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Chemical nomenclature in the nineteenth-century Turkey

Feza Günergun

Endeavours in translating European books on science into Ottoman Turkish, which were rather occasional troughout 16 th - 18 th centuries, intensified during the nineteenth century with the foundation of Ottoman military schools that were instrumental in introducing modern sciences and technical knowledge in Turkey. These translations and their translators also contributed to the formation of a scientific nomenclature in Ottoman Turkish. The present article aims to study the formation and evolution of the Ottoman chemical nomenclature, based on four texts translated in the nineteenth century and will only focus on the nomenclature of elements and inorganic chemical compounds such as acids, oxides and salts.

Texts under study are the followings: Yahya Naci's "Risale fi'l- Hikmet-i Tabiiyye" (1809), the 4 th volume of Mecmua-i Ulum-i Riyaziye (Istanbul, 1834) of Ishak Efendi, Usul-i Kimya (Istanbul, 1848) of Mehmed Emin Derviş Pacha and the 1 st volume of Kimya-i Tıbbî (İstanbul 1868) of Dr. Kırımlı Aziz. The first text is in manuscript form, which indicates that its use was rather restricted. The other three, however, seem to have been widely used since they were prepared and published as textbooks for the students of the Engineering School, the Military School and the Medical School.

Seemingly, the creation of an Ottoman chemical nomenclature was not the primary goal of the first two translators. Derviş Pasha (1817-1878) and Dr. Kırımlı Aziz (Aziz of Crimea) (1840-1878), on the other hand, wrote books fully devoted to chemistry and talked explicitly of coining a nomenclature in Ottoman Turkish and set the rules. Both rejected the idea of using "European chemical terms in Turkish chemistry books and instead, used "Turkish" terms as often as possible. Terms which do not exist in "Turkish" were transliterated from French. Kırımlı Aziz employed the Arabic alphabet for writing the symbols of chemical elements and formulas of compounds. This system was later adopted by a group of Ottoman chemists, and employed in Ottoman Turkish books on chemistry published in Istanbul prior to 1940s.

Unfortunately it has not been possible to fully assert the source-texts for these four texts examined. Although the information given by Ishak Efendi is in conformity with Lavoisier's Traité (1789), it is also probable that he used M.J.Brisson's (1723-1806) and Valmont de Bomare's (1731-1807) books, which were available in the library of Mühendishane where İshak Efendi spent many years. Derviş Pasha's Usul-i Kimya includes the names of about 50 European chemists. The use of expressions such as "according to Mr. Turner's book" and "Thénard's book in French" makes us think that he studied these two authors among others.

The translators of the first chemical texts were not chemists but rather Ottomans trained in engineering and with a rather sound knowledge of French. Derviş Pasha, who first systematized the Ottoman chemical nomenclature, was an engineer-chemist himself. After being graduated from the Engineering School in Istanbul, he studied for some years in École de Mines (Paris). Kırımlı Aziz who further advanced Derviş Pasha's work on nomenclature, was a medical doctor. Thus, the Ottoman chemical nomenclature was originally set within the realm of engineering training, but later developed in medical education.

For the elements already known to the Turkish-Islamic world, all authors employed the Turkish and/or Arabic names. Names for the newly discovered elements unknown to the Turkish-Islamic world were borrowed from French and transliterated except for oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen for which new terms were derived from Arabic according to their etymology. Ottoman names for chemical compounds (oxids, acids and salts) were in the form of nominal compounds just like their European equivalents: ie. kibritiyet-i potas for sulphate of potassium. In naming these compounds, two formative elements were borrowed from Arabic (the use of nasb in the naming the salts and the use of the 6 th root as seen in the formation of tezeccüc from zücac) while two structuring elements were transferred from Persian (the making derivative by using î and secondly the izafet). For sulphate, the term kibritiyet was derived from Arabic, whereas the word potas was directly transliterated.

Borrowing elements from Turkish, Arabic, Persian and French, the Ottoman chemical nomenclature became a multi-lingual nomenclature based on classical Islamic and modern European chemical literature. This indicates that the four authors shared a common working practice. They were no philological purists but strove to generate a technical language using as few unfamiliar terms as possible and exploited options introduced from Arabic and Persian to construct derivative nouns and compound expressions.


Son güncelleme: 01.11.2016

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