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Sunday 12 July 2020

The Multi-Lingual Ottoman Levant

I am one of those lucky people whose mother tongue is English, a language in which I can expect to be understood world-wide. I have only one other language into which I can confidently switch (French) and a couple in which I can order restaurant meals and check in at a hotel.

Everyone probably knows that the old Ottoman Levant was a multilingual society. Not only that, it was a multi-script society. Look at this wonderful 1891 Invoice and try to identify the different scripts and languages mobilised by the Constantinople printer whose identity is provided on the right-hand side. But I doubt Angelidos Frères have achieved a world-record: I can’t find English anywhere on the Invoice…..

Click on Image to Magnify

Multi-lingualism on this scale does pose problems. A large business can probably find staff to cover all the necessary languages; a small business or office might struggle. And a lot of time will be spent translating and not quite getting it right.

On the invoice the scripts I can see are Roman, Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Greek, Armenian, Russian Cyrillic. Yes?


  1. Une autre époque où le français était la langue du Monde... nowadays the l’est upper part of the document would, no doubt, be written un English.

  2. I think you are correct in the number of languages identified, but the number of scripts as in typefaces is higher. Notice, for example, that Armenian appears in both print and cursive. Notice also that Hebrew appears in standard print and in Rashi.