Turkish in Medieval Cambodia? December 6, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback
An incredibly busy day today – exams are drawing near – and so Beach is going to put up a cheat post with apologies, using an extract sent in by a reader. This appeared a couple of weeks ago and was pasted under a previous post on Amazons. However, Beachcombing is not interested, at least for present purposes, in the same thing as his correspondent: female fighting and fighters. His mouth though dropped open when the question of the queen’s language in the extract below came up. So much so that he has spent a lazy few minutes, in an otherwise frenetic day, looking into this question and has got nowhere.
On the second day after our arrival at the port of Kailukari the princess summoned the captain, officers and merchants to a banquet she had prepared for them, according to her custom…. When I greeted the princess she said to me in Turkish, ‘How are you? Are you well?’ She seated me near her…She asked me from which country I came. I said ‘From India’. She said: ‘The pepper country?’ I said yes. She asked about that country and events there and I answered her. She said ‘I must invade it and take possession of it. Its wealth and its soldiers please me.’ I said to her ‘do so….
Some basic background. This text appears in the fourteenth century Travels of Ibn Battutah. Ibn Battutah is a generally and demonstrably truthful correspondent, though there are some concerns about later additions to his original. Kailukari, the port where the queen dwells, is a bit of a mystery. But it is certainly to the east of India. Cambodia is one of the solutions given though there is no need to be so exact. It appears that this was a nation in contact with India and also a nation that was not of the faith (i.e. Islam). Let’s keep it generic and just think of the south-east of Asia.
Now the mystery. The language of the place is not described but it transpires that the queen speaks to Ibn Battutah in Turkish and carries out a conversation in this language. If this was the Middle East and a monarch spoke in Turkish or if this was the far east and yet the woman had somehow learnt some words of Hindi, say, this might just about pass muster: though it would still be worthy of comment. But Turkish in south-east Asia in the fourteenth century?!?
Beachcombing knows that Turkish is a Turkic language and that Turkic languages are also spoken in western China and in Siberia (see map) and other far flung regions. But before we even begin to ask whether Ibn Battutah could have mistaken a far eastern Turkic tongue for Turkish we have to accept that this does not get us appreciably closer to south-eastern Asia. Can anyone come up with a half decent, cogent solution to this crux? Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
11 Dec, 2012: ML writes in with a ‘long shot’. Of course, for a maniac problem like this there are no others! ‘I’ve just come back from a holiday in Myanmar and I was told there by our Burmese guide that the Burmese people are descended from Tibetan peoples. Tibet = Western China Burma = East of India. Maybe Burma rather than Cambodia.’ Thanks ML!!!
26 April 2014: Norm writes: From my first Anthropology class: Turkish is a Mongol tongue, a remnant of the Mongol invasion of Asia Minor. The idea of the Mongols turning over a few stones in Cambodia is not too much of a reach. The lady in question may have been a bride of the diplomatic sort, a northern Indian women sent to a foreign land as an envoy of the marital sort.’ Thanks Norm, I find the idea of a diplomatic bride very persuasive.
25 Mar 2016: Bruce T with the most convincing answer yet ‘I meant to send you this the other day. At one time in the late first millennium the seaborne Srivijaya Empire based in the region of the Malacca Strait, held territory in in southern Cambodia. There’s some speculation that the Indianized Srivijayan’s brought Hinduism to Cambodia and inspired the rise of the Khmer state, but that’s another story. However, both the Srivijayan’s and the kingdoms on Java, considered Central Asian mounts to be the “Horses of Heaven” and would sail to both Hormuz and the Sind to obtain them for their elites. The horses were in great demand. Could the Queen spoken of in the account known Turkish due to this horse trade and spoke to the man in question in Turkish as she thought it was the language of most Muslims and the one she was most fluent in? Indonesian traders were transporting these horses to Southern China at the height of their influence, as there was a market for them there. My guess is that were supplanted by the Mongols in China, but in the Malay Archipelago the overseas horse trade may have continued for centuries.