The Pontic dialect facing extinction in Turkey

In 2009, UNESCO (The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation) published an interactive digital Atlas based on information collected by 30 linguists as part of International Mother Language Day (21 February). The ‘Atlas of the world's Languages in Danger' lists 15 languages in Turkey which now face extinction. The Pontic language (a dialect of Greek) was included in the list as being ‘definitely endangered', whilst Cappadocian Greek is extinct.

In the study, the degree to which a language faced extinction was put into 5 categories

• unsafe
• definitely endangered
• severely endangered
• critically endangered
• extinct

UNESCO states on it's website , that .....

"Languages are humankind's principle tools for interacting and for expressing ideas, emotions, knowledge, memories and values. Languages are also primary vehicles of cultural expressions and intangible cultural heritage, essential to the identity of individuals and groups. Safeguarding endangered languages is thus a crucial task in maintaining cultural diversity worldwide."

It's worth noting Turkey's Constitution, which may explain the problem faced with minorities, and those wishing to keep their languages alive in Turkey.

Article 42, of Turkey's constitution states....

"No language other than Turkish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institutions of training or education. Foreign languages to be taught in institutions of training and education and the rules to be followed by schools conducting training and education in a foreign language shall be determined by law."

The Network for Education and Academic Rights states that whilst Article 42 was changed in 9 August 2002 to allow for the "learning of different languages and dialects used traditionally by Turkish citizens in their daily lives", this right is subject to numerous restrictions. Mother Tongue education in Turkey is similarly restricted as it's seen as a national security issue.

In regards to the Pontic dialect

The Pontus Greeks were subject to the Convention of the Exchange of Populations between Greece and Turkey in 1923.  They speak a dialect of Greek which is based on the Ancient Greek. Whilst most Pontus Greeks of Orthodox faith were expelled from their homeland in 1923 as part of the Exchange, the dialect is still spoken by small numbers in the North Eastern parts of Turkey where the Pontus Greeks lived. Since the exchange was based on religion, many chose to become Muslims in order to avoid being deported to Greece. The language is spoken today by these small numbers, but also by Turks, an indication of the regional influence the dialect had in Turkey pre-1923.  Author Omer Asan stated in his book ‘Pontus Kulturu' that 300,000 people still speak the Pontic dialect in Turkey today.

The teaching therefore of the Pontic dialect would be bound by certain laws as outlined in The Treaty of Lausanne.  Article 41 of the Lausanne Treaty which was signed in 1923, required that the Turkish state grant instruction In mother tongue in public schools in places where a considerable proportion of non-Muslim minorities are resident.  This has never been implemented. Funding of such schools by the state is non existent, therefore finding teachers to teach in such schools is difficult. The selection of a Deputy Principal is probably the biggest obstacle. Up until 2007, the Deputy Principal was required by law to be of Turkish origin. However even with the law now omitting the requirement of Turkish citizenship, the situation has remained the same. Add to this the requirement that the curriculum and school books must have Turkish translations and you begin to understand why mother tongue dialects are facing extinction in Turkey today.



Related Articles

The Pontic Dialect (Romeyka)

Pontian Wikipedia