Sabancı Üniversitesi

HIST Webinar: Ruth Bartholoma (Orient-Institut Istanbul)



“Going back to the dark ages of history”: The Turkish language and links to its past


Dr. Ruth Bartholomä

(Orient-Institut Istanbul)


Wednesday, May 12, 2021




Meeting ID: 971 2988 2541

Abstract: In his opening speech for the 76th Language Holiday in 2008, Şükrü Halûk Akalın, then President of the Türk Dil Kurumu, stated the following: “[The fact that] Turkish is an ancient language going back to the dark ages of history [...] shows what a powerful language Turkish is.” Aside from expressing their ideas about the present state of the Turkish language or its ideal future form, high-ranking politicians, representatives of language institutions such as the Türk Dil Kurumu, and other important actors in the field of language policy in the Republic of Turkey frequently elaborate on the past. In their public statements and writings, one can find numerous references to a (mostly) glorious past for Turkish. They allude to the language reform in the early Republican period, language varieties used during the Ottoman period, or the written language of earlier, pre-Islamic times; sometimes they even hint at a time long before the first written documents in Turkic known today were created. In many cases, speakers and authors cite these in order to illustrate what they consider the “richness” (zenginlik) and “beauty” (güzellik) of today’s Turkish, or in order to justify the words they suggest for the substitution of loanwords. Either way, they are using the past to establish a connection to the present and future of Turkish. Through different examples of such “links to the past,” the talk will analyze problems related to the linguistic (and in some cases, also visual) means by which such connections are established, and how the goal of constructing a past for the Turkish language should be achieved.

Bio: Ruth Bartholomä has been a research fellow at the Orient-Institut Istanbul since October 2019. She read Islamic and Slavic Studies at the University of Freiburg (Germany), spent one year at the University of Samarqand (Uzbekistan), and graduated from the University of Freiburg in 2005 with a thesis on the Hungarian Turkologist Arminius Vámbéry (1832–1913). She received her PhD in Turkology at the University of Giessen (Germany) in 2011 with a thesis on language change in the lexis of the Tatar literary language between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 21st centuries. Between 2007 and 2013, she worked at the University of Giessen on two research projects on developments in the terminology of the Tatar language and discourses on language policy in Tatarstan (Russian Federation) and Kazakhstan, funded by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). She was interim professor for Islamic Studies/Turkology from 2012 to 2014 and “Juniorprofessor” between April 2014 and September 2019 at the University of Freiburg. Focusing on sociolinguistics, she is currently working on a project on language policy and language-planning in Turkey after 1980.