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The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success 1st Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0198238560
ISBN-10: 0198238568
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Editorial Reviews

Review

`Lewis' passion for his subject matter is clear' Journal of Sociolinguistics 5/2, 2001

`The Turkish Language Reform is a dramatic story, entertainingly written, and not overly long. What is more, it provides a great insight into the practicalities of language planning.' Journal of Sociolinguistics 5/2, 2001

`From the moment you read 'A catastrophic success' in the subtitle you know that Lewis's intention is to provide interesting, entertaining reading. The story is a great one ... and well worth the read.' Journal of Sociolinguistics 5/2 2001

`Professor Lewis has written a fascinating book and he deserves the gratitude and appreciation of both colleagues and non-specialists alike. Lewis has succeeded in making a demanding task seem particularly easy and even graceful. As a stylist, Lewis is incisive, sometime brutally candid, and almost always witty. The book is sure to remain the last word on the language reform for a long time to come.' Benjamin C. Fortna, Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 37, No.1, Jan 2001

`This subject has long awaited a full-length treatment in English and it would be hard to imagine anyone better able to provide it than Geoffrey Lewis. Lewis ... draws on the experience of a distinguished career to provide both a wealth of anecdotal material and the advantages of long-term perspective.' Benjamin C. Fortna, Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.37, No.1, Jan 2001

`very informative - especially for the nonspecialist - and worthwhile reading.' Wolfgang-E. Scharlipp, Anthropological Linguistics, 42, No.2.

`this book can and must be recommended to anyone interested in the modern Turkish language.' Wolfgang-E. Scharlipp, Anthropological Linguistics, 42, No.2.

`Lewis's book is learned, eloquent, and witty.' Reviews IX, Sino-Platonic Papers, 107, Sept. 2000.

`Particularly effective and entertaining are those passages which he skillfully translates twice -- first in their unadulterated form with their full complement of words of non-Turkic origin, then in their clean-up, "pure" Turkic form.' Reviews IX, Sino-Platonic Papers, 107, Sept. 2000.

`Lewis ... writes in a lively and witty style. Absolutely essential for collections supporting Turkish and linguistics departments at all levels.' W.L. Hanaway, Choice, Vol.38, No.1.

About the Author

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 195968, and has been a visiting professor at Princeton, UCLA,
and the Royal College of Istanbul, and holds honorary doctorates of the University of Istanbul and the University of the Bosphorus. His books include the original Teach yourself Turkish (1953 and 1988).


Geoffrey Lewis, coauthor of "How Remarkable Women Lead", is a journalist and editor.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 16, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198238568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198238560
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,755,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I just finished the book -- reading 1-2 hours daily for 3 days -- and a very brief summary of what I learned might be:

*** Ataturk's insistence on converting from the Arabic script to Latin letters was a huge success in pushing Turkish citizens towards literacy (1924=9%, 1995=82.3%), no doubt among the highest literacy rates in the Muslim world;

*** For some hyper-nationalistic intellectuals, the reform became a grand excuse for ridding Turkish of Arabic vocabulary and Persian phrases/grammar, regardless of whether a) These "foreign" words had already been well integrated into Turkish anyway; b) Feasible, "truly" Turkish synonyms actually existed. The result: A 21st-century Turkish language greatly impoverished -- and not noticeably clearer -- than the one inherited from the centuries-old Ottoman empire when the republic was founded in 1923.

*** The language "engineers" who peopled the official "Language Society" during and after Ataturk's death were big on intervention and nationalist thinking but sadly lacking in professional qualifications, to put it mildly. The role of the Language Society is documented in (painstaking) detail, and this case study confirms that language is too dynamic to be shaped by committee!

I found the book well written, well researched and even witty at times. The author knows his subject inside and out, and insists on translating almost all the Turkish words and short texts into English, which made it readable even for me, a beginning student of Turkish.

However, I found the book did not address certain questions of great interest to me personally! These are:

*** One of the strongest motivations for the language reform was to rid it of unnecessary foreign vocabulary in favor of so-called "Turkish" words.
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Format: Hardcover
The changes in the Turkish language over the past century are fascinating, and this book does a great job of explaining some of the political and social background. The author is an expert and extremely knowledgeable on this topic. To me the most telling summary was seeing a paragraph of one of Ataturk's most famous speeches presented in the original, then in a retranslation done later, then a re-retranslation done yet later! The first retranslation was necessary because the original could hardly be understood any more, with all the Arabic-derived words etc. The second retranslation was necessary because even the first retranslation could hardly be understood today! This book will be mostly interesting to those who know at least some Turkish already (and the more the better) or to those interested in linguistic change and social engineering. As the other reviews mention, the changes in Turkish are the result of deliberate re-engineering of the language, not of the more usual processes of linguistic evolution. Imagine taking English and trying to get rid of all the words derived from Latin or French and use only Anglo-Saxon words or words newly derived from other Germanic languages, and you will get a partial picture of what happened with Turkish. The author's views are probably summed up by the subtitle: a catastrophic success. The language reform was effective and some of it was valuable but it may have gone too far in destroying some useful distinctions and making Turkish a somewhat less effective and graceful means of expression.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Prof. Lewis' book gives the full account of the reengeneering of today's Turkish which was essentially for political reasons. The author, atrue erudite and scholar, in about 200 pages pens the process of the death of the ottoman Turkish and the birth of modern Turkish with sometimes bizarre and tragi-comic results. The book must certainly appeal to all Turkish intellectuals irrespective of their ideological position. But it is equally appealing to linguists and orientalists. I cannot praise this book high enough and recommend it strongly.
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Format: Hardcover
Turkish Language Reform, from its beginnings in the thirties to this day, has been a highly politicized issue in Turkey. Professor Lewis, a lover of "Beautiful Turkish", gives an excellent account of the historical development of this language engineering while successfully keeping his views out of the realm of language politics of Turkey. Any criticisms he has to make about the Turkish Language Association (Turk Dil Kurumu) come subtly and delicately through the carefully selected quotations from others.
This book is a must for lovers of Turkish language, linguists, historians of language (and surely for the Turkish Language Association), and it can be a fun to read for a non-Turkish taxpayer whose tax money could not be reached to finance the whole project.
For a better grasp of the book, some knowledge of Turkish language helps; the more the better to really get the beautiful "taste" of this excellent book.
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