Turkey’s endangered languages

Eighteen languages in Turkey are currently listed as endangered, vulnerable, or have become extinct, according to UNESCO.

This is a result of decades of government policies that have not put other languages on an equal footing with Turkish, the first language of around 80 percent of the population.

The history of forced Turkification targeting non-Turkish languages and cultures goes back to the early years of the new Republic of Turkey in the 1920s and 1930s. Non-Turkish names of towns and villages across the country were Turkified and changed. In 1924, Turkish became the sole medium of education, except for a small number of non-Muslim schools.

In 1928, a student association in Istanbul launched a campaign to stop the public use of non-Turkish languages, and a 1934 law banned the adoption of non-Turkish surnames.

Kurdish is the mostly widely spoken mother tongue in Turkey after Turkish, but such is the number of Kurds – some 15 percent of the population of around 80 million – that UNESCO does not see it as being in danger.

Other minority languages though are listed as endangered and the bans and pressure from the state and the public have had a deleterious effect.

Laz, the language of a people living in the Black Sea region of Turkey and parts of Georgia, is listed as a definitely endangered by UNESCO. According to the Istanbul-based Laz Cultural Association, there are an estimated 1.5 million Laz people in Turkey, around 70 percent of whom can understand the language, but only 40 percent can speak it.

Read more: Ahval

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