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An Ottoman constructed language

World-famous constructed languages range from Zamenhof’s Esperanto to Tolkien’s Quenya to hobbyist “ conlangs”, but isn’t it surprising to learn that centuries before them, an Ottoman in Egypt created his own language and that a thorough grammar and lexicon survives to this day?

Conlanging before it became cool was the scholar and mystic Mehmed ibn Fethullah ibn Ebü Tâlib, born in Edirne in the mid-16th century and spending the majority of his life in Ottoman Cairo.

I started writing an English-language overview of Bāla’y-balan’s grammar based on both the original text as preserved in Princeton University’s library and a modern Turkish translation by Mustafa Koç, Bâleybelen. Muhyî-i Gülşenî. İlk Yapma Dil.

A page from Kitâb-ı Bâleybelen

The “full” PDF is available for download, but here are a few short excerpts:

Words in Bāla’y-balan are not required to have vowel harmony, a distinguishing feature of the Turkish language. Words such as qaydak kapı ‘door, gate’, which has both a back q and a front k, would not be possible in a pure Turkish word. This point has further significance when we consider Bāla’y-balan’s suffixes, which will not harmonise with the vowels in the root to which they are attached.

The Bāla’y-balan plural is created by the addition of the suffix : نو niv ‘flower’ and نوا nivā ‘flowers’. When the base noun already ends with a , then -y- is added as a buffer between the two vowels. When the base noun ends in the vowel ه [a], then the long ā is added, and the ه is vocalised with its consonontal value [h]: ظفه ẓafa ‘book’, ظفها ẓafahā.

A noun may be placed in accusative case by the addition of the suffix -rā. This may be added to both singular and plural nouns: شَمْسَا نِوَارَا Şamsā nivārā ‘They smelled the flowers’.