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What Happened to the Letter Q in Turkish?



When Turkey first became a democratically recognized sovereign country in the 1920s, it made some major changes that greatly affected the life and the culture of its citizens. In 1928, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of Turkey decreed that the language of Turkish would be Romanized, adapting a version of the Latin alphabet that is commonly seen in written languages such as English and Spanish. This meant breaking away from the long tradition of Turkish written in Arabic script, and therefore making countless people suddenly illiterate. Then a few years later in 1934, he passed a law forcing all Turkish citizens to adopt a last name. At the time, most individuals in Turkey went by titles, patronymics, or the name of their profession.

So it became time for this new president to give himself a last name for the first time—the story goes that he preferred the way it looked with a K, and not with a Q. In fact, the letter Q was actually banned from use for some 80 years as they saw no use for the letter, which only became legal again back in September of this very year. For all the radical changes that Turkey went through in such a short amount of time, many consider the first president’s signature to be one of the most significant symbols to reflect on this era in history and to this day, his signature is actually one of the most popular tattoos in Turkey.

This is just one example of how politics greatly influenced language and culture in a pivotal time for the world’s state of affairs and individual lives. Can you find some other anecdotes of how politics and language come together?