Thursday, January 25, 2007

What language do they speak in Turkey?

Who's asking: An anonymous Google searcher

Um, they speak Turkish.

If you subscribe to the belief that language is destiny -- and I do -- it's interesting to look at the expansion and collapse of the Ottoman Empire as a failure of Turkish to conquer the Romance languages. Even within the Ottoman Empire, Turkish was a stepchild; the Ottoman court used Arabic for its legal proceedings and religious practices, and Persian for art and literature. "Ottoman Turkish," spoken at court, used a lot of Arabic and Persian words, while "pure Turkish" was a language of the lower classes, and not generally written.

Modern Turkish is a political creation, and dates back only to the 1920s. When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk came to power, he demanded the creation of a single, "pure" Turkish, with a Roman alphabet. Scholars devised a system of transcribing Turkish sounds into the Roman alphabet in 1928, and by January 1, 1929, the use of the Arabic alphabet to write Turkish was illegal.

The adoption of the Roman alphabet was part of Ataturk's broader goal of Westernization. Nevertheless, the Turkish language is much more closely related to several Asian languages (Azeri, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and more) than to the Romance languages (French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish). Turkic languages are spoken across a large percentage of the planet, from Turkey to Mongolia.

Still no Internet connection at my house; I'm posting this from the Maine State Library. It's inconvenient, but it does force me to keep more-or-less regular working hours.

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