This article offers a critical overview of the Turkish Republican language reforms, contextualizing the reforms as part of a discourse of phonocentrism—a programmatic identification of the diglossia of Ottoman Turkish and its writing system as an “inadequacy” and a problem—which first matured in the mid-nineteenth century with the unprecedented intensification of print and translational practices. While mid-nineteenth century proposals to simplify Ottoman Turkish and to reform its orthography were generally propelled by a desire for more efficient communication and translation, the discourse on phonocentrism took a less ambiguous, and explicitly nationalist, turn by the end of the nineteenth century. Haunted doubly by the external difference of an encroaching “Europe” and by the internal difference of atrophied and mortified Ottoman imperial multilingualism, Turkish Republican linguistic nationalism is characterized by the extremity of measures taken for the control of communicability, in the establishment of an impossibly self-same or self-identical identity. Contrary to the claims of ideologues of nationalism, phoneticization and vernacularization are never merely acts of transcription of authentic national speech. Rather, they enact the generalization of one specific variant of one vernacular, as a standard, through new alphabetic technologies, for the nationalization of an otherwise hybrid, multireligious, and multiethnic population.
Nergis Ertürk; Phonocentrism and Literary Modernity in Turkey. boundary 2 1 May 2010; 37 (2): 155–185. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2010-007
Download citation file: