significant voices of the Turkish nationalist movement. 

Image from the Artichoke website

“This project has as many aims as an artichoke has leaves,” the website explains. “We hope to demonstrate that Turkish literature is part of a large continuum that spans from Asia to Europe that includes a large array of languages and traditions emanating from the peoples living in what is today Turkey, what was once the Ottoman Empire, and the many diaspora communities.”

Turkish is spoken as a first language by more than 75 million people. But Micallef, who has served as the executive secretary and the president of the American Association of Teachers of Turkic Languages, says while there are numerous translations of English works in Turkish, there aren’t as many Turkish works that have been translated to English.

Artichoke’s creators hope that their website will help change this, providing resources for learners, instructors, and simply those who are interested in Turkish literature. They also hope it will help increase the popularity of the Turkish language in America, which isn’t studied as much as other languages.

Areas of the world where a Turkic language has an official status.

“If you look at books published in the United States, three percent are translation. You can imagine what tiny percent of that is Turkish,” Micallef says. “I want us to be able to use these materials in teaching. And these are wonderful pieces of literature.”

What is in the literature, Micallef says, is “people talking about Turkey or Turks” — for instance, what Western nations wrote when they visited Turkey. “When Europeans came to Turkey, Turks also wrote about Europeans that they met. So it would be nice to be able to put those conversations side by side, this is how the Europeans interpreted the Turks in travel narratives,” she says.

Micallef and her colleagues also hope to use the website “to engage people in discussions about the art of translation.”

“Our goal is to engage people in discussions about the art of translation. We hope to provide resources for learners, instructors, and simply those who are interested in such literature,” she says. “ We want to share the joy of reading a beautiful piece of art that reminds us of our common humanity.”