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Turkish and Fakelish: Foreign terms and the words that replace them
1.       tunci
7149 posts
 09 Oct 2011 Sun 09:54 pm

Turkish and Fakelish: Foreign terms and the words that replace them

09 October 2011, Sunday / NOAH BLASER, İSTANBUL

Recently Turkey celebrated its 79th Dil Bayramı, or Language Holiday, an event which, with the exception a brief statement of congratulations released by President Abdullah Gül, passed with little fuss or fanfare.

In his statement, Gül praised the richness of the Turkish language and defined it as “the strongest link between our past and future.” But in the time it might have taken to read the president’s short homage to the Turkish language, a quick glance around İstanbul could easily prompt one to ask where, exactly, has the language gone?

On a bus ride through İstanbul, you might catch sight of the newest “Medical Park,” eye goods in the window of the “MetroPort Discount Center,” or see customers loitering over tea at “Efendi’s Café.” If you opened a newspaper, you could find that “first lady” Hayrünnisa Gül had accompanied the president on his trip in Germany. Try to escape from such linguistic unpleasantness with a stroll down the street and you will notice that people all over the city are busy park etmek-ing, organize etmek-ing and realize etmek-ing.

What has happened to the Turkish language? This is a question that Oktay Sinanoğlu, one among many vocal critics of English’s entry into Turkish, takes up in his aptly titled book “Bye Bye Türkçe.” Sinanoğlu declares in his book that the increasing ubiquity of English is fast at work reducing the once great Turkish language to linguistic rubble. The result of such disregard for the language will be the coming of what he refers to as “Anglomanlıca,” the end of all things once uniquely Turkish.

In the face of such a dire situation, Sinanoğlu suggests drastic measures. He recommends that higher education not be given in foreign languages, and has even proposed his own equivalents to many foreign words: örütbağ for internet, evrenkent for university, and tezyemek for fast food. Such actions he and other opponents of an anglicized Turkish claim are necessary for “liberating Turkish from the yoke of foreign languages.”

The history which is evoked by the call to “liberate Turkish,” however, provides a cautionary tale about the search for equivalents to foreign words. In the years after the War of Independence, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk inaugurated a decades-long campaign to “save” Turkish from its centuries-old Persian and Arabic heritage. Turkish was switched from the Arabic to the Latin alphabet in 1928, and in 1932, the Turkish Language Association (TDK) was founded to oversee the development of a new national vocabulary based on the “historic Turkishness” of the language.

The most ambitious project of the TDK was the 1933 “word-collection mobilization,” a campaign which called on the help of thousands of academics and school teachers to record and “reclaim” 220,000 words from regional dialects and archaic Turkic texts. The results were eventually compiled into a dictionary which suggested tens of thousands of substitutes to Arabic and Persian words in 1934.

The word mobilization’s attempt to discover the lost Turkic roots of the language produced at best questionable results. In perhaps the most detailed book on Atatürk’s language revolution, titled “The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success,” Oxford Linguist Geoffery Lewis describes the confusion that reigned when authorities first sought to impose the new language. Lewis tells the story of a journalist who would write his story in Ottoman, passing it along to a “substitutor,” who then “substituted” the Ottoman words for their prescribed alternatives in the substitution dictionary. Multiple substitutions confronted the substitutor (for example, under the entry for “pen” one could find “yazgaç,” “çizgiç” and other neologisms, all of which were meant to replace the Arabic word “kalem&rdquo, and he simply picked the ones he liked before forwarding it to the copyist. Lewis notes that any other substitutor might choose completely different substitutions for a given word.

The more enduring suspicion about the new language revolution was the accusation, voiced widely by the press in the wake of Atatürk’s death, that it had produced an “artificial and synthetic language.” The words that were suggested as substitutes, Lewis notes, were archaic words which had long fallen out of use in Turkish, or composites of ancient Turkic roots which were said to equivocate to undesirable Ottoman terms. Though the soldiers of the revolution had fought for “istiklâl,” or independence, the struggle was thereafter referred to as a fight for the nation’s “bağımsızlık.” Lewis meanwhile calls the invented term for duration, or “süre,” a “Frankenstein creation,” made by combining the Turkish verb sürmek with the French durée.

If the creations of the TDK were suspect in the early years of reform, they only became more controversial following Atatürk’s death. Nuruallah Ataç, the guiding voice of the purism movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s, dispensed with all pretensions of creating etymologically Turkic words, suggesting replacements for words as fundamental as “book,” suggesting “betik” for the Arabic “kitap,” or “tin” for “ruh,” the longstanding word for “soul.” Such “Ataçisms” enraged critics who refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of what they considered etymological fantasies. Despite any controversy over its creations, however, the association nonetheless had the power of review over school textbooks and state radio. As a result, many of its creations replaced everyday terms which were once predominately Arabic -- “rule” was formally “kaide,” but became “kural,” while “instance” became “kez” instead of “defa.”

Ömer Asım Aksoy, a tireless defender of purism who published 49 books on language while at the association and 17 additional books after his retirement, summed up the association’s adherence to purism in his provocatively titled 1969 book “Purification Cannot be Stopped,” in which he said: “For a language to be filled with foreign words means that its knowledge, culture, and thought are ‘foreignized,’ that it remains tied to the foreign, that one’s freedom is lost.”

Opponents were not convinced. Faruk Kadri Timurtaş, a professor at İstanbul University and one of the most vocal opponents of language purism, spoke out against a language that he believed could not be categorized as Turkish any more than German nor considered any more natural than Esperanto. He pejoratively termed the new language uydurmacılık, or “fakelish,” declaring that the aim of the association was “to degenerate and ruin the language, to bring upon anarchy in our culture.” The most persistent argument of opponents to the TDK was that every language contains foreign words. “Every language has foreign elements, the only exception to this rule are the languages of the world’s most isolated tribes,” Timurtaş, declared in 1974.

After 1983, the TDK’s authority was greatly diminished when it lost the broad powers of textbook and media review. Today, most of the replacements it suggests are for already well-entrenched foreign words -- suggesting “belgegeçer” in the place of “faks,” or the unwieldy “görevdaşlık” in the place of “sinerji.” The knowledge that most of these equivalents are ignored by most Turks may have nostalgics like Sinanoğlu looking for a renewed round of language purification. A look at the past efforts for purification, however, might prompt one to wonder whether Sinanoğlu’s cure is worse than the disease


2.       Abla
3647 posts
 09 Oct 2011 Sun 10:09 pm

Fighting against foreign elements in language seems an impossible task in today´s world but when you look at the development of many languages you can recognize a period when language planning fell asleep and when loan words entered the language free. For Turkish, this moment of carelesness was probably the period when Arabicisms increased rapidly. Fortunately alien influence in language seems to be limited only to the vocabulary (as far as I understand). The word collection mobilization was really needed. The best source for original words is of course local dialects but sometimes even invented new words succeed and stabilize in the vocabulary.

It´s relatively easy to invent new words into languages which use word derivation. I proudly present that in my mother tongue there are no such international words as sports and electricity. Instead, man-made derivations are used.

Edited (10/10/2011) by Abla

3.       stumpy
638 posts
 10 Oct 2011 Mon 03:51 am

I say that the preservation of one´s language, culture and heritage begins at home.  If you have a strong family unit and a desire to preserve your heritage then your language will survive all the external influances thrown at you through media and global exposure.

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