Pure Ottoman

One often encounters cases where one Turkic variety is less reliant on Persian or Arabic in one area than another is, but never have I been so surprised as in this case: “Аспаз” (aspaz) is the word used to refer to a cook in Kazakhstan. The same word in Azerbaijan is “aşpaz”. Other pronunciations exist among the Turks of Central Asia, among whom the same word is almost always used. The exact same term in Persian is آشپز (âshpaz). In Turkey, the equivelant is “aşçı”.

The former part (the “aş/as” part) means “food” in all varieties of Turkic (including Siberian varieties), and whether by coincidence or borrowing (my guess, based on the Siberian case and the specificness of the Persian term, is that this is a Turkic loan into Persian) a similar term is used for soup in Persian. The second part stems from the verb “to cook” in Persian (a word which itself ought to be the subject of a full entry), and its use in Kazakh is not at all surprising given the region’s history. The term in use in Turkey is more Turkic, using the extremely productive -ci suffix, so the word could be roughly calqued as “foodist”, a reasonable way to refer to a cook.

When presented with the fact that among Turks with longstanding contact with Persian culture, Turkey stands alone in referring to cooks as “aşçılar” rather than “aşpazlar” or some such, one’s immediate response is to blame the TDK. The TDK–for the uninformed–constitutes the official “language police” in Turkey who spent much of the early republic attempting to purify the language, as excellently documented by Geoffrey Lewis in “The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success” (which is easy to steal online). The effects of the TDK’s labours are wide-ranging in Turkey, so you would be perfectly justified in assuming they were responsible for this split whereby people in Trabzon refer to the “aşçı” while people in Baku make reference to the “aşpaz”.

Except you’d be wrong:

There it is, in two seperate Ottoman Turkish dictionaries, one for Anglos and one for natives, the word rendered as آشجی (âshji) with not an آشپز (âshpaz) in sight.

Somehow, the Ottoman Turks managed to avoid using a Persian word where all of Central Asia could not resist.

For anyone curious about Kurdish, here’s Ferheng.

Although the Kurds I’ve inquired with do not recognise “aşpêj” (but recognise its meaning), translate “nanpêj” as “baker” (reasonable considering “nan” is “bread”) and “xwarinpêj” as “housewife” (how delightfully sexist, as the two parts of that word in no way imply anything other than “the person who cooks food”). In place of these “pure Kurdish” terms they recommend “aşçî” (more or less how a Persian would read the Ottoman spelling aloud) for “cook”.

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