Ever anxious to increase his proficiency in literary Turkish, Father read the works of Dumas in that language, translating into Spanish as he went along, for our benefit. Every now and then he would interrupt himself to find the exact meaning of a word in a thick dictionary, while we waited in silence.
Wherever Father went he took with him one or another of these novels, studying the language assiduously. Once, on a trip to Albania, alone in the compartment of the train, he was reading The Queen’s Necklace when, at a small station, a venerable old Turk entered his compartment and took a seat opposite him. After the usual polite greetings Father closed the book on his lap and placed it on the seat next to him. From across the way the old Turk surveyed him for a moment, then, arising, he picked up the book, kissed it reverently, and laid it on the rack above Father’s head. “My son,” he remonstrated kindly, “praised be Allah! It is praiseworthy of you to be reading the words of our prophet. But you should never treat the Holy Book with such disrespect as to place it where people sit.”
“Why didn’t you tell him it was a novel?” Mother asked.
“A novel!” Father exclaimed smilingly. “To the simple old man, what other book could I have been reading but the Koran? What other book is there but the Holy Book?”
Besides his study of Turkish, Father was working to perfect his Bulgarian…
I don’t know what “thick dictionary” the elder Sciaky was using, but the standard in English for well over a century has been that of James Redhouse (English-Turkish 1861, Turkish-English 1890); imagine my delight to discover both parts have been digitized by Google and are online and searchable! Even the reprints cost over $100 on the used-book market. I’m also pleased to discover that there’s a Turkish site on the Ottoman language (with its own dictionary, though the words are written in the modern alphabet and of course defined in Turkish), a University of Michigan resources page (with links to texts where you can mouse over a word or phrase to see the transcription and modern Turkish and English meanings, e.g. a fairy tale and a poem), and a University of Leiden course page where you can not only see “Leiden is where you study languages” in Ottoman Turkish, you can hear a .wav file of it read aloud (as you can for all their other languages, even Akkadian!). I’m glad to live in a time when even a defunct language like Ottoman Turkish, which I had assumed was receding into oblivion despite the centuries during which it was a major world language, has so many resources available for the prospective student.
Incidentally, Charles Wells’s Introduction to the second edition of Redhouse (pp. v-xi? [Google has unfortunately omitted one or more pages after x]) is well worth reading, giving a sad picture of the state of Turkish studies in the late nineteenth century:
Persons wishing to become student-interpreters, or officials in any part of Turkey, in Asia Minor, or in Cyprus, should be required to possess, at least, some knowledge of Turkish before being appointed and before leaving England, as they will find the want of proper teachers in Turkey an insuperable barrier against beginning its study in that country. The only persons who teach Turkish in the East are Greeks and Armenians, most of whom appear physically incapable of pronouncing Turkish correctly [!], and possess in general little or no knowledge of the literary language… It is a strange fact that the number of Englishmen who can read and write Turkish is so small that they can be counted on the fingers of one hand.