Patrick Lewis takes the page 99 test

The 99th page of my dissertation, “Publics of Value: Higher Education and Language Activism in Turkey and North Kurdistan,” falls midway in my second chapter, where I seek to situate my primary field site – Turkey’s first state-recognized Kurdish-language university program at Artuklu University in Mardin – within the sociolinguistic realities of public life in the city and wider province, as well as within larger shifts in the political discourses and language practices of the Kurdish movement, Turkish state institutions, and local actors. This forms part of a larger discussion, developed over the first two chapters, that considers how differently positioned actors in Mardin and beyond have come to deploy Mesopotamia as a label designating a post-national, multicultural space that differentiates itself from conventional nationalist geographic imaginaries (such as Turkey or Kurdistan) and how this category is used to confer new value on multilingualism and Mardin’s local polyglot speech communities.

The first half of page 99 concludes a longer discussion of the analytical categories of language and speech communities and the dynamic interaction between the two (Gal 1988; Silverstein 1998). The second half begins to consider how this interaction has reshaped local language regimes in Mardin in recent decades, describing how:

“In Mardin, importantly, the values of Mesopotamia have been realized in relation to a dynamic language regime that is itself a product of a specific, if shifting sociohistorical spacetime – one in which Mesopotamia has come to represent both a validation of the values of Mardin’s speech community in relation to the nationalist projects of both the Turkey and Kurdistan and, conversely, the imposition of new linguistic projects by competing institutional forces (i.e. the Kurdish movement, the Turkish state, and the predominantly English- language domains of ‘global’ higher education and transnational tourism)” (pp. 99).

Considering the page in the context of the larger dissertation, I’m quite fortunate – within the terms of the ‘page 99 test’ – that it contains an important inflection point in my analysis with clear relevance for the larger work. Looking back a year after my defense, I can’t avoid detecting what now appear to me as moments of underdeveloped tangents, misplaced emphasis, and missed opportunities for greater clarification or precision – not to mention an ever-growing number of typos (page 99 being no exception). On the other hand, page 99 contains the seeds of two interrelated insights that I consider to be, in their fully developed form, among the work’s more important contributions: The first, inspired in part by the work by Woolard (2016) and others, is that Kurdish-language activism is not reducible to a paradigm of Kurdish nationalist politics, but embraces a range of political and social meanings that require further contextualization and explanation; and the second is that my Kurdish-language activist interlocutors, rather than proponents of predefined political or linguistic projects, are agentive actors working to remake the values of the Kurdish language in public life in ways that are generative of new identities, political subjectivities, and horizons of belonging. 

References:

Gal, Susan. “The Political Economy of Code Choice.” Anthropological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives 48 (1988): 245-64.

Silverstein, Michael. “Contemporary Transformations of Local Linguistic Communities.” Annual Review of Anthropology 27, no. 1 (1998): 401-426

Woolard, Kathryn. Singular and Plural: Ideologies of Linguistic Authority in 21st Century Catalonia. Oxford University Press, 2016.

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