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LPT Symbol The Story of Modern Turkish

Where'd it come from, where is it now, where's it going?

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The budding of modern Turkish
Turkish Language Variations -- Devrik Cümle
To come
Earlier attempts at language modernization
More on Atatürk's language reforms
The Turkish Language Society (Türk Dil Kurumu)
Turkish -- compared with other modern languages
Current fears and conflicts in Turkey about the mother tongue
Current Turkish proposals for Turkish

The budding of modern Turkish

Picture this... It's 1792, and the fledgling United States of America is struggling to find her own way in the new world order. George Washington, its first President and hero of the War of Independence, ponders the future of the young country, and he worries. Despite the reality of hard-won independence, there's a small but influential segment of the American public that favors re-establishing ties with Britain in much the same relationship as before the War!

"Intolerable!" he says. "I didn't break my back these last 15 years to give it all back to the British bully, without a fight. I've got to devise a way to cut this country off from its self-inflicted dependence on the old country. How can I do it quickly and effectively, and still maintain the enthusiastic support of the majority of Americans?"

"Well, suppose I abolish the current English language -- and make it illegal to use in public. Suppose I establish a brand new American Language. Now... that would change our relationship radically with old Britain and go a long way toward breaking those binding ties. And it would appeal to the majority of American citizens because they're still basking in the glory of our famous victory, and are in a once-in-a-lifetime mood for drastic nationalistic reform. And I can do it -- since I'm the country's Founding Father and most famous Independence War hero!"

So he sets out to do just that. And his first steps in the process are to mandate the creation of an All-American Alphabet based on Arabic characters, to ban old English script in public, and to obsolete portions of old English vocabulary (replacing it with unfamiliar, in some cases never before heard, "pure-American" words).

And to implement the changes, he pulls together a team of educators and language experts and, in caravan, they travel round the furthest reaches of the country giving lessons in the new language. And who's the celebrity professor and star of the show? The one who really draws in the crowds? Why none other than old George himself!

And the people love it and accept their instant illiteracy in the Modern American Language with pleasure and courage and the ties to the old country (and old ways) are broken effectively, forever.

Impossible, you say...It could never have happened. And, you say, it's a good thing that George didn't try it, because it would have been thrown the new country into chaos. Besides, you say...even if he had set out to do it, it would have taken decades to make any headway and George only had seven more years of life in which to spearhead the effort.

Impossible, huh? Well, in essence, that's what Mustafa Kemal, Atatürk (modern Turkey's Founding-Father and War of Independence hero) did successfully -- including the part about being the celebrity professor! And he did it in less than a year in a newly independent nation who's population was almost 10 times the size of the original USA!

Atatürk's Dil Devrimi (Language Revolution) began officially in May 1928 (with the introduction of the English-style alphabet for the Turkish language) and was complete on January 1, 1929 -- the day it became illegal in the new Turkish Republic to use the centuries-old-standard Arabo Persian calligraphic-style alphabet. And on that day, the link with Turkey's Ottoman-Arabic-Asian-Islamic past was altered drastically and irrevocably, forever.

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