TURKISH, THE SUN LANGUAGE.

Christopher Culver at Безѹмниѥ has a post on a “theory” so terminally silly you’d think it would have to be the invention of a satirist, but apparently it’s real (in the sense that people actually believe it). Chris begins by quoting Brent Brendemoen on “the so-called Güneş Dil Teorisi, the ‘Sun-language Theory’”:

According to this theory of language development, Turkish was the mother of all languages. Thus it was no longer necessary to search for pure Turkish words to replace Arabic and Persian ones, since the ultimate origin of these words and languages was Turkish anyhow.

He goes on to quote Geoffrey L. Lewis in the first issue of Turkic Languages:

The theme was that man first realized his own identity when he conceived the idea of establishing what the external objections surrounding him were. Language first consisted of gestures, to which some significant sounds were then added. Kvergić saw evidence for his view in the Turkish pronouns. M indicates oneself, as in men the ancient form of ben ‘I’, and elim ‘my hand’….
[The theory] saw the beginning of language as the moment when primitive man looked up at the sun and “Aaa!”
That vocable, , was the “first-degree radical of the Turkish language”. It originally meant sun, then sunlight, warmth, fire, height, bigness, power, god, master, motion, time, distance, life, colour, water, earth, voice. As man’s vocal mechanisms developed, other vowels and consonants became available, each with its own shade of meaning. Because the primeval exclamation was shouted, and it is obviously easier to begin a shout with a vowel than with a consonant, any word now beginning with a consonant originally began with a vowel, since abraded. The words yağmur ‘rain’, çamur ‘mud’, and hamur ‘dough’, for example, are compounded of ağmur ‘flowing water’, preceded by ay ‘high’, ‘earth’ and ah ‘food’ respectively. (The reader is urged not to waste time searching the dictionary for the last four words.)
… [The reformer] Dilmen began the next day with a lengthy outline of the theory, proving, among other things, the identity of English god, German Gott and Turkish kut ‘luck’. The proof is simple enough: Gott is oğ + ot, god is oğ + od, kut is uk + ut. He avoids explaining the second t of Gott by spelling it with only one t.

I can understand how people could have believed this sort of thing in the 18th century, but two centuries later you’d think even language reformers would have a little more sophistication.

Comments

  1. Yes, the Sun-Language Theory was thoroughly cockamamy, but the quotation from Brendemoen exposes the reason behind it. As part of the reform of the Turkish language after the fall of the Ottomans, an attempt was made to weed out borrowings. However, far too many of them were too entrenched to remove, and no “pure Turkish” substitutes could be found, even picking up words from the other Turkic languages (Turkish doesn’t distinguish between “Turkish” and “Turkic”, normally).
    Using the SLT, it was possible to preserve indispensable loanwords on the grounds that they were originally Turkish and were borrowed (or inherited!) by Arabic and Persian long ago.
    All this is explained in Geoffrey Lewis’s magnificent book, The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success (Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-19-925669-1).

  2. I remember reading a suggestion that this might have been originally conceived of simply as a means to dissuade Ataturk and his cronies from trying to replace every single Arabic and Persian loanword with some ur-Turkish form – an exercise comparable to trying to eliminate all Latin loanwords in English, but one which he pursued zealously, and with some success. If so, the inventors can at least plead in mitigation that they may have made millions of Turks’ lives easier.
    On the other hand, the similarities between linguistic and biological evolution are striking in many respects. Could long-term exposure to this fanciful piece of nationalism masquerading as an evolutionary account be part of the background that explains Turkey’s current aversion to the idea of evolution? (Probably not, but one wonders:)

  3. These theories are fun. I was exposed to the Sun Language Theory last summer in Turkey; shortly thereafter I read Lewis’s book. And I was just exposed to another when I read The Tensor’s reaction to Priscilla Dunstan’s universal baby language wherein he suggested a potential connection to Soviet “Linguist” Nikolay Marr and the Japhetic School.
    Random fact: I just started a blog. Relevant fact: one of my first posts is what I discovered when I wondered if there might be connection between Marr’s work and the Turkish Teori.

  4. This is Bathrobe here. I’ve decided to use random user names in future after I discovered my website now ranks on the first page of Google results for ‘bathrobe’ 🙁
    I’ve always been rather fascinated by the Turkish writing reform, about which there is not a lot of information on the Internet. John refers to “Geoffrey Lewis’s magnificent book, ‘The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success'”. I had a look at Amazon and the most recent review (November 2006) of that book was not terribly glowing. The first paragraph runs:
    “I found this book some what lacking in describing the process used to select the new set of Latin letters; I thought the public outcry against this reform was not explored and that the reasons cited for switching over to the Latin letters were poor at best as it merely reiterated the anti-Arab propaganda of the time”.
    In an age when ‘Orientalism’ has become a dirty word, is it possible that our Western observer has failed to present the true picture of Turkish script reform?

  5. Heh, I sometimes read the sci.lang newsgroup, and I believe there are several Turks who occasionally post to promote Turkish as the original language.

  6. michael farris says:

    I checked out the review bathrobe mentioned too. Some quotes:
    “This is one of the reasons why Muslim countries have for hundreds of centuries enjoyed a very high level of literacy rates.”
    “Ottoman is cursive and thus can be written rapidly using only consonants and long vowels, which generally does not hinder continuity or coherence. This in itself is a big advantage over other forms of writing where each vowel is spelt out”
    I’d say the author seems to have their own biases as well.

  7. The link between God, Gott and kut is, of course, obvious. What I’d really like them to explain is the origin of dutch “kut”…

  8. Lately, i feel a little bit of etnocentrism on this site. It’s strange that people find Indo-European language theory normal, but this Sun Theory “silly”.
    “Sun Theory” has never been offical in Turkey, it’s not read as a mainstream theory, it’s just a theory which Bezumnie has correctly pointed in the quotation from Bret Brendomeon as a product of an Austrian Serb, named “Dr Hermann F. Kvergić”. So this is not a “Turkish” theory or it is not related in any way to “Turks” which you use here as an orientalist metaphor. After liberating the country from the occupation of imperialist European armies in 1920s, many organizations were formed to reform the country. TDK was such an organization and you may find a strong link between the Soviet language theories of that time (which were mostly universalist) and Turkish language reform. But it has to be well researched.
    So the strange and “silly” thing about Sun Theory is not that “Turks” believed such a theory, the strange and “silly” thing is that an Austrian Serb (and some other Europeans) invented and presented it as a new thing in the 20th century. I think they thought that, if such a strange hypothesis as Indo-European origins of language can be presented as a normal theory, this can also be sold as a normal theory. But it has to be made clear that “Turks” did not buy that theory, it’s a subject of amusement in Turkey.

  9. “Muslim countries have for hundreds of centuries enjoyed a very high level of literacy rates.”
    But not numeracy, obviously.

  10. Lately, i feel a little bit of etnocentrism on this site.
    You may be “feeling” it, but it’s not there. Example:
    So this is not a “Turkish” theory or it is not related in any way to “Turks” which you use here as an orientalist metaphor.
    If you can point to one place in my post where I used the word “Turks” or “Turkish,” I’ll give you a million dollars. I made fun of “language reformers,” who are a universal species and who I have mocked impartially for years; in fact, if you’ll go back to the very first LH post you’ll see that I was mocking the Dutch for this very thing.
    I accept your apology.
    小王子: You know, some people would be happy to be the first Google result for “bathrobe.” Have you ever thought of going into the bathrobe business? You’ve got a commanding position already.

  11. David Marjanovi? says:

    It’s strange that people find Indo-European language theory normal, but this Sun Theory “silly”.
    Could you explain why you think so? After all, the Sun Theory does not take into account either the documented history of any language nor the obvious closest relatives of any language (Turkish included), while the science of historical linguistics, reconstructions of Proto-Indo-European included, does all that.
    Some of the evidence for Proto-Indo-European can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-European_language (unfortunately this article doesn’t have a Turkish version, and http://tr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hint-Avrupa_dil_ailesi is just a list of languages).

  12. Don’t worry, we’d be just as mocking if someone claimed that an Indo-European language was the “original” language. That’s the issue – languages aren’t static, and the idea that an ancestor language from which all/many/some languages are descended is still spoken was seen to be ridiculous around 1690. After all, all languages change. Why would the “original” language is spectacularly immune?

  13. Richard Hershberger says:

    Well, of course we would mock anyone who claimed an Indo-European language as being the first. Everyone knows that Basque is the original language…

  14. “Well, of course we would mock anyone who claimed an Indo-European language as being the first.”
    And already have – people used to say all sorts of similar things about Sanskrit. But we all know that Phrygian was the original language of mankind. Someone even showed that experimentally, with sequestered infants.

  15. No, no, the original language was Rasta Talk. Just take this spliff. Draw. Now, I an I i-ight di i-sence….

  16. “it’s real (in the sense that people actually believe it)” – here “people” must refer to Turkish people I believe, and this is an example of (ethnocentric) generalization, in fact so few people believed in it.
    also, Turkish was not reformed according to this so called theory. There are examples where Ataturk invented or accepted new words, examples which must be deeply criticized, but these were not applied according to a theory. Geoffrey Lewis’s book is not a good reference i think. It’s focused on sun theory, and misses the real background of reform movement: the reform was in fact mostly made by immigrant intellectuals from Russia and Central Asia. There are some parallels between the language reform Soviet goverment made in Central Asia and the reform in Turkey.
    But nowadays a new theory of proto-Turkish is being discussed, it accepts the first language to be Sumerian which is the origin of Turkish according to this theory. I think reformers think according to a motto: if you can’t reform a language, mystify the language.

  17. Unfortunately I haven’t read all of Lewis’ book, just excerpts, but I don’t think it is “focused on sun theory” at all. One chapter in the entire book doesn’t strike me as “focused.” Admittedly Lewis is biased against the reformers in general. My impression is that Lewis feels that Ottoman Turkish was in most ways a far more expressive and richer language than the post-reform language. So I can believe he may have given excessive emphasis to “sun-language” in order to make the reformers look even more foolish.
    Ironically the “less than glowing” review that Bathrobe mentions seems to have been written by someone who did not understand the book at all. That reviewer appears to be under the impression that Lewis was in favor of the reforms which is not true at all, hence the subtitle “catastrophic success.”

  18. Yeah, I really wouldn’t go by Amazon customer reviews. The ratio of idiots and/or axe-grinders is discouragingly high.

  19. True, there are plenty of axe-grinders around on Amazon, but sometimes those idiotic comments are representative of common strains of thinking. They really tell you where people are coming from!
    Incidentally, Sabri Gürses’ comments on the Sun Language theory (and its non-Turkish origin) strongly remind me of the legion idiocies of Nihonjin-ron (日本人論).
    Bathrobe
    Starting up in the bathrobe business: Hmmm, might not be a bad idea!

  20. Eskandar Jabbari says:

    I have a question unrelated to the current discussion.
    M indicates oneself, as in men the ancient form of ben ‘I’, and elim ‘my hand’.
    I am always interested in analyzing similarities between Turkish and Persian, and this example bears striking resemblance to the Persian first-person pronoun man and the Persian first-person possessive suffix –am. I believe other Indo-Iranian languages, including those which have not had much contact with Turkic languages, have similar features, so I’m wondering whether Turkish borrowed men and/or –im from Persian, or vice versa, or whether it’s merely a coincidence. Anyone have any insight into this?

  21. Yakut/Sahka, a Turkic language, has ‘min’ and it’s a good deal farther away from Persian.
    If you believe the 1st person pronoun entry in Starostin’s Nostratic etymology database the Persian and Turkic 1st person pronouns and those of most other languages across northern Eurasia would be originally from the same root anyway.

  22. Eskandar Jabbari says:

    I could be persuaded into accepting the Nostratic explanation that the Persian and Turkic 1st person pronouns are cognates, but would that explain the use of a (modified version of) personal pronoun as a possessive suffix in both languages? I guess this is part of a larger question I have, which is, do you (or anyone else) know of anything written on the subject of a Middle Eastern/Central Asian Sprachbund? There are a lot of grammatical constructs such as this one, or the use of a locative and/or possessive –i suffix, or others, that cross language families in the region.

  23. I’m with chance on this one – many languages have labials and/or nasals marking person forms (pronouns and/or agreement). There are also many languages where over time a form of a pronoun has come to be a suffix (or prefix, in some cases).

  24. David Marjanovi? says:

    Nostratic personal pronouns: I’m against chance on this one. You get m/t all over Nostratic (except maybe Afro-Asiatic) — not for example Basque or Sino-Tibetan. You don’t get it anywhere else, AFAIK. Much of North America has n/m, for example. And interestingly, within Nostratic (except Afro-Asiatic) you hardly ever get far away from m/t. You get m/s, w/s, and w/c (palatal plosive or postalveolar affricate or something like that; reconstructed Proto-Eskimo), but that’s it, AFAIK, and even in those cases you get m/t elsewhere in the grammar (like in verb affixes).
    ———————
    But nowadays a new theory of proto-Turkish is being discussed, it accepts the first language to be Sumerian which is the origin of Turkish according to this theory.
    Yes, and this, too, is thoroughly unscientific. Have a look at Sumerian — it doesn’t have anything in common with Turkish except for having an agglutinative grammar, but so does, say, Quechua. If you look a little bit closer at Sumerian grammar, BTW, it looks more like Navajo than like Turkish.
    (Some think that, nevertheless, Sumerian is a Nostratic language. In this case Sumerian and Turkish would be closer to each other than to Chinese or Basque, but probably not closer to each other than Turkish is to English or Inuktitut. Others consider it a Dené-Caucasian language, in which case Sumerian is — distantly — related to Chinese and Basque, but at best extremely distantly to Turkish. It goes without saying, though, that the evidence for both of these mutually exclusive proposals is — so far at least — quite weak, that Sumerian does not have any known close relatives, and that most linguists think Sumerian doesn’t have any discoverable relatives at all whatsoever. It is a very exotic language.)
    ———————
    A lot has been written, I’m sure, on the influences of Arabic on Persian, of both on Turkish, and of all three on other languages in the region and vice versa. Unfortunately I can’t recommend any reference because I don’t know any. Surfing Wikipedia for an hour or two might help, though.

  25. Stephen Mulraney says:

    I like the way that Dilmen’s attempt to show the ‘identity’ of God, Gott and kut in fact shows (or would show, if it were true) that they’ve all developed from different words of the supposed proto-language. I mean, it remains to be show that oğot, oğod and ukut are the same. But I guess that’s just a technical detail…

  26. There’s a strange element of truth in “???”s comment. Sun language and other theories (such as proto-turkish) have similarities with theories of Nihonjin-ron. Maybe this is because Japan is an island between West and East, and Turkey is also a kind of island between West and East. Late modernization may have created similar experiences.
    But the most strange thing is, if you look at a map of Indo-European language family, you see that only Turkey looks like a black hole in that map. This Indo-European circles around Turkey, but why it’s hard to understand.

  27. Bathrobe: As the title indicates, Lewis’s book is about the language reform, and only spends a few pages on the distinct matter of script reform. In my personal opinion, however, Turkicization of the vocabulary made the script reform necessary, because the Arabic script could not handle the large number of non-Arabic vowels in native words.
    Having read all of Lewis’s book several times with pleasure, I see no evidence that his book is focused on the SLT (whose origin and degree of acceptance he makes more than clear), and less than no evidence that he is prejudiced against the reform. He treats it as a fait accompli with both advantages and disadvantages.
    As for the fact that Turkish is surrounded by IE languages, it’s no mystery: Turkey is a region formerly occupied by IE-speakers and colonized by Turks from Central Asia in historic times.

  28. Sabri Gürses says:

    “Turkey is a region formerly occupied by IE-speakers and colonized by Turks from Central Asia in historic times.”
    And this sums up the ethnocentric (and in some ways orientalist) point of view: then maybe Anatolia was some place like the Latin America then, Turks were like Spaniards – they cleared the area and changed the language? This is the most troublesome weak point in IE argument.

  29. Hasan MARAS says:

    TURKISH DUTCH INGLISH
    GÖZ – OOG – EYE
    GÖZLÜK – BRIL – GLASSES
    GÖZLÜKÇÜ – OPTICIEN – OPTICIEN
    This example is very nice, i like it.
    I could not in million years understand why a human should need three different words(very very stupid, and I really mean it) that suppose to tell us some thing about our EYE,..!
    I really really like my Turkish, you shoud try it too(..and glass means glass I think, if someone can tell why we as humans should use the word glass(even glasses)for a thing that has nothing to do whith glass but should go about our EYE..)
    I`m not so strong in ingilish,excuus for the bad part of it, thank yuo.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    “Turkey is a region formerly occupied by IE-speakers and colonized by Turks from Central Asia in historic times.”
    And this sums up the ethnocentric (and in some ways orientalist) point of view: then maybe Anatolia was some place like the Latin America then, Turks were like Spaniards – they cleared the area and changed the language? This is the most troublesome weak point in IE argument.

    Excuse me?
    Wikipedia has an article about the Anatolian languages, a branch of IE that became extinct when the population switched to speaking Greek. Similarly, the Greek-speaking population later switched to speaking Turkish after the Turkish empire had become established — it is not a necessary assumption that anyone was killed in the process. Languages often change without any “clearing of an area”.
    Are you a postmodernist or something?

  31. David Marjanović says:

    My link to “Nostratic personal pronouns” above does not work, at least not in an error-intolerant browser like Internet Explorer. So here it is again.

  32. Ion Carstoiu says:

    I ,prof.Ion Carstoiu, discovered the origin of language!I forgot to write about the sun language theory.I have too a heliocentric theory in linguistics.

  33. Ion Carstoiu says:

    Write Originea limbajului.The Origin of Language,press Images.You can read my last book(6th).Good luck! Prof.Ion Carstoiu,Romania

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