The master linguist(s)
“[Y]ou possess all the attributes of a demagogue; a screeching, horrible voice, a perverse, cross-grained nature and the language of the market-place. In you all is united which is needful for governing.”
- Aristophanes, The Knights
It is truly fascinating that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan keeps on lecturing on a language that he does not understand, speak, read or write. “We once had a language [Ottoman] perfectly suitable for science,” Mr. Erdoğan lamented, “Then it disappeared overnight [referring to Atatürk’s alphabet revolution].” How sad. In 1923, only 2.5 percent of Turks were literate, and only a fraction of them could speak Ottoman.
Mr. Erdoğan’s passionate longing for a dead language is both ideological and Orwellian: “The revolution will be complete when the language is perfect,” (George Orwell, 1984). He must be dreaming of the days when Ottoman will be a lingua franca, not only in Turkey, but also throughout the world.
In his most recent lecture, Mr. Erdoğan, the master linguist, who unfortunately does not speak a language other than his native Turkish, said that it was impossible to “do philosophy” with the Turkish vocabulary. Only Ottoman, English, German and French are suitable for philosophy, he argued.
Ironically, the few people in the Ottoman bureaucracy who were fluent in Ottoman are not mentioned in the history of science for any notable achievement, although Mr. Erdoğan thinks “Ottoman is perfectly suitable to science.” In his ideological blindness, Mr. Erdoğan in unable to see that scientific achievement is almost totally irrelevant to language and alphabets.
In the medieval times, Arab scientists were noted for their creative studies in a number of disciplines. They produced scientific works in Arabic, the same language that has not produced any notable scientific achievements in the last several centuries. Meanwhile, in the last century, countless Russian, Japanese, Israeli and Korean (and lately Chinese) scientists whose native languages are structured on non-Latin scripts have been universally acknowledged for their impressive work.
The Ottoman language was a bizarre blend of Arabic, Persian and (a few words of) Turkish, and was based on the Arabic script. If he so much adores the idea, Mr. Erdoğan can always learn the language and thus “do philosophy,” although this columnist would bet the president will never fluently speak Ottoman in his life. It is perfectly understandable that Mr. Erdoğan has a passion for anything “Arabic.”
The language of the holy book is no exception. The fact that “Turkish” names and vocabulary are overwhelmingly Arabic and Persian does not satisfy him. And he does not understand that if Turkey will have to undergo a language challenge in the near future it will not be about Ottoman, but Kurdish.
But there is an alternative language that Turks can adopt and augment their foreign policy victories. That language does not have a name yet, but Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has christened it “the language of the heart.”
In a recent public speech, Mr. Davutoğlu narrated an anecdote. One day, he was speaking to a public audience in fraternal Bosnia. According to Mr. Davutoğlu’s narrative, he spoke to a big crowd in Turkish, but noticed that the Bosnian audience understood him perfectly well without any need for interpretation into Bosnian. How did the miracle happen? Because, Mr. Davutoğlu claimed, he spoke to them in the language of the heart! Thundering applause, but curtains not down.
Introducing the language of the heart as the official language of the Turkish Republic can be a better idea than introducing Ottoman. Imagine; the Turks will not have to learn foreign languages when they travel abroad or host a foreign guest at home. They’d just speak the language of the heart and their Bolivian, Papua New Guinean, American, Arab, Persian, Chinese and other counterparts would understand them without the need for an interpreter! What else could be nicer?
The Ottomans failed to teach the Ottoman language to the residents of the lands they conquered. They even failed to teach the Ottoman language to their Turkish citizens. The New Ottomans have a chance to teach the language of the heart to the residents of the lands they spiritually wish to conquer.