"May a Wasp Sting Your Tongue!": The Armenian Stereotype in Ottoman Popular Performances from the Empire to the Nation-State


Murat Cankara


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The acclaimed theatrologist Marvin Carlson (2006) mentions a Hamlet production he once saw in Berlin and his surprise at the "gales of laughter" at everything Polonius said even when Carlson thought they were not funny at all. After the play, he learned from a friend that the actor spoke with Swabian accent, which was "a source of much amusement to the sophisticated Berliners." Carlson then argues that "so far the visual… aspects of performing race … have attracted far more attention than the vocal aspects, such as dialect, of performing ethnicity," whereas drawing attention to the difference of the other's language has been one of the most effective strategies employed to mark otherness on stage over the centuries.2 As theatre across the world almost always necessitated a common language3 between the performers and the audience, a dialect4 (and, even better, an accent)5 has played a key role in marking difference on the stage. In other words, it has been a much more efficient method to use language, particularly stage dialect, to underline difference.6 Emphasizing that language is a social construct, Carlson highlights that what has come to be known as an official, standard, or national language of a society is but one dialect among many competing ones, which ends up having superior status to others not for linguistic but for economic, social, and cultural reasons. In nation-building processes, theatre and the emergent standard language have worked together to solidify the authority of the majority, especially in the West.7 The representation and historiography of dialects, accents, and ethnic stereotypes in theatrical performances have thus become highly political issues


1. I would like to thank Suphi Öztaş for generously sharing his sources with me, and to the three anonymous referees who, with their insights and suggestions, made a significant contribution to this article. All translations are mine.

2. Marvin Carlson, Speaking in Tongues: Language at Play in Theatre (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2006), 9, 12–13.

3. Carlson, Speaking in Tongues, 3.

4. Carlson adopts David Crystal's definition of dialect: "regionally or socially distinctive variety of language, identified by a particular set of words and grammatical structures." David Crystal, Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 142, quoted in Carlson, Speaking in Tongues, 7–8.

5. Carlson, here too, paraphrases Crystal's definition: "The cumulative auditory effect of those features of pronunciation which identify where a person is from, regionally or socially. The linguistics literature emphasizes that the term refers to pronunciation only, and is thus distinct from dialect, which refers to grammar and vocabulary as well." Carlson, Speaking in Tongues, 11, citing Crystal, Dictionary, 3.

6. The term "stage dialect" comes from Jerry Blunt, Stage Dialects (New Yorker: Harper and Row, 1967), 1. Carlson quotes Blunt's definition: "a normal dialect altered as needed to fit the requirements of theatrical clarity and dramatic interpretation." Carlson, Speaking in Tongues, 11.

7. Carlson, Speaking in Tongues, 9.

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