Language & National Identity


The use of language in many countries is not merely a personal custom, but a political statement and a marker of national identity. In Turkey, the government purged the Turkish language of Arabic and Persian elements in the 1920s and 30s under the nationalistic and secular philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In 1950 with the election of a new government party, the adhan (Turkish: ezan) reverted back to being preformed in Arabic, which signaled an increasing political connection to the Arab world and conservative Islam. Though Turkey remains a secular nation, an anti-Kemalist faction has risen in recent years in tandem with economic downturns. This question of language and identity signals the order of self-alignment with a group—whether or not a person is a first a Muslim or first a Turk. The use of the Turkish language in any form is closely tied with nationalistic sentiment, and the language of the adhan is a political marker for the political atmosphere of the country.

This topic connects to the other members of my group in the sense that we are all focused on how sounds define identity, both on a personal and national level.

Here is a link where you can listen to the adhan in Istanbul:

This adhan is performed in Arabic. (The lyrics are: God is Great/I bear witness that there is no God but Allah/I bear witness that Muhammed is his messenger/Rush to prayer/Rush to success/God is Great.) This sound can be heard five times a day in nearly every city. However, it is important to know that the relationship between religion and government is complicated in Turkey; the country is still a secular nation, and the politics are “liberal” in comparison to other “Muslim nations” (like Iran, for example). My use of quotation marks here merely indicates that these terms are frequently used in the US media but are not entirely adequate to describe these concepts. Although most of the nation subscribes to the Muslim religion, some people identify first as Turks, and some people identify first as Muslims, and there is a continuum of devotion and attitudes towards religious practices and politics, just as there is a spectrum of attitudes in the United States towards Christianity, for example.