Language crisis hits Piketty’s conference in Istanbul

Language crisis hits Piketty’s conference in Istanbul

Language crisis hits Piketty’s conference in Istanbul

French economist and author Thomas Piketty poses with his book 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' in Istanbul. AA Photo

French economist and author Thomas Piketty’s blockbuster book launch in Turkey has witnessed a mini-crisis due to language issues.

The author of the 700-page economic tome, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” spoke at Galatasaray University on Nov. 19 and met a group of journalists at a dinner on the same day. However, Piketty turned down the French Embassy’s wish to deliver his speech in French, so the venue for the dinner, whose host was the French ambassador, was changed at the last minute, in an apparent reaction against Piketty’s choice.

Piketty was initially scheduled to make his speech in French, as French is the language of instruction used at Galatasaray University. However, when a number of prominent economists such as Şevket Pamuk announced that they would not attend if the speech was delivered in French, Picketty decided to speak in English. He turned down French Ambassador to Ankara Laurent Bili’s request to make the speech in French, as was originally planned.

News of the incident went public after a Turkish columnist wrote that Bili canceled the dinner he was set to hold in honor of Piketty in the residence of the French consul general in Istanbul.

French sources later denied the claims. “We would have preferred to have the conference take place in French; after all, Galatarasay is a francophone university. At the end of the day it is the preference of the author to choose the language of the conference. We did not cancel the dinner; it was the choice and decision of the publishing house to change the venue. What’s importance to us is that the conference was a success,” they were quoted as saying.

Ahmet Salcan the general manager of İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, the publisher of "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" in Turkey, also denied that there had been a crisis. “We decided to change venue considering traffic in the area,” Salcan said.