Turkey Legalizes the Letters Q, W, and X. Yay Alphabet!

Lexicon Valley
A Blog About Language
Oct. 24 2013 1:15 PM

Turkey Legalizes the Letters Q, W, and X. Yay Alphabet!

95814524
Fireworks explode over the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images

Back in 2005, a Turkish court fined 20 Kurds 100 lira (US$74) for holding up placards at a New Year's celebration containing the letters Q and W. The use of those letters—and X as well—violated the law of Nov. 1, 1928 on Adoption and Application of Turkish Letters, the purpose of which was to change the writing system of Turkish from the Arabic-based system of the Ottomans to the Roman-based system developed under the secular, modernizing regime of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Now it's true that Q, W, and X aren't exactly winning popularity contests in any language, but what's so repugnant about them that a law should exist to prohibit their very existence? Well, for starters, they appear in Kurdish but not in Turkish, and restricting a minority language—Kurdish has historically been spoken by 10-25 percent of the country's population—is one way to oppress a minority.

Advertisement

And although the fine represented a technically correct application of the statute, enforcement of the law was selective. Western companies routinely used the banned letters—in advertising and promotion— without consequence, for example in the case of Xerox Turkey, a longstanding, habitual abuser of the dreaded X.

Or should I say formerly dreaded? After 85 years, the letters Q, W, and X have apparently been legalized as part of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's "Democratization Package" of Sept. 30, 2013. Great news for both the Kurds and Roman alphabet completists.

At press time, the letter K said that it was glad to have its brethren back in the fold. Diphthongs, however, remain verboten.

A version of this post originally appeared on Language Log.

Mark Liberman is a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Linguistics Data Consortium.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 20 2014 3:40 PM Keeping It in the Family Why are so many of the world’s oldest companies in Japan?
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 10:23 AM Where I Was Wrong About the Royals I underestimated the value of building a team that’s just barely better than mediocre.