views updated


Writing the Turkish language in the Latin alphabet.

Turkic peoples have used a variety of scripts in the course of their history, the earliest being the Orkhon script known through eighth-century inscriptions found in Mongolia. With conversion to Islam, the Turks adopted the Arabic script and used it over the centuries. On 9 August 1928, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), president of the new Republic of Turkey, announced its replacement by a Latin alphabetessentially phonetic, omitting q, w, and x; adding ç (=ch ), ğ ("soft" g), and ş (=sh ); and including eight vowels: a, e, i, ı , o, ö, u, and ü.

Dissatisfaction with the Arabic script was not new. Discussion of and experimentation in modifying it date from the Tanzimat. The script, ill-suited to the Turkish phonetic system and hard to read and write (or print), was thus a prime cause of illiteracy. It symbolized adherence to Islam and ArabPersian culture, and at a time when he was leading Turkey toward a new, Western-oriented way of life, Atatürk considered it a major obstacle to progress.

As for the Latin script, Namik Kemal was among the first to mention it as a suitable alternative (1879). Articles favoring it appeared in the early twentieth century, and Atatürk himself demonstrated its possibilities in Turkish sections of letters (otherwise in French) sent to a friend after becoming military attaché in Sofia (1913). During World War I, however, Enver Paşa devised a modified Arabic script for the military, but this had little effect.

Discussion continued under the republic, but a proposal for Latin letters was rejected at the 1923 İzmir Economic Congress. Interest increased, however, with the announcement of a romanization policy for the USSR's Turkic languages (a policy later reversed in favor of Cyrillic). On 24 May 1928 the Grand National Assembly legislated the introduction of international numerals, and Atatürk determined to proceed with the alphabet. A commission studying the plan submitted its proposed alphabet on 1 August 1928. Eight days later Atatürk announced its adoption, admonishing everyone to learn it as a patriotic duty.

Atatürk also demanded a speedy transition, and on 3 November 1928 the Grand National Assembly approved the new script. Turks were required to prove ability to use it in place of the Arabic script by the beginning of 1929, passing an examination or attending "national schools" set up across the country. The assembly also decreed that printing in the old script was illegal, and by the middle of 1929 all publications were being printed in the new script.

Romanization coupled with language reform affected many aspects of Turkish life. By breaking with traditions of the Ottoman-Islamic past, it stimulated Turkish nationalism and secularization. It facilitated dissemination of information, improved education and the literacy level, speeded modernization and technology through increased interaction with the West, and helped lead Turks to ever greater social and political awareness.

see also arabic script; İzmir economic congress; turkish language.


Feyzioğlu, Turhan. "Secularism: Cornerstone of the Turkish Revolution." In Atatürk's Way. Istanbul, 1982.

Levonian, Lutfi, ed. and trans. The Turkish Press: Selections from the Turkish Press Showing Events and Opinions, 19251932. Athens: School of Religion, 1932.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 3d edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Sperco, Willy. Moustapha Kemal Atatürk, 18821938. Paris: Nouvelles Editions Latine, 1958.

kathleen r. f. burrill