Archive for May 15th, 2007

The secular power of bum cheese, or what’s Ottoman Turkish for ‘theologocentrism’?

Would someone please explain to me what Mr Kevin Myers means by the following:

He emancipated women, gave Turkey a form of democracy, and aware of the religious power of language, replaced Arab script with Roman.

On my holidays in Turkey last year, I was very grateful for this particular instance of Ataturk’s modernisation. It meant that I could recognise some words to help me overcome my near complete ignorance of the Turkish language, with the aid of a guidebook. It was not enough, however, to stop me –sans guidebook– holding an imaginary bottle to my head and making glugging noises in front of a puzzled ice-cream vendor and a queue of people in a Turkish village, in my search for some water.

But that is a distraction. What does Myers mean when he says that language has ‘religious power’? One infers that Myers thinks that Turkish written in Arab script has less ‘religious power’ than Turkish written in Roman script. But –and this is where I get confused- it is still the same language. If one Turk says to another ‘by God I am going to batter the lugs off you’, it is hard to see how his words hold less ‘religious power’ by dint of the fact that the language is widely printed in Roman script instead of Arab.

Perhaps Myers means that the language reforms instituted by Ataturk, including the replacement of Arabic and Persian loanwords with Turkish words deemed more suitable, were intended to put in place a language with less ‘religious power’. But that does not lead us any closer to the question of what constitutes ‘the religious power of language’.

My brethren, there is vocabulary in every language that has particular religious associations. Verily I say unto ye, these associations may be manifest not only in vocabulary, but also in the style of speaking and writing. Yet this does not mean that one language has more ‘religious power’ than another.

Does one think that the words of the millions of Arabic-speaking atheists out there hold ‘greater religious power’ than their French- or modern Turkish-speaking counterparts? Is the Farsi rendering of ‘just this bottle of Jeyes Fluid please’ more religiously charged than its Irish version?

O blog readers, in the beginning there was the Word, but it was not an English Word. What came next was what people made of it.

An example, perhaps, of the ‘religious power of language’?

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