|ATATURK: LEADER OF A NATION
Some Current Ramifications of Turkey’s Alphabet Change in 1928
"The cornerstone of education is an easy system of reading and writing.
The key to this is the new Turkish alphabet based on the Latin script."
- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Prof. Arnold Reisman is presenting his speech during the
2.nd Annual Ataturk Symposium titled,"Ataturk of a Nation
at the United Nations, NYC, Dec.7, 2010.
Photos: Sirin CENGIZALP, Lightmillennium.org
by Prof. Arnold REISMAN
One very important aspect of Turkey’s quest for modernization was the change from Arabic script to a Latin based alphabet. According to the New York Times “some tests have shown that a child can learn the Latin alphabet four to ten times faster then the Arabic script.” Due to the difficulty of learning the Arabic script and its unsuitability to the structure of the Turkish language, the percentage of people who could read and write as of 1923 was only 9%. In 1928, when Ataturk decided that the Arabic script, which had been used by the Turks for a thousand years, should be replaced with the Latin alphabet. He asked the experts: ” How long would it take ?” Most of them replied: “At least five years.” ” We shall do it,” Ataturk said,” within five months.”
The new alphabet was ratified by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on Nov. 1, 1928 and it was made a patriotic duty for every one to become literate and of course know this alphabet. According to Firdevs Karahan, during the first years of the Turkish Republic, public schools and courses were open to intensively teach the standardized Turkish alphabet to the public. “As a result, 597,010 illiterate adults learnt to read and write in the standardized Turkish in 1928-29 academic year.”
The New York Times November 27, 1938
Since the Arabic alphabet was part of the language of the Holy Koran one idea behind its change was the creation of a secularist nation. Ataturk wanted to abrogate the old legacy of religious culture and re-create a new generation unsoiled by the old tradition. He regarded education as the force that would galvanize the nation into social and economic development. He once said that, after the War of Independence, he would have like to serve as Minister of Education. As President of the Republic, he spared no effort to stimulate and expand education at all levels and for all segments of the society. Turkey initiated a most ambitious program of schooling children and adults. From grade school to graduate school, education became free, secular, and co-educational. Primary education was declared compulsory. Literacy which had been less than 9 percent in 1923 rose to over 30 percent by 1945. Moreover, women’s education was very close to Ataturk’s heart. In 1922, even before proclaiming the Republic, he vowed: ” We shall emphasize putting our women’s secondary and higher education on an equal footing with men.” Even the armed forces heralded by Ataturk as “the Army of Enlightenment.” implemented an extensive program of literacy. Census data show that the new alphabet combined with Turkey’s national will to attain higher literacy levels has, over the ensuing years, exceeded literacy rates that can be found in many other countries only today.
By 1955 Turkish literacy had already surpassed what is today’s literacy level in Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
By 1985 Turkey’s literacy was higher than it is now in 12 peer nations
Table 1, combines Turkish population census literacy time-series data starting with the first census which took place in 1935, and the current (mostly circa 2004) literacy rates for selected countries as provided by the CIA World Fact Book. It clearly shows that by 1955 Turkish literacy had already surpassed what is today’s literacy level in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. By 1965, this was also true for Pakistan, Yemen, and Morocco. By 1985 Turkey’s literacy was higher than it is now in 12 peer nations, and by 1990 it surpassed the current average of the world at large. These accomplishments could not have taken place except for the change in alphabet as part of a national policy of modernizing Turkish society that was vigorously pursued by Ataturk and his colleagues.
Literacy rate attained in Turkey (by year) compared to the current literacy in selected countries.
|Census Year for Turkey
||Literacy in Turkey
as of Year Shown
||Current Literacy in
Selected Peer States
||Current Literacy in
||Current Literacy in
Arabic Alphabet Using States
||Burkina Faso 21.8
||Cote d’Ivoire 50.9
Cape Verde 76.6
||UA E 77.9
World at large 82.0
||Equatorial Guinea 85.7
Sao Tome and
Number of selected Arabic alphabet using countries whose current literacy was exceeded by Turkey in the year shown
Figure 1 tells us that by 1980 Turkey surpassed the currently found literacy of eight countries still using the Arabic script as its alphabet, by 1990 that number rose to no fewer than 19 and as of 2000 it stood at 23 sovereign nations.
1. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk - The New Language, HYPERLINK "http://www.srdc.metu.edu.tr/webpage/index.php" \t "_top" www.srdc.metu.edu.tr/webpage/index.php
2. Apr. 30, 1928
3. Firdevs Karahan, Bilingualism in Turkey, Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, edited by James Cohen, Kara T. cAlister, Kellie Rolstad, and Jeff MacSwan, HYPERLINK "http://www.lingref.com/isb/4/089ISB4.PDF" http://www.lingref.com/isb/4/089ISB4.PDF and www.cascadilla.com/isb4.html
4. Moore Gates “New Turkey Keeps To Her Course” The New York Times Nov. 27, 1938
5. Turkish literacy time series is from:.Okur Yazarlýk ve Örgün Eðitim / Literacy & Formal Education http://www.die.gov.tr/tkba/istatistikler3.htm
6. Current literacy data for selected countries are from: The World Factbook, CIA, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2103.html
Turkish literacy time series is from:.Okur Yazarlýk ve Örgün Eðitim / Literacy & Formal Education http://www.die.gov.tr/tkba/istatistikler3.htm
7. None of the former Soviet republics including the two bordering Turkey e.g., Azerbaijan, and Armenia were included in this set for a number of reasons. One of these is the fact that the Soviet regime implemented a literacy campaign soon after the October 1918 revolution. Thus literacy was vigorous pursued there at least a decade before Turkey’s alphabet change. Both are very literate nations. However of note is the fact that in 2001, Azerbaijan replaced its Cyrillic alphabet in favor of the Latin based one used in Turkey. See “Azerbaijan adopts Latin alphabet” United Press International 8/2/2001.
More on the Lightmillennium.Org by Prof. Arnold REISMAN
ATATURK: LEADER OF A NATION
- Some Current Ramifications of Turkey’s Alphabet Change in 1928
- Some Current Ramifications of Turkey’s
invoking English as the second language
- TRANSFER OF WESTERN KNOWLEDGE TO TURKEY: Institutionalized Policy of Translaiton and Library Building
byFuat Andic ANDIÇ & Arnold REISMAN
- Are Kurdish and Turkmen minorities more literate in Turkey than in other countries?
* * * * *
(*) Arnold Reisman, a Fellow of the American Society for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), resides in Shaker Heights OH, and is the author of TURKEY'S MODERNIZATION: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk 's Vision. New Academia Publishers, Washington, DC. 2006.
And the following titles are from BookSurge Publishing of Charleston, SC in 2009 and 2010:
SHOAH: Turkey, The US and the UK
Post-Ottoman Turkey: Classical Music and Opera.
Refugees and reform: Turkey’s republican
Arts in Turkey: How ancient became contemporary
The Transformation of Istanbul: Art galleries reviving decaying spaces.
PERFIDY: Britannia and her all-Jewish army units
Ambassador and a Mentsch: The story of a Turkish Diplomat in Vichy France
He has also published articles on modern Turkey in several prestigious academic journals.
- . -
This speech was presented by Prof. Arnold Reisman during the Second Annual Ataturk Symposium entitled, "ATATURK: LEADER OF A NATION" (1/4) at the United Nations, New York City on December 7, 2010. We would like to thank to Prof. Arnold Reisman for sharing his speech with The Light Millennium. We also thank to the Istanbul University Alumni Association of U.S.A., and Young Turks Cultural Aid Society, and also sponsors of the Second Annual Ataturk Symposium. B.U.
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