The Turkish Language Reform

As a means of national survival, write Diana Spearman and M. Naim Turfan, Atatürk preached the whole-hearted acceptance of contemporary civilization.

Changes in language have usually taken place slowly, in periods measured in centuries rather than years. A wholesale alteration in one generation seems too gigantic a project to be conceived by even the most ambitious of innovators. Nevertheless, such projects have attracted both nationalists and revolutionaries.

National movements of any substance have always been interested in the national language because, as an expression of national identity, it is a force making for national unity. These movements have been faced by one of two language problems - either the native language has been superseded by another, as Finnish was by Swedish during Finland’s union with Sweden, or it has become so infiltrated by foreign words and idioms as to be a composite language, largely incomprehensible to the majority of the people.

In the former case, once political circumstances allow, and if the ‘people’ still speak the original tongue, the task of reviving it is comparatively simple. Finnish is now the language of Finland, although Swedish is still recognized as one of the two official languages.

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