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August 4, 2010 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Which of the thousands of neologisms coined in the Turkish language reforms of the 1920s and 30s stuck, which ones didn't--and why?

In the great Turkish language reforms of the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of new words were coined--mostly 'new old' words from supposedly authentic Turkish roots. Many of these new words stuck, supplanting or standing alongside words that Ottoman Turkish had borrowed from Arabic and Persian. But plenty of others proved ephemeral, whether because the existing 'foreign' word was too solidly anchored in the language or because they lost out to other competing neologisms.

I know where I can read more about the politics and history of the language reform, the 'Sun Language' thesis, and so on. But here I'm interested in language in actual use. Can anyone tell me (or point me towards the relevant scholarly work) which of the new words stuck, which ones evaporated, and--in each case--why? I have a couple of hopefully plausible speculations about the 'why', but no empirical data. The political/historical stuff I've read about the reforms may cite a few neologisms, mention a couple of old words that were replaced, or say that not all of the new coinages survived, but it doesn't give any systematic empirical linguistic data, or analyze it in the way I'm looking for here.

As an aside, I'd also be interested to hear about when the swarms of loan words from French, up to and including 'otantik', made their way into Turkish, and--if it was before 1923--whether they were subjected, during the reforms, to the same attempts at purging as those from Arabic and Persian. (I suspect not.)

References in English, French, or (gulp) Turkish are all fine. References in other languages will go a bit further down my 'to do' list, but it'd be nice to know that they're there.

I have paged languagehat.
posted by lapsangsouchong to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We read an article from Hürriyet in my Turkish class recently that mentioned the people at the Türk Dil Kurumu running this sort of analysis. If you're serious about this, I would start by poking around their pages, with the massive grain of salt that today's TDK continues to be perversely proud of the language reforms and boasts that, for example, Turkish is the "purest language" in the world (the specific contention of the article we were stumbling through), all the while engaging in the sort of nationalistic-linguistic-tomfoolery you've surely read about in your Geoffrey Lewis.

My Turkish isn't good enough yet to help with any more than that--I'm not sure the systematic empirical data you're looking for exists outside of a Turkish-language context, but I would be thrilled to hear if it did.
posted by besonders at 3:10 PM on August 4, 2010

> I know where I can read more about the politics and history of the language reform

Well, that's all I've got for you, I'm afraid. But I'll be interested to see any answers to your question.
posted by languagehat at 3:48 PM on August 4, 2010

I personally can't answer your question, but I'll pass it on to some friends of mine who might be able to and get back to you.
posted by patheral at 5:09 PM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: There's quite a bit of information about that on the Wikipedia page List of replaced loanwords in Turkish. Apparently a lot of the French words came into the language in the 1800s during the Tanzimat.
posted by Kattullus at 6:21 PM on August 4, 2010

Sorry it took me forever to return to this. I passed this question around to my Turkish friends, and though they're all pretty intelligent, they couldn't think of an answer - not their area of expertise (they're all engineers *sigh*). Sorry.
posted by patheral at 8:26 AM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for your efforts! I'll keep the question in mind, and if I turn anything up elsewhere I'll post here.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 11:42 AM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: So: in (partial) answer to my own question, a friend told me to look out for Sevan Nişanyan, who has written books on this subject that might be useful. One of them, a Turkish etymological dictionary, is available in online form.

Some of his books. The first book listed there, Adını unutan ülke, apparently gives etymologies of place-names in modern Turkey (and the names in other languages, notably Armenian, that they replaced).

He also has a couple of blogs, though they haven't been updated recently: writings from AGOS, and writings on history and politics. In fact it seems that he's made a conscious (and slightly pompous?) decision to stop writing on the web: "Türkiye'de internetin maalesef ortalama zekâ ve üslup düzeyi üzerinde olumsuz bir etkisi var. Bana gelen incilerden bazılarının kaybolup gitmesine gönlüm elvermediği için yayımlamaya karar verdim."
posted by lapsangsouchong at 6:50 AM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, thanks for that online etymological dictionary link! I don't actually know Turkish, but I have dictionaries, and I love etymology.
posted by languagehat at 9:15 AM on August 14, 2010

Response by poster: Glad you like it! I'll probably get pointed towards other useful resources over the next few weeks by the friends I'm staying with, in which case I'll post links or details where possible.

Yesterday one of them also gave me an excellent example. The word günaydın, 'good morning' or 'good day', was coined at this time and achieved widespread currency. But it was one of a pair, with tünaydın, 'good afternoon'. This has achieved absolutely no currency except in schools. In the morning, when the teacher comes into class, the children stand up, the teacher says "Günaydın!" to them, and they say the same thing back; and in the afternoon, when the class comes back after lunch, the same ritual is repeated but with the word "Tünaydın!" Outside this context the word is never used. The explanation my friend suggested is that while gün was and is the normal word for day, so the new coinage (which literally means something like 'bright day!') made sense, tün was one of the 'new old' coinages, an 'authentic' ancient Turkish word... which no-one ever used. So a new word formed from tün had less chance of sticking than a new word formed from gün, despite 65 years* of teachers saying it to their classes every day after lunch.

*According to Nişanyan it was coined by the TDK in 1945. Bizarrely, Nişanyan has tünaydın but not--except in the entry for tünaydın--günaydın.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 8:20 AM on August 15, 2010

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