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Cyprus

‘It’s like having an invisible flag’

TURKISH Cypriots tend to regard those who use the Turkish Cypriot dialect as more sincere, credible, funny and affectionate than those who speak standard or ‘Istanbul’ Turkish, according to a new study. The Cypriot language variety is also seen as equally rich, serious, melodic and attractive as the standard one.

While Turkish Cypriot preference towards their own dialogue is clearly prominent, the research suggests that positive attributes are also associated with standard Turkish. Those who use it are seen as educated, ambitious and intelligent and it is viewed as a language appropriate to use when politeness is called for.

These results are important, said linguists Dimitris Evripidou & Çişe Çavuşoğlu who recently presented their findings on MyCy radio.

“Apart from the linguistic differences I would say the difference between the two concern the social and political aspects,” Evripidou said. The language use says a lot about identity and the cultural context.

The research shows that there are subtle differences. “There is a continuum (regarding Cypriot Turkish) which has got class implications,” the researchers explained, “there are regional differences and the way the language is used in cities carries more prestige than the one used in villages.” “The one spoken in the towns is closer to standard Turkish,” Çavuşoğlu said, “but it is still very different from it.”

Influences come from other countries, she went on to say, for example Turkish Cypriots use the English words ‘bus’ and ‘roundabout’ and then there are also Greek Cypriot words such as ‘gandjeli’.

Attitudes have also changed over time, but the use of the language varieties has always been a way of defining identity. Before 1974, the use of standard Turkish was seen as progressive. Then, after the invasion in 1974 it became even stronger because the use of ‘proper’ Turkish in schools and the bureaucracy meant that Cyprus was truly part of Turkey, according to Çavuşoğlu.

However, attitudes have moved towards a more positive view of the Cypriot dialect lately with the arrival of Turkish settlers from whom Turkish Cypriots tend to distance themselves. As one of the participants of the study said, “Cypriot Turkish is extremely important because it links us directly to Cyprus and not to Turkey” while another one reportedly said that “it connects us to Greek Cypriots and not Greeks.”

Attitudes vary over generations as well. According to the research, the younger generation don’t understand why Cypriot Turkish is not used more in education, while older people said it doesn’t have a written form, which makes it all the more difficult.

According to Evripidou and Çavuşoğlu.  The younger generation especially, say they would not use standard Turkish in conversation. Their feedback was ‘that would sound phony’, or ‘my friends would make fun of me’.

The use of the standard Turkish language in schools, which was seen as progressive before is now often seen as enforced, the researchers found. “They resist imposed education and are very proud of being Turkish Cypriots.” A comment by one participant in the survey was: “Why don’t we respect our own language?”, according to Evripidou.

Language has become a strong marker in recent years and is becoming more prevalent in written form in popular culture. “For the last five or six years, people started printing Turkish Cypriot phrases on the T-shirts they are wearing,” the Turkish Cypriot linguist remarked.

One of the interviewees summed up the importance and value of the language to the community thus: “Cypriot Turkish is a symbol of our community; it differentiates us from Greek Cypriots and Turks. It is neither Cypriot Greek nor Turkish. So it’s like an invisible flag we all carry along with us whether we are here in Cyprus, in Turkey or somewhere abroad.”

According to scholars, emanating from Anatolia and evolved for five centuries, Cypriot Turkish is the vernacular spoken by Cypriots with Ottoman ancestry, as well as by Cypriots who converted to Islam during Ottoman rule. It consists of a blend of Ottoman Turkish and the Yörük dialect spoken to this day in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey. It has also absorbed influences from Greek, Italian and English.

In the post-Ottoman period, Cypriot Turkish was relatively isolated from standard Turkish and had strong influences from the Cypriot Greek dialect. The condition of coexistence with the Greek Cypriots led to a certain bilingualism whereby Turkish Cypriots’ knowledge of Greek was important in areas where the two communities lived and worked together. The linguistic situation changed radically in 1974, and today, the Cypriot Turkish dialect is being exposed to increasing standard Turkish through immigration from the mainland, mass media, and new educational institutions.

An academic paper by Andia Mavromati and Andreas Papapavlou from the University of Cyprus in 2014 on  ‘Reactions Towards Neighbouring Languages in Cyprus: The Result of Language Awareness or Attitudinal Stances?’ said Cypriot Turkish had not received much scholarly attention and that studies had been limited.

A Turkish Cypriot website identifies 200 Greek words used by Turkish Cypriots, such as ‘angonia’ (grandchild) and ‘fanella’ (tee shirt), while another citing a professor in Turkey identified 738 words of Turkish origin used by Greek Cypriots including ‘bakkali’ (grocery) and ‘rusfeti’(nepotism).

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