Basak ARAY

Saussure's Reception by Language Planners

It is surprising that the Turkish public had to wait until 1976 to read Cours de Linguistique Générale (Genel Dilbilim Dersleri), an influential work on the national language reform. Ordered by the Turkish Language Society and published in two tomes (appeared in 1976 and 1978), it was followed in 1984 by a second edition with an updated vocabulary. Founded in the decade following the proclamation of the new republic, the society's mission was to conceive and implement a language reform on a national scale. The translator, Berke Vardar, was an active theoretician and supporter of the language reform, who accomplished a pioneering work in introducing the discipline of linguistics in Turkey. The local context of the Cours' publication in Turkey being closely related to this controversial but extensive language reform, my contribution will be dedicated to Saussure's reception by language planners. Tahsin Yücel (1968) made use of the arbitrary sign thesis to counter conservative objections against new words introduced by modernist language planners. Massive elimination of Ottoman words, quickly replaced by new ones – be it rediscovered "pure Turkish" or freshly "made-up" ones – provoked a considerable amount of indignation in more conservative circles. These objections were mainly targeted against linguistic intervention, seen as a destructive attack against the natural evolution of the language, besides being ultimately unproductive. Taking up the defence of the language reform, Yücel reclaimed individuals' freedom over parole, referring to the Saussurean distinction between parole and langue. Another Saussurean theme that he adopts is the distinction between synchronic and diachronic, which accounts for present-day words' remoteness from their earlier ancestors without discrediting language change. Finally, by reminding the arbitrary character of the linguistic sign, he refutes the claim that old words were more genuine, or that they held a special relation to the concept that they signify. Criticism faced by language reformers can be summed up as negative reaction towards a "made-up" language. This perception constitutes also the major hindrance before another type of language planning: language construction for international communication. The international auxiliary language movement was met with incredulity and hostility for similar reasons. Though faced with a similar resistance to alternative linguistic forms, Otto Jespersen, who designed the international auxiliary language Novial, criticized Saussure for the rigidity of his distinction between langue and parole and his disqualification of individual attempts to change language (1926). Jespersen also takes his distance from Saussure about sound symbolism: while Saussure's insistence on the arbitrary nature of the linguistic sign minimizes the function of onomatopoeias, Jespersen (1922) devoted considerable research to the role of the sound symbolism in phonologic evolution. Sound symbolism was also reclaimed by Valter Tauli (1968) as a possible, perfectly legitimate tool for language planning – a method effectively used in ex nihilo lexical creation by the Estonian reformer Johannes Aavik (Chalvin 2010).

CHALVIN (Antoine) 2010. Johannes Aavik et la Rénovation de la Langue Estonienne. Paris: Harmattan. JESPERSEN (Otto) 1922. Language. Its Nature, Development and Origin. London: Allen & Unwin. JESPERSEN (Otto) 1926. Mankind, Nation, and Individual from a Linguistic Point of View. Oslo: Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning. TAULI (Valter) 1968. Introduction to a Theory of Language Planning. Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell. YÜCEL (Tahsin) 1968. Dil Devrimi. İstanbul: Varlık.