What could that word be?

Lexiqamus, a new online search tool, makes deciphering Ottoman words that much easier

By Emma Harper | June 22, 2016

Anyone who has tried their hand at learning Ottoman, the hybrid of Turkish, Arabic and Persian that served as the official and literary language of the Ottoman Empire, is like to have encountered James Redhouse’s Turkish and English Lexicon (1890). I picked up my copy in Istanbul the summer before my second and final year in a Middle Eastern Studies MA programme. Lugging it back to Chicago, I became acutely aware that this heavy tome, all 2224 pages of it, was going to train me in more ways than one. 

While scouring the dictionary is a right of passage – I spent many nights flicking through the thin, silky pages in search of words both common and obscure – there are times, especially if you’re working with handwritten Ottoman documents, when it is of little help. But rather than throw your hands up in defeat, you can now open your computer and visit Lexiqamus, a new website that’s a godsend to researchers. 

What makes Lexiqamus different from an online Ottoman dictionary (like, for example, Osmanlıca Sözlükler) is that it allows you to search for words with missing or unclear letters. Moreover, the search function works even if letters are missing from the beginning or middle of the word, as opposed to the end, which is more often an issue of discerning case or verb endings rather than the word itself. A term that otherwise would have taken you days to find searching through various dictionaries, Lexiqamus can provide at the click of a button. The website, created by Ahmet Abdullah, draws from all the major Ottoman dictionaries, including Redhouse’s tour de force.

Studying the Ottoman language and working with handwritten Ottoman documents is no walk in the park. Thankfully, today’s online resources are making it easier for researchers to plumb the depths of the rich archival material from the Ottoman period that’s available.

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