Kurdish Voices in Istanbul Workplaces

By Anne Schluter.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The EU’s official stance in favor of language pluralism stands in stark opposition to Turkey’s traditionally monolinguistic approach. Efforts to appeal to the EU, however, have led to changes in Turkey's language policy. Whereas languages like Kurdish were banned as recently as the late Eighties, their illegal status is currently limited to only three contexts: the military, government, and prison. These changes have been supplemented by public displays of openness to the Kurdish language with such actions as the introduction of a state-run Kurdish-language television station and the prime minister’s best wishes – in Kurdish – at its opening ceremony. Such developments have led to a public perception among much of Turkish society that the Kurdish question has been resolved. At the official level, a number of years have passed since Turkey started loosening its restrictions on Kurdish; yet, a self-imposed ban persists in many workplaces, where Turkish language skills are directly associated with profitability. The current study monitors perceptions of Turkish vs. Kurdish language appropriateness in the workplace. Participants include twenty-one native speakers of Kirmanji Kurdish who have emigrated from the East and Southeast of Turkey and currently work in Istanbul. Initial data collection comes from questionnaires; selected emergent themes from these questionnaires receive deeper analysis through subsequent interviews. Data analysis traces the presence of these themes across all of the participant data. Principal among these themes is the distinction between public vs. private Kurdish use; this pattern resembles that of select African migrant workers’ workplace language choices in a similar study undertaken by Myers-Scotton (1976). Indeed, participants attest to speaking Kurdish at work, but only in private domains. Two additional themes arise in terms of speakers’ motivations. They include connections between language choice and social mobility (Fishman, 1971) as well as social stigma (Saraçoğlu, 2009).

Keywords: Sociolinguistics, Minority Language Rights, Silencing Immigrant Voices, Language Attitudes

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp.127-140. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 662.616KB).

Dr. Anne Schluter

Assistant Professor, Foreign Language Education, Bogazici University, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey

Anne Schluter is an assistant professor in the Foreign Language Education Department at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Her research interests include sociolinguistics, language and politics, immigrants’ language practices, and minority language rights. She holds a doctoral degree in applied linguistics from the Foreign Language Education Department of the University of Texas at Austin.

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