The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, 2002 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 190 pages
2 Reviews
This is the first full account of the transformation of Ottoman Turkish into Modern Turkish. It is based on the author's knowledge and experience of the language, history, and people of Turkey. The transformation of the Turkish language is probably the most thorough-going piece of linguistic engineering in history. Its prelude came in 1928, when the Arabo-Persian alphabet was outlawed and replaced by the Latin alphabet. It began in earnest in 1930 when Ataturk declared: 'Turkish is oneof the richest of languages. It needs only to be used with discrimination. The Turkish nation, which is well able to protect its territory and its sublime independence, must also liberate its language from the yoke of foreign languages.' All Arabic and Persian vocabulary was replaced forthwith by words collected from popular speech, resurrected from ancient texts, or coined from native roots and suffixes. The snag - identified by the author as one element in the catastrophic aspect of the reform - was that when these sources failed to provide the needed words, the reformers simply invented them. The reform was central to the young republic's aspiration to be western and secular, but it did not please those who remained wedded to their mother tongue or to the Islamic past. The controversy is by no means over, but Ottoman Turkish is dead. Geoffrey Lewis both acquaints the general reader with the often bizarre, sometimes tragi-comic, but never dull story of the reform, and provides a stimulating and incisive account for students of Turkish language, history, and culture. The author draws on his own wide experience of Turkey and his personal knowledge of many of the leading actors. He has left no word, phrase, or sentence of Turkish untranslated, other than the names of books and articles.

What people are saying - Write a review

Review: The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success

User Review  - Filip - Goodreads

This book details the little known but fascinating story about how Atatürk not only reformed his country, but also its language. The author asks us to imagine that a ruler would decree that all ... Read full review

Review: The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success

User Review  - Wallace - Goodreads

Extremely opinionated and catty. Which only makes it more interesting. Read full review

References to this book

Language Policy
Bernard Spolsky
Limited preview - 2004
All Book Search results »

About the author (2002)

Geoffrey Lewis, FBA 1979, has been Emeritus Professor of Turkish at the University of Oxford since 1986 and a Fellow of St Anthony's College since 1961 (now Emeritus). He was Oxford University Visiting Professor at Robert College, Istanbul 1959-68, and has been a Visiting Professor at Princeton and UCLA.

Bibliographic information