TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  Linguistics and weaving: how does this help us understand carpets?
Author  :  Stephen Louw
Date  :  10-27-1999 on 04:14 p.m.
Thank you Costa for an insightful Salon. I too have had a long-standing interest in linguistics, and feel that knowing something of the work of Saussure, Derrida and Lacan has helped me enormously to understand the constitution of social identity and politics. Understanding the fluidity of signs and signifiers and the struggle to fix, temporally, meaning is an important breakthrough. Perhaps this is the view of a demented post-structuralist, but it makes sense to me. What I donít understand, however, is the utility of linguistics in helping to understand carpets. You draw attention, correctly, to the fact that all art (including weaving) is a form of communication, expressing emotion, culture and history through signs that others interpret (through their own linguistic-structural lens, I would add). Fair enough, but beyond this, how does this help us to understand the intended meaning in Turkoman carpets? You ask whether weavings may embody a type of "written record". Probably yes, but in a very loose way, reflecting a far wider diversity of influences and sources of imagery than your analogy with language (and the use of a specific language) suggests. And how does linguistics help us to interpret this? Here I differ from you. I agree that Turkoman patterns (esp. guls) were probably specific to a particular ethnic-linguistic group at a point in time, but feel that you overstate dramatically the extent to which this is a hidden language, one which emerges endogenously from within a particular ethnic-linguistic grouping in much the same way that such a grouping is defined by its use of a language. Is this so? You point out that "mixtures of different styles are not uncommon", but suggest that this is largely because of mixed marriages. But surely the balance of scholarly opinion is that Turkoman weavings reflect multiple influences, including but going well beyond the peculiar artistic heritage of specific ethnic-linguistic groupings? In particular, weavings reflect the commercial interests which affected most carpet production throughout the nineteenth century. In short, I have two questions. Firstly, and generally, what does linguistics tell us about weaving that we might not otherwise know? Secondly, more specifically, are you not forcing the analogy between linguistic groupings and the patterns (signs, symbols) in Turkoman weavings. The first (language) is indeed, as you say, something which changes very slowly, and which is used to promote the identity of a more or less homogenous grouping. Is the second (weaving) really something which is similarly homogenous or "fixed". And if so, where is the evidence? Critical comments perhaps, but stimulated by an intriguing and thought-provoking intervention. Stephen

Subject  :  RE:Linguistics and weaving: how does this help us understand carpets?
Author  :  George O'Bannon
Date  :  10-27-1999 on 09:02 p.m.
I'm not quite sure of the relevance of linguistics to weaving, but there are several aspects of language and weaving that come to mind that illuminate the interconnections between groups of weavers. Most know what a mafrash is and probably associate it with a specific Shahsavan bag or a Turkmen small bag. The word mafrash is associated mainly with Azeri Turkish. Actually in Turkmeni maprach is more commonly used than mafrash. These changes in pronounciation tell us something about the user and also reflect changes that occur gradually over time. This same word in Uzbek and Kyrgyz is variously napramach, mapramach, or mafrage (used by Farsi speakers in Kabul). All are associated with bags but made in different ways and sizes. What language shows is a common origin, at some time in the past, for a type of carrying bag. It does not seem that this word has survived into modern Turkish. If it does it would appear to be where it abuts Azeri. Yet two other bag terms common to parts of Central Asia persist: chuval and torba or tobra. I don't know what the significance is, but it does point to how language can show us a relationship across a wide area among people with a common base language. An underexplored area where language and patterns may ultimately help to show tribal relationships is in patterns. My experience is greatest with Central Asian weavings, and I am convinced that an indepth study of woven patterns and names for them could illuminate specific groups of weavings. In Turkmen rugs we can immediately spot a Tekke main carpet by the shelpe gol for the main border; ovadan on white for Yomud; naldag for Saryk, etc. The only substantial work along this lines is that of the Rautenstengel's on the Eagle Group where not only main border but minor border patterns are presented. Clearly, once put together in this way, they standout as a group even without consideration of the major gol of the field. I used this same approach to identify Saltiq Ersari carpets. It has always interested me that the most common main border on these carpets is the one identified with Salor main carpets. In working with Uzbek and Kyrgyz rugs, I increasingly rely on a combination of border patterns to make an initial determination before looking at structure. The field patterns in these rugs are less reliable than Turkmen weaving. But the border patttern combinations function like a language that communicates with the eyes. This is not always clear cut. A pattern called toya moyun, I consider to be a 90% indicator of Uzbek origin. Yet it occasionally appears in Kyrgyz rugs. The term is the same in both languages, which I believe shows a borrowing by Kyrgyz from Uzbeks and interaction between the two groups. This is no different from English which has borrowed from most European languages to enrich itself. In the names for patterns, in many cases, the names bear a similarity. The horn pattern for example is kaikalak, kuchkor, kuchhorack, kojanak, gochak. Specific meaning of each of these terms may vary slightly, but most refer to a horn, ram's head, or bent pattern. But if spoken almost all of these speakers will understand the meaning; in looking at the carpet they understand its meaning. If a sufficient number of examples of Kyrgyz weavings were available, I believe that a distinction between rugs made in southern, northern, southwestern, and eastern regions could be identified by a combination of border pattern and structural analysis. The distinction between Akhal and Merv Tekke weavings is murky, but a similar analysis of a large number of pieces, coupled hopefully with some sound collection data, could help solve this problem. The problem with doing a pattern analysis of these type is usually the paucity of material and building a sufficiently large data base to make tentative conclusions. It could probably be done with weavings made from the last half of the 19th c. to now. There aren't enough examples of earlier pieces to reach conclusions. It is generally said that the identity of a tribal group was reflected in its weaving. It seems to me that these linguistic aspects of pattern names and their use or disuse among different tribes could aid in unlocking a part of the language of carpets. For those interested in learning the diversity of these patterns and their names, Klaus Troost's "Muster in Teppichen der Turkmenen und Deren Nachbarvolker" is a must. There is no text, just drawings, names, and language group. The hurdle is from German transliteration to English. It should be coupled with another book with a good glossary of such terms. George

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