I knew the Turkish language reform involved some odd notions of linguistics, but Brent Brendemoen’s chapter on the process in The Turkic Languages (Routledge, 1998) introduced me to the weirdest part yet, the Sun-language Theory:
There are strong indications that Atatürk was not entirely happy with about the lists of proposed replacements for the Arabic and Persian words published by the TDK in the first years of the reform. In 1935 and 1936, a complete retreat was made with the introduction of the so-called Güneş Dil Teorisi, the ‘Sun-language Theory’, based on a draft that Atatürk had received from an Austrian Serb, Dr Hermann F. Kvergić. According to this theory of language development, Turkish was the mother of all languages. Thus it was no longer necessary to search for pure Turkish words to replace Arabic and Persian ones, since the ultimate origin of these words and languages was Turkish anyhow.
A fine introduction to the episode is an article by Geoffrey L. Lewis in the periodical Turkic Languages, vol. I issue 1 (1997). Kvergić’s work, “La Psychologie de quelques éléments des languages torques” was not entirely absurd, for it basically used Turkish as a mere example for some general musings about morphology:
The theme was that man first realized his own identity when he conceived the idea of establishing what the external objections surrounding him were. Language first consisted of gestures, to which some significant sounds were then added. Kvergić saw evidence for his view in the Turkish pronouns. M indicates oneself, as in men the ancient form of ben ‘I’, and elim ‘my hand’.
Things went bad when language reformers thought that Turkish retained somehow all of the primitive interjections, and therefore could be seen as the parent of all other languages. Lewis writes:
[The theory] saw the beginning of language as the moment when primitive man looked up at the sun and “Aaa!”
That vocable, ağ, was the “first-degree radical of the Turkish language”. It originally meant sun, then sunlight, warmth, fire, height, bigness, power, god, master, motion, time, distance, life, colour, water, earth, voice. As man’s vocal mechanisms developed, other vowels and consonants became available, each with its own shade of meaning. Because the primeval exclamation was shouted, and it is obviously easier to begin a shout with a vowel than with a consonant, any word now beginning with a consonant originally began with a vowel, since abraded. The words yağmur ‘rain’, çamur ‘mud’, and hamur ‘dough’, for example, are compounded of ağmur ‘flowing water’, preceded by ay ‘high’, aç ‘earth’ and ah ‘food’ respectively. (The reader is urged not to waste time searching the dictionary for the last four words.)
… [The reformer] Dilmen began the next day with a lengthy outline of the theory, proving, among other things, the identity of English god, German Gott and Turkish kut ‘luck’. The proof is simple enough: Gott is oğ + ot, god is oğ + od, kut is uk + ut. He avoids explaining the second t of Gott by spelling it with only one t.