Linguistics and English Language

Language in context seminar

Speakers: Johannes Woschitz (LEL) and Emre Yağlı (Hacettepe University, Ankara)

Title: The Meaning Change of 'hayır' during the Turkish Constitutional Referendum 2017

Abstract: Hayır is an Arabic loanword that was borrowed into Turkish between the 8th and 10th centuries in the context of Turkic tribes converting to Islam. What makes the word unique is that it means both 'good' and 'no', and both meanings have acquired different indexical meanings over the last century. Hayır 'good' has predominantly acquired religious indexical meaning. In the course of Neo-Ottoman endeavours of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), it acquired additional politicized indexical meaning. Hayır 'no', on the other hand, remained neutral, until relatively recently. In the 2017 Turkish constitutional referendum, the social sphere exhibited a sharp contrast between two options: Evet (yes) for increasing the power of the presidency and the AKP, and hayır (no) for sustaining the competency of the parliamentary system. This led to an odd situation where a pro-democratic vote and a diametral Neo-Ottoman ideology were expressed with the same word hayır. No-voters soon began to take up this homonymy to contest the regime. By entering the Neo-Ottoman indexical meaning of 'good' into a dialogue with the second referential meaning 'no', they managed to create new indexical meaning that directly opposes Neo-Ottomanism. To make sense of the mechanism behind this meaning change, we apply Silverstein's (1976, 2003) theory of indexicality and indexical orders. We put forward the idea that when investigating lexical meaning change, it is not enough to focus on the motivations of the relevant parties initiating or contesting the change. The formal aspect of the word seems to be just as important when it comes to setting the direction of the change.


Seminars are organised by the language in context research group.

Language in context group

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John Joseph

Mar 09 2018 -

Language in context seminar

2018-03-09: The Meaning Change of 'hayır' during the Turkish Constitutional Referendum 2017

Room 1.3, Lister Learning and Teaching Centre, 5 Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9SU