Every once in a while you run across a story which reminds you that just perhaps you don’t have things so bad… at least for now. Just this morning we looked at some suppression of free speech questions as they relate to the Mayor of Portland, who wants to cancel a free speech rally “because the Constitution doesn’t protect hate speech.” (Spoiler alert; it does.) Prior to that we explored the idea of whether or not the government, or even the groupthink of the maddening crowd, could force you to begin using female pronouns for Chelsea Manning. Those are disturbing possibilities, but they’re nothing compared to what’s going on in Ankara right now.
The Tyrant of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has sailed past simply firing or locking up people who disagree with him and shutting down the free press. He’s now moving to begin modifying how people speak on a massive scale. And to start things off he’s going to ban the use of the word “arena” by the citizens of his country. (Telegraph)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, has launched a crackdown on the word “arena”, calling on sports stadiums to stop using the word because it is un-Turkish.
Stressing the need for Turkey to develop its “own language”, Mr Erdogan said last week that he was implementing a plan to remove the word “arena” from sports stadiums.
“We are going to remove the word ‘arena’ from stadiums,” he said in a speech. “Of course you know what they used to do in arenas in the past? They would let people be shred to pieces. We are going to remove the word ‘arena’ from stadiums.”
He said Akif Cagatay Kilic, the sports minister, had already been instructed to carry out the order.
Right off the bat, this should be alarming to anyone watching the breakdown of Turkish society even without looking at the deeper implications because this is something you’d only hear from a madman. He’s couched it in language which makes it sounds as if he’s suggesting something reasonable, claiming that arenas are reminiscent of the bloody spectacles put on by the Romans. (I suppose nobody with a vested interest in keeping their head attached to their shoulders wants to mention to him that the Romans actually called them coliseums.) So he’s going to force all of the arenas to change their names and forbid people from using the word. And you’ll notice there was no vote taken, no new law or policy passed by the legislature. He just made the decision and told everyone to fall in line.
But on a darker and more haunting level, this is why the report should be reminiscent of the stories I linked above, talking about transgender pronouns and “hate speech.” There is a tremendous amount of power in being able to force a change in the language and mandate how people use words. Language, in a free environment, evolves organically to suit the culture employing it as they adapt to changing conditions. We may not always be fans of some of the changes, but they keep on coming and it’s the will of the herd which decides which words come and go. But the words also have meanings and we choose them for a reason. When you forbid the population from using any particular words and force them to use a different one, you’ve changed the message they are sharing with the rest of their culture, no matter how subtly.
A change from “arena” to “stadium” no doubt seems like a minor, silly thing. And that specific switch may not have much impact on Turkish culture. But it will most certainly not stop there. It’s yet another example of Erdogan flexing his muscle in a subtle, yet incredibly powerful way. He’s changing the language. And the person who can change the language can change the world.