The Late Persianate World: Transregional Connections and the Question of Language

By Maryam Fatima, Alexander Jabbari and Mehtap Ozdemir

The Persianate world is a Eurasian zone connected by the historic use of the Persian language in various capacities, which produced a shared cultural vocabulary, forms, and sensibilities. The onset of nineteenth-century modernity and the contraction of Persian’s use in this cultural-linguistic realm is usually taken to be the death knell of the Persianate framework. Contributing to the growing body of scholarship on the afterlives of the Persianate beyond the nineteenth century, this Philological Encounters’ special issue addresses questions of literary modernity in the Persianate world and takes the question of form to the fore, advancing a comparative methodology attuned to formalism and historicism. The articles explore the near-simultaneous encroachment of modernity across varied territories and polities (among them South Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Ottoman lands) and examine the problematics that emerged as a consequence: language politics (classical, vernacular, demotic, national), national canonization, and the disavowal of Persianate genres and epistemes. Rather than indicating the end of the Persianate framework, however, these processes initiated a new stage of literary realignment, a period we identify as the “late Persianate,” in which connections and exchange continued across borders in spite of shifting political and ideological attachments.

As a way of exploring how new national identities and pre-national Persianate selves overlapped and competed for dominance, Samuel Hodgkin focuses on gestures of affiliation and disaffiliation in relation to the Persianate as a “repertory of cultural forms” in the modern period. He argues that these forms, like the poetic mode of taghazzul, came to symbolize a reified Persianate culture against which modernizers could position themselves. Mehtap Ozdemir looks at the Turkish translations of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat as part of Perso-Ottoman connectivity in the early twentieth century. In drawing attention to how Ottoman writers combined literal rendering with interpretative commentary, Ozdemir explores translation both as a hermeneutic and historiographical practice that simultaneously enables national-affective bonds and breaks in Ottoman/Turkish modernity. Maryam Fatima and Andrew Amstutz consider how Indian Muslim intellectuals conceptualized and imagined the Urdu language as the linguistic offspring and heir of the Persian language and Persianate textual cultures. Their analysis reveals an ambivalence at the heart of Urdu modernity, with nationalism pulling Urdu both towards the Persianate (in locating a genealogy for Urdu in Persian) and away from it (as a point of disaffiliation, against which Urdu could define itself). Alexander Jabbari shows how modern Iranians sought to disaffiliate themselves sonically from the Arabic-Islamic elements of the Persianate. As an earlier cosmopolitanism gave way to a Persianate modernity structured by a new nationalist logic, he demonstrates how the sound of Persian, from phonology to music, was transformed in Iran and South Asia.

Ottoman Fleet in Toulon, by Matrakçı Nasuh/Nasuh al Matrakî Istanbul, 1543.

For many modernizers, national identity was cultivated through proscribing cosmopolitan Persianate forms of belonging, which became a stand-in for “tradition.” In many ways, the Persianate continues to offer tools and terms for modernity even as it is redefined through the national frame. Fatima Burney reads the nineteenth century Indian reformer Syed Ahmad Khan’s championing of naicar (nature) as part of his program for Indo-Muslim cultural renewal, a melding of British romanticism and Persianate modes of religious and social plurality. In reading Ahmad Khan through a Persianate lens, as opposed to an entirely Islamicate or postcolonial one, Burney underscores the continuities between Persianate Islam and its modernist offspring, despite the history of antagonism between them. Aria Fani examines two cases of iqtirāḥ or poetic competition in modern periodicals from Tehran and Kabul, tracing the link between romantic nationalism and poetic modernity. With specific attention to the role of poetic composition in national historiography, Fani shows the instrumentalization of Persianate modes of sociability in the making of political subjectivities. Levi Thompson examines how the science of Arabic prosody or ʿarūż was interpreted and retooled by modernist poets in Arabic and Persian. In engaging with the questions of poetic form, rather than language, ideology, or nation, Thompson argues for taking the shared poetic past of Persianate cultures seriously in order to develop transregional comparative models that defy temporal (premodern-modern) or national (Arabic-Persian) divisions.

We hope that this special issue helps to theorize Persianate modernity and facilitates an ongoing conversation, encouraging collaboration and future scholarship that will explore in greater detail the language, geographies, and history of the late Persianate world.


About the guest editors:

Maryam Fatima is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She researches the connected histories of Urdu and Arabic literary modernities and Afro-Asian literatures of decolonization. Her work has appeared in Comparative Literature Studies and the Journal of Urdu Studies.

Alexander Jabbari is assistant professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota, where he works on the literature, history, and philology of the Middle East and South Asia. His first book is The Making of Persianate Modernity: Language and Literary History between Iran and India (Cambridge University Press, 2023).

Mehtap Ozdemir is a postdoctoral fellow in MESAS and Comparative Literature at Emory University. After receiving her PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2022, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bologna, conducting archival research and digitization in the ERC-funded project, “Modernizing Empires: Enlightenment, Nationalist Vanguards and Non-Western Literary Modernities.” She is currently working on a monograph which reframes Ottoman literary modernity from the angle of Persianate poetics and hermeneutics.


Citation: The Late Persianate World: Transregional Connections and the Question of Language, in:

TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 27.12.2023, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/49859




Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Forum Transregionale Studien (2023, 27. Dezember). The Late Persianate World: Transregional Connections and the Question of Language. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 23. Februar 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/vfaa

Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. It provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. More...

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