Having read the first couple of chapters of The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success (see this post), I thought I’d share some bits that I found interesting, enlightening, or amusing. From Chapter 2, “Ottoman Turkish”:
The mixture of Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, which Turks call Osmanlıca and we call Ottoman, was an administrative and literary language, and ordinary people must have been at a loss when they came into contact with officials. But while they must often have been baffled by Ottoman phraseology, they were capable of seeing the funny side of it. In the shadow theatre, the running joke is that Karagöz speaks Turkish while his sparring partner Hacivat speaks Ottoman. In the play Salıncak, Karagöz keeps hitting Hacivat. Hacivat asks him why, but receives only nonsensical answers sounding vaguely like his — to Karagöz — unintelligible questions. Eventually he asks, ‘Vurmanızdan aksâ-yı murad?’ (What is your ultimate object in hitting me?). To which Karagöz replies, ‘Aksaray’da murtad babandır’ (The turncoat at Aksaray is your father) […]. A rough English parallel would be, ‘Explain your bellicose attitude.’ — ‘How do I know why he chewed my billy-goat’s hat?
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Even before the rise of the Ottomans there had been expressions of dissatisfaction with the dominance of Arabic and Persian. In 1277 Şemsüddin Mehmed Karamanoğlu, the chief minister of the ruler of Konya, decreed that thenceforth no language other than Turkish would be spoken at court or in government offices or public places. Unfortunately he was killed in battle a few months later.
Chapter 3, “The New Alphabet,” explains that -h- was very nearly adopted to indicate palatalization, on the model of Portuguese (“so khatip for what is now written kâtip“), and palatalized k was almost written q (“The explanation is to be sought in the name of the letter q, which Turks follow the French in calling kü, pronounced /kyü/. This letter, whose name had the requisite palatalized initial sound, seemed the ideal device for indicating /ky/.”). And in a discussion of the nearly one-to-one match of letters to sounds, Lewis says “the only word one can think of that [a well-programmed speech synthesizer] might fail to enunciate correctly is ağabey (elder brother), pronounced /ābī/,” which I’ll have to try to remember. I like annoying irregularities.