Posted by: rbbadger | November 21, 2011

Thoughts on Language Reform — Part 2

Yesterday, I shared with you the ongoing attempts of la Académie Française, to ban certain words from the French language.  La Académie remains, as ever, a stickler for accuracy.  While I’m not certain that French is any more precise a language than any other, despite French nationalist claims to the contrary, I suppose one can admire the desire to preserve the language to an extent.  Some French see it as a collossal waste of time, given that in the eyes of some, linguists especially, language is a changing and developing thing.  It does not remain static. 

I don’t think that the Academy, despite its prestige, will ever succeed in its project.  For one, France is too free for such a thing to happen.  While the Academy’s dictionary is definitely respected, anglicisms and neologisms are probably here to stay.  I sympathise with those Koreans who would like to see Konglish vanish and a higher standard of Korean spoken.   Perhaps something needs to be done more on the cultural level to promote good Korean.

One way in which language reform can happen is through a highly authoritarian state.  Turkey, under the leadership of Kemal Atatürk was one such state.  Under Atatürk, it became actually illegal to write the language in the Arabic alphabet, as had been done for generations.  The Roman alphabet was adopted and Atatürk went so far as to have the Qur’an translated into Turkish, something which makes Muslims uneasy.  In the traditional Islamic worldview, the Qur’an was revealed in classical Arabic and thus translating the revelation of Allah is awfully presumptious.  To this day, the only approved versions of the Qur’an are in classical Arabic.  Translations often bear the title “The Meaning of the Qur’an”.  Atatürk did manage to purge Arabic loanwords from the Turkish language.  As far the change to the Roman alphabet goes, it was a success, as Arabic cannot adequately convey the unique Turkish vowels.

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