The citizenry at large was invited to suggest alternatives to words and expressions of non-Turkish origin, and many responded. In 1934 lists of new Turkish words began to be published, and in 1935 they began to appear in newspapers.
From Ottoman to Turkish
The roots of Turkish language
The roots of the language
can be traced to the Altay
region, with the first known
written records dating back
nearly 1,300 years in the
Northern Siberian Altay
By the beginning of the eleventh century most of
them who had reached the Middle East became
Muslim, and the literate among them adopted the
Their own language was rich in words necessary for
nomadic life, but it was deficient in terms for
philosophical, theological, and artistic concepts. For
these they resorted to Arabic and Persian.
Nomadic people brought the language with them as
they expanded out to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan,
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and a number of other
Today, the language is spoken by more than 83million
people around the world. In fact, out of all of the
Turkic languages, Turkish is the most commonly
What kind of language Ottoman
Ottoman language was a mixture of Arabic, Persian,
At heart it was Turkish; its accidence and syntax were
In pre-reform the language was:
Bir müsellesin mesaha-i sathiyesi, kaidesinin
irtifaına hâsıl-ı zarbinin nısfına müsavidir.
zaviyetan-ı matekabiletan-ı dahiletan (içters
Why Ottoman language contained so
many vocabulary from Arabic and
Members of the civil, military, and religious elites
conversed and conducted their business in Ottoman
Turkish. . At an official level, it was used for the
administration of the empire
Arabic remained the primary language of religion and
religious law .
Persian was the language of art, refined literature, and
Did ottomans borrow only vocabulary
from Arabic and Persian?
Some of its grammar was taken from Arabic and
They borrowed Persian and Arabic plurals
Persian interposes an i between noun and qualifier,
and both conventions were adopted. Turkish adjectives
precede their nouns, but Arabic and Persian adjectives
E.g. Bâb -i- âlî= gate and high
Ulüm-i tabiiye = Tabi ilimler
Why change the language?
The constituent parts--Turkish, Persian, and Arabic--
belong to three different language families--Ural-
Altaic, Indo-European, and Semitic, respectively--and
the writing system fits only Semitic.
Phonological, grammatical, and etymological
principles are quite different among the three families.
For these reasons, modernist intellectuals during the
nineteenth century began to call for a reform of the
After the establishment of Turkish
Atatürk made language reform an important part of
the nationalist program.
The goal was to produce a language that was more
Turkish and less Arabic, Persian, and Islamic; one that
was more modern, practical, and precise, and less
difficult to learn.
This process was to be accomplished through two basic
strategies--adoption of a new alphabet and
purification of the vocabulary.
New era in Turkish language
The language revolution (dil devrimi ) officially began
in May 1928, when numbers written in Arabic were
replaced with their Western equivalents. In November
the Grand National Assembly approved a new Latin
alphabet that had been devised by a committee of
Many members of the assembly favored gradually
introducing the new letters over a period lasting up to
five years. Atatürk, however, insisted that the
transition last only a five months, and his opinion
With chalk and a portable
blackboard, he traveled
throughout the country
giving writing lessons in the
new Latin alphabet in
schools, village squares, and
other public places to a
people whose illiteracy rate
was suddenly 100 percent
On January 1, 1929, it became unlawful to use the
Arabic alphabet to write Turkish.
By replacing the Arabic with the Latin alphabet,
Turkey turned consciously toward the West and
effectively severed a major link with a part of its
Islamic heritage. By providing the new generation no
need or opportunity to learn Arabic letters, the
alphabet reform cut it off from Turkey's Ottoman past,
culture, and value system, as well as from religion
Second stage of the language
Atatürk and his language reformers viewed non-
Turkish words as symbols of the past.
They encouraged a national campaign, supported by
government policies, to purify the language.
Lexicographers began to drop Arabic and Persian
words from dictionaries.
"The Turkish Nation, which
knows how to protect its
territory and its sublime
independence, must also
liberate its language from
the yoke of foreign
The Turkish Language Society (Türk Dil Kurumu),
founded in 1932, supervised the collection and
dissemination of Turkish folk vocabulary and folk
phrases to be used in place of foreign words.
In October 1932 the word collecting began. Every
provincial Governor presided over a collection
committee, with the duty of organizing the collecting
of words in use among the people.
Within a year, over 35,000 such words were recorded.
Meanwhile, scholars had been combing through
dictionaries of Turkic Languages and more than 150
old texts in search of words that had fallen out of use
or had never been in use in Turkey - these totalled
close on 90,000.
Later, many officials realized that some of the
suggested reforms became ridiculous.
E.g. Kalem which was Arabic translated as;
yağuş oryazgaç or çizgiç or kavrı or kamış or yuvuş
Western word academy to be the Turkish ak adam: -
ak - white and adam - man (an Arabic word)
Niagara being explained as from Ne yaygara! - What
and Amazon as from Ama uzun! - But it's long!
What happened when the equivalent words in
Turkish were not found
Atatürk resolved the problem with an ingenious
political invention that he suggested Sun-Language
Theory which was the "mother of all languages," and
that therefore all foreign words originally were Turkish
Thus, if a suitable Turkish equivalent for a foreign
word could not be found, the loanword could be
retained without violating the "purity" of the Turkish
Some of them made terrible mistakes
millet - nation into Ulus (mongolian) but Uluş was
a genuine Turkish word
millî - national so they borrowed the French suffix -
el or -al , and they replaced millî national by ulusal.
By the late 1940s, considerable opposition to the
purification movement had emerged.
Teachers, writers, poets, journalists, editors, and
others began to complain publicly about the instability
of the officially sanctioned vocabulary.
In 1950 the Turkish Language Society lost its semi-
official status. Eventually, some Arabic and Persian
loanwords began to reappear in government
The cost of language reform, however, has been a
drastic and permanent estrangement from the literary
and linguistic heritage of the Ottomans.
Language and language reform continue to be political
issues in Turkey
Language reform and modern usage have pushed
forward during periods of liberal governments and
been deemphasized under conservative governments
such as those of the 1980s.