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The Wounded Tongue: Turkey's Language Reform and the Canonicity of the Novel

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Abstract

With little Ottoman and less French, the tragicomic hero of an early Turkish novel, Araba Sevdasι (1896; “The Carriage Affair”), finds himself at a semantic impasse before a line in a French poem that reads, “[K]elime şeyi resmetmeye borçlu ise” (“[I]f the word could represent the thing”). Frustrated, he throws the poem away, grumbling, “[T]ous les poètes sont fous” (“[A]ll poets are fools”). This defiant gesture marks the beginning of the linguistic issue the Turkish novelists confronted during the first century of the Turkish novel (1870–1970). The reformist objective of these novelists was the employment of a vernacular style to appeal to the readership of an emerging print culture. The subsequent nationalist attempts to simplify the Turkish language led, in Geoffrey Lewis's words, to the “catastrophic success” of the “language revolution” of the republican era and had dire consequences for the development of the novel in Turkey.

Type
Cluster on Turkey
Copyright
Copyright © 2008 by The Modern Language Association of America

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