The New Language

"The cornerstone of education is an easy system of reading and writing. The hey to this is the new Turkish alphabet based on the Latin script."

The most difficult change in any society is probably a language reform. Most nations never attempt it; those who do, usually prefer a gradual approach. Under Atatürk's Leadership, Turkey undertook the modern world's swiftest and most extensive language reform. In 1928, when he decided that the Arabic script, which had been used by the Turks for a thousand years, should be replaced with the Latin alphabet. He asked the experts: " How long would it take ?" Most of them replied: " At least five years." " We shall do it," Atatürk said," within five months"

As the 1920s came to an end, Turkey had fully and functionally adopted, with its 29 letters (8 vowels and 21 consonants), has none of the complexities of the Arabic script, which was ill-suited to the Turkish language. The language reform enabled children and adults to read and write within a few months, and to study Western languages with greater effectiveness.

Thousands of words, and some grammatical devices, from the Arabic and Persian, held a tight grip over Ottoman Turkish. In the early 1930s, Atatürk spearheaded the movement to eliminate these borrowings. To replace the loan words from foreign languages, large number of original words, which had been in use in the earlier centuries, where revived, and provincial expressions and new coinages were introduced. The transformation met with unparalleled success: In the 1920s, the written language consisted of more than 80 percent Arabic, Persian, and French words; by the early 1980s the ratio had declined to a mere 10 percent.

Atatürk's language reform -encompassing the script, grammar and vocabulary- stands as one of the most far-reaching in history. It has overhauled Turkish culture and education.


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