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Ottoman Turkish (fall)



To assess the level of interested MA students, they are urgently requested to contact the teacher, Dr. H.P.A. Theunissen well in advance. Depending on the entrance level of the students, students are expected to participate in intensive alphabet course on Thursday, 7 September, Tuesday, 12 September and a test on Friday 15 September in the afternoon.

Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies or to the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research). Proficient reading skills in modern Turkish (level B2 European Common Framework, i.e. having had approximately 80 EC = 2240 hrs of language training courses). Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not admitted to one of the mentioned master programs and/or are not sure whether they meet the language requirement are requested to contact the convener Dr. H.P.A. Theunissen.


The course aims at introducing the student to the principles of Ottoman Turkish and to the texts written in this language. Ottoman Turkish as a written language was the direct predecessor of modern Turkish spoken today in Turkey and a large geography outside of Turkey that used to form a part of the Ottoman Empire. The word ‘Ottoman’ is derived from the name Osman, founder of the dynasty, which ruled the empire between c. 1300 and 1922. As all languages do, Ottoman Turkish underwent all kinds of changes during its 600 years of existence, and the grammatical forms and vocabulary of the older phases of the language eventually transformed or disappeared, and were replaced by more modern variants. Ottoman Turkish was written in the Arabo-Persian alphabet borrowed mainly from the Persian cultural sphere in the fourteenth century. This went together with the adoption of a great many loanwords from Arabic and Persian and incorporation of Arabic and Persian grammatical constructions into the language. From the nineteenth century onward, a policy of “language reform” started to gain ground that aimed to remove the non-Turkish grammar and loanwords from the language. Under the presidency of Atatürk, this process culminated whereby the old script was replaced in 1928 by the Latin alphabet.

The students participating in the course will first learn how to read and write in the old script before starting to work on simple texts. The fundamental principles of Turkish grammar and syntax will be frequently reviewed. The students will also be introduced to the Arabic and Persian elements incorporated into Ottoman Turkish. Another important aspect of this course is to familiarize the students with the use of dictionaries to solve problems encountered in the assigned texts. There will be weekly assignments in the first part of the course when more attention will be paid upon grammatical structures. The second part will be more reading-intensive that will be concluded by a reading comprehension exam. This examination consists of transcribing and translating a set of print texts written originally in Ottoman Turkish. Students will also be asked to prepare a 4000-word paper to discuss the historical context of the texts assigned for the final exam.

Course objectives

Students who have taken this course will:

  • be able to read not too complicated Ottoman-Turkish texts

  • to interpret them and

  • to put them into historical and cultural perspective;

  • have acquired the ability to use the relevant primary and secondary literature;

  • have acquired various skills including independent academic thinking and acting, analyzing complex issues; and be able to report academically sound;

  • be able to identify and formulate an original research question, to analyze primary and secondary sources, and to draw conclusions;

  • have the ability to gauge scholarly publications in the field critically;

  • be able to present the result of independent research not only in writing but also through oral presentations both for a general and professional public;

  • be able to contribute to a public debate communicating the conclusions of their scholarly research, knowledge and understanding of the Middle East to an audience beyond traditional academia;

  • have learned to academically contribute to the field of research;

  • have knowledge and understanding of Ottoman history and culture.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar
    Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

The course load is 10 ECTS equal to 280 hours.

  • Hours spent on attending the seminar: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks = 26 hours

  • Time spent preparing homework, including the written exam: 10 hours per week x 12 weeks = 120 hours

  • Time spent preparing the presentation and writing the 4000-word term paper = 134 hours.
    Presentation and paper deal with the same subject.

Assessment method


  • Active participation and response during the reading of the material of the week, 5 weekly assignments

  • Completion of homeworks

  • Final Take-Home Examination


The final mark of this course will be composed of the following elements:

  • Active participation and response during the reading of the material of the week, 5 weekly assignments in the first part of the course (25%); presentation in the second part of the course.

  • Completion of homeworks (transliteration and translation of texts as well as grammar exercises (25%).

  • Final Take-Home Examination (transliteration and translation of a set of print/handwritten) texts in Ottoman Turkish, a 4000-word paper discussing the significance and historical context of the materials assigned for the exam) (50%) (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a tentative date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convenor of the course.)


In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (= 6) or higher. Only the final take-home examination and the paper can be done again (50%).

The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Exam review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.



Reading list and texts to be used in term paper

Will be chosen in consultation with the teacher.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch


Dhr. Dr. H. Theunissen


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).