Turkey

Legalizing the Letter Q

And W and X, too.

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Turkey's prime minister plans to end the country's prohibition of the letters Q, W, and X. Yasmine Seale explains how the ban came to be:

Q

The Turkish Parliament unanimously voted in the Alphabet Law on 1 November 1928. [President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk] embarked on a tour of Anatolia to promote it, and staged massive, quasi-theatrical tutorials to demonstrate how easy the letters were to learn. Dolmabahçe Palace was turned into a primary school where servants, ministers of state and other high officials learned the new script with the president of the republic as their teacher. He even composed an Alphabet March to help his pupils along.

W

Banks, post offices and police stations were fitted with blackboards; on bridges and ferries, syllabaries sold fast; prisoners were photographed bent over their primers. 'Turkey is one vast schoolroom,' National Geographic reported. 'There is no "q", no "w", no "x" in the new alphabet…The left-hand edge of the typewriter is the hardest hit. One does not go to the "Maxim" Restaurant, but to the "Maksim".'

Romanisation, it was argued, would help standardise Turkish spelling, improve literacy, and allow for cheaper and more convenient printing (the Arabic script required more than 400 pieces of type). But the reform had other, political aims: imposing cultural homogeneity and

X

assimilating Turkey's minorities. New characters were added to the alphabet to accommodate Turkish phonology—?, ?, ü, ?—while others were left out. By adhering so closely to the specifics of Turkish and outlawing all other Latin characters (and all other scripts), it effectively proscribed written expression in any language other than Turkish—not least Kurdish, which was spoken by around 20 per cent of the population.

And no, the law was not a dead letter (*): Kurds have gone to jail for using the verboten characters on signboards and in brochures. Seale notes that "Compared to more pressing issues—electoral reform, or the mass detention of Kurdish prisoners—the legalisation of Q, W and X may seem token or trivial. But forms of linguistic oppression are forms of oppression nonetheless."

(* Sorry.)

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20 responses to “Legalizing the Letter Q

  1. Why did Constantinople get the works?

    1. That’s nobody’s business but the Turks!

      1. Istannnnnnbullllll!

  2. Grow up, 00Turk.

  3. See, when you dial down the trolling, it becomes more believable. [emphasis added]

    Better not go back before this passes, tarran.

  4. I once saw a car with a vanity plate that read ATATURK. When I mentioned this to my Turkish colleagues, they couldn’t hide their shock. In the old country, taking the Leader’s name in vain like that would get you put in prison for quite some time.

    1. Maybe it was just an ‘attaboy’ to all Turks?

      *runs from room*

    2. Why? It’s not as if the plate said ATAT?RK.

  5. They can still do YYZ.

  6. Attaturk set out to create the archetypal Wilsonian ethnically-based soft-social Republic.

    And it requires impressive repression to keep it going. Anything that threatens the myth that there was one ethnic group of Turks living in the country was ruthlessly suppressed with the billy club, the jail cell and on a few occasions with the hangman’s noose.

    In many ways the seed of libertarianism was planted in my heart when in first grade in Ankara we were learning about how great it was that we were Turks and how if we all stuck together and defended Turkey from its external enemies that we’d all live great lives. The teacher taught a unit on a kid who blew himself up to destroy a greek ammo dump in the war of independence (the greeks thought a little kid was no threat and so he was able to gain entry to their encampment unmolested). It was supposed to be a self-less act he took on his own initiative after hearing his dad the resistance fighter fretting about a planned attack being doomed because the greek soldiers had all that ammo. Even to my six year old self it was clear that the story was bullshit – that the ammo dump blowing up was a signal for the turks to overrun the camp and that the kid had been sent by his dad…

    1. The idea was that we would idolize this kid and want to be like him. I was appalled that our teacher – a very nice lady who really cared BTW – was telling children that they should be prepared to die for the state. Then came the incident where she forcibly cut that poor girl’s hair in front of the class, and I was done. I had nothing but contempt for the Turkish Republic after that.

      I consider the moment I got kicked out of class for not knowing the words to the Turkish national anthem one of the greatest moments of my primary school career; I wasn’t humiliated – I sat in a corner in the hallway and read a book for half an hour. It was a very pleasant, peaceful interlude actually.

    2. They taught first graders that suicide bombing is good? Fuck.

      1. It’s my exhibit A as to why government schools are evil.

      2. Wow, and this was in “secular” and “modernizing” Turkey, without the Muslim Brotherhood or Al Qaeda. Imagine what gets taught in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Gaza, Pakistan….

  7. I was reminded of this

    1. “You sound like our whiny customers” is my favorite Dilbert line from all time.

  8. You should have used the omnipotent alien Q from the Star Trek series for the picture instead of the James Bond Q.

  9. For “X” you should have used a picture of Malcolm.

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