As you can tell, I've become very lazy busy and important recently, and let this blog fall by the wayside. Maybe we can start off my first entry in months with a little puzzle?
The janissaries sat in their yurts eating shish kebabs, then they washed down some baklava with yogurt.
You know I'm up to something because I just shoehorned a bunch of seemingly random words into an awkward sentence. Any idea what's special about these words?
The yeniçeris sat in their yurts eating şiş kebabıs, then they washed down some baklava with yoğurt.
How about now?
Yeah, they're all Turkish loanwords. It's a pretty short list, really (I desperately wanted to include "chock a block" on the recommendation of Wikipedia, which claims it's from "çok kalabalık" meaning "very crowded". Every other source I can find, unfortunately, insists its origin is actually nautical).
The number of Turkish words which have made their way into English is fairly small. If you look at it the other way around (English to Turkish), the list is much more extensive. As a student, I find this simultaneously helpful and annoying. I like to think of Turkish as a sort of awesome, top secret code- I dont spend hours slaving over coursebooks just to be able to discuss what would happen when şarapnel hits a bungalov or the fiyasko of the rising karbon
dioksit levels. The influence of English on other languages, in its role as a kind of global compromise, gets a lot of attention. Plenty of people think it's horrible that the "purity" of Turkish, French, Russian, and so on, is being corrupted by English. Many more don't care one way or the other. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone make a case that it's strictly a good thing; the closest anyone tends to come is pointing out that language evolution is both natural and inevitable, and to take steps to block the entrance of English vocabulary in various lingua francas would be to artificially hamper their legitimate course of development. As for me, I come down on the side of the purists, with a grudging nod to the evolutionists.
Click here for an interesting essay on the role of English in Turkey!
Still, I think language interaction is pretty fascinating. I never realized, for instance, how much Spanish crops up in my daily conversation until Turks fluent in English started raising eyebrows at what I considered perfectly understandable and commonplace expressions- gracias, adiós, vamanos, amigo... things that most Americans, even the xenophobes in our midst, would probably take in stride without a second thought.
Let's back up six or seven years. I was a junior in high school studying abroad in southern Sweden, and learning a language which seemed to be under assault from every angle. Most Swedes, particularly of the younger generation, speak excellent English; that, combined with the two languages' similar backgrounds and structures, has led to a huge number of Americanisms (and okay, fine, Britishisms) establishing themselves in the common Swedish lexicon. Yet generally speaking, Swedes seemed less concerned about the influx of English than about about a related, but much more politically-charged phenomenon: Rinkeby svenska, so-called after a district of the city of Malmö home to a massive population of eastern European, African, and Arab immigrants. Rinkeby svenska, which you can read more about here, is in short an emerging dialect incorporating elements of the native languages of immigrants from all over the world, while mainly staying true to the grammatical components of Swedish. Turkish and Arabic seem to be the biggest players here, with words like "guzz" (girl, from Turkish kız) and "yalla" (let's go, from Arabic). Books have even been written in this new pidgin- for example, Ett Öga Rött by Jonas Hassen Khemiri.
And it's not only in Sweden. I read an article this morning- which prompted this entry- about the same deal surfacing in Germany. Turks are the second largest population group up there after the Germans themselves; some estimates go up to four million, making one in every twenty of the country's inhabitants Turkish. With immigration already a hot-button issue in western Europe, I'm surprised we don't hear more about this kind of stuff. Not being German or Swedish myself, I may lack perspective, but I for one think Rinkeby svenska and Kiezdeutsch are really intriguing and frankly pretty cool. I read somewhere that the rise of literacy vastly slowed down linguistic evolution (and popularized the idea that there's one "correct" English and if you don't follow it to the letter then you're objectively wrong... which is an argument for another day). Yet here we have the chance to watch other forces at work, shaping a new dialect right before our eyes. Awesome. Of course it's awfully political as well, considering how closely language is tied to cultural identity. Some people will always be upset about the implications of an "impure" Swedish/German/what-have-you. But on the other hand, it's not like blond-haired Sven Olsson, professor of literature, is going around shouting "yalla yalla" at his colleagues. And really, isn't the immigrant experience a culture in and of itself? Why shouldn't it have its own particular vernacular?
I'll leave you with one final thing...
The successes of Turkish aside, it hasn't been treated quite so well in certain other countries. The conservative Islamist Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently received a hero's welcome on his visit to Egypt- excited crowds held up signs and banners to greet him, among them one which seemed to have been translated through English and set a lot of Turks to chuckling.
İyi Cetvel Merhaba Erdoğan
"Good ruler, hello Erdoğan". Unfortunately, cetvel is the wrong kind of ruler, the kind that you measure things with. Erdoğan: effective leader or top-of-the-line office supply? You decide.
Labels: languages, Turkish