Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Jan 31 2007
Orhan Pamuk joins BBC discussion on Turkish language
Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and other leading Turkish novelists and
academics were among those discussing the political dimension of
language reform movement in Turkey on a BBC 3 radio documentary.
The program in the series "The Struggle for Language" was presented
by novelist Maureen Freely, who is also Pamuk¹s translator.
Literature professor Jale Parla described how the attempt to improve
literacy by abandoning the Arabic alphabet in favor of the Latin one
turned into a political drive to "obliterate cultural memory" and cut
the young Turkish republic from its Ottoman roots. Elif Shafak, a
best-selling novelist in Turkey who writes in English, related how
she felt squeezed between intellectuals who insisted that the
language reform should soldier on and conservatives who tried to
revive the old Ottoman words.
People looked not at what words meant but what they implied,
according to Pamuk. It was enough for readers to look at the
vocabulary of the first few sentences to think they knew where an
author stood. He described how his friends in the 1970s would make
fools of themselves conversing in a politically correct way that no
ordinary person could understand. However, even he felt the
obligation to use words of which he sometimes did not approve out of
concern that the next generation would not understand what he wrote.
Another novelist, Buket Uzuner, said she was denied a literary prize
for mixing old and new words on the same page. "You should use ‘pure
Turkish,’ even in your fantasies," she was told.
It was not simply the purging of the "old" Arabic and Persian words
that transformed the multicultural Ottoman society but the
elimination of minority languages, according to Nukhet Sirman, an
anthropologist at Istanbul’s Bosphorus University. She described the
genuine puzzlement of a friend who was dropped by his girlfriend
after he repeated the slogan "Citizen, speak Turkish" when she wished
him good morning in her mother tongue, Greek. Many had mastered the
new language to write what Professor Saliha Paker described as
crystal clear prose and Turkey has changed from the early days of the
republic when only 11 percent of the population could read and write.
Oxford academician Geoffrey Lewis explained how not all the
neologisms caught on. The word "özzitirimligötürgeç" ;
(self-propelling-fetch-and-carry) never replaced the more exotic
foreign word "automobil." The program, first broadcast on Sunday
night, can be accessed online via:
1)click on "Listen Again" 2) click on "Sunday Feature."