Sun Language Theory

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The Sun Language Theory (Turkish: Güneş Dil Teorisi) was a Turkish pseudolinguistic,[1] pseudoscientific[2] hypothesis developed in Turkey in the 1930s that proposed that all human languages are descendants of one proto-Turkic primal language. The theory's promotion of Turks as a progenitor race led to it finding favour among Turkish ultranationalists, who used it to justify their nationalist ideology.[3][4][5]

The theory proposes that primal language had close phonemic resemblances to Turkish and, because of this, all other languages can be traced back to Turkic roots. According to the theory, this primal language originated among Central Asian worshippers who created it as a means to salute the omnipotence of the sun and its life-giving qualities, hence the name.[6]


Influences on the theory included:

  • the ideas of the French historian Hilaire de Barenton, expressed in "L'Origine des Langues, des Religions et des Peuples" ("The Origin of Languages, Religions and Peoples"), that all languages originated from hieroglyphs and cuneiform used by Sumerians.[7][8][9] Turkish linguists claimed a Turkish origin for the Sumerians, and therefore the origin of language was Turkish.[8]
  • a paper of the Austrian linguist Hermann F. Kvergić of Vienna entitled "La psychologie de quelques éléments des langues Turques" ("The Psychology of Some Elements of the Turkic Languages").[10] He also conducted some research on the theory with support of the Turkish Embassy in Vienna.[11]

During ten months in late 1935 and early 1936 Turkish linguists from the Turkish Language Society developed the Sun Language Theory which was presented as the source of all languages in the Third Turkish Language Congress.[12]


The theory counted on the approval of the first president of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who not only gave the theory official backing and material support[13] but was also an important contributor to its development.[14] It received the formal support of the Turkish Government during the Third Turkish Language Congress in 1936.[15][12] During the same congress the vast majority of the international non-Turkish scholars including Friedrich Giese [de] opposed the theory.[16] One of the few non-Turkish linguists who supported the theory was Kvergić.[17]

Influence in Turkey[edit]

Since the theory claimed that all words had originated from Turkish, it was not deemed necessary anymore to replace all foreign loanwords in the language, a process that had been initiated before.[12] Initially the theory was taught only in the Turkology departments of the Turkish Universities, but on the order of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, it was to be taught in all departments as a mandatory assignment.[18] The Sun Language Theory lost its prominent role shortly after the death of Mustafa Kemal in November 1938[19][20] and was not even mentioned in the next Turkish Language Congress in 1942.[21]

In the 1990s, definitions and comments were made by some authors about the founding principles of the Republic of Turkey, its actions in its first years, and Atatürk's Principles, such as the official state ideology and the denial of ethnicity, by citing the Sun-Language Theory studies.[22][23] For this purpose, it was written that irrational rumors were fabricated about the Sun-Language Theory and the Turkish History Thesis supported by Atatürk and that Atatürk was wanted to be shown as "a person who believes in nonsense". It is argued that these are purposeful publications made under the influence of the postmodernist wave, with the aim of criticizing the Atatürk Revolutions and their effects.[24]


As described in a 1936 New York Times article on the curriculum of the newly opened School of Language, History, and Geography of Ankara University, the theory[7]

claims that [insofar as] the Sumerians, being Turks, originat[ed] in Central Asia, all languages also consequently originated there and [were] first used by the Turks. The first language, in fact, came into being in this way: Prehistoric man, i.e., Turks in the most primitive stage, was so struck by the effects of the sun on life that he made of it a deity whence sprang all good and evil. Thence came to him light, darkness, warmth, and fire, with it were associated all ideas of time: height, distance, movement, size, and give expression to his feelings. The sun was thus the first thing to which a name was given. It was "ag" [sic] (pronounced agh), and from this syllable all words in use today are derived. This, briefly, is the theory about the "sun language," and with the new conception of Turkish history it will be taught in the new Angora school.

Based upon a heliocentric view of the origin of civilization and human languages, the theory claimed that the Turkish language was the language which all civilized languages derived from.[25] According to the theory, the first people to speak were the superior race of the Alpine Brachycephalic Turks, which spread throughout the earth in the aftermath of a climate catastrophe, therefore providing the people in all civilizations with the benefits of the language.[26]

Some of the words provided with false Turkish etymologies through the practice of goropism were God, attributed to the Turkish kut;[27] Bulletin from Turkish bülten,[28] belleten;[29][28] or Electric from Uyghur yaltrık (shine).[27] But also foreign words like the French wattman, in French stemming from watt and man, were claimed to be of Turkish origin by a Turkish scholar.[30] Other prominent examples are Greek mythological figures like Aphrodite from avrat, or Artemis from tertemiz.[30] According to linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann, "it is possible that the Sun Language Theory was adopted by Atatürk in order to legitimize the Arabic and Persian words which the Turkish language authorities did not manage to uproot. This move compensated for the failure to provide a neologism for every foreignism/loanword."[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Asher, R. E.; Simpson, J. M. Y. (1994). The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Vol. 6. Pergamon Press. p. 3391. ISBN 978-0-08-035943-4.
  2. ^ Hintz, Lisel (2018). Identity Politics Inside Out: National Identity Contestation and Foreign Policy in Turkey. Oxford University Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-19-065599-0.
  3. ^ "Sun Language Theory".
  4. ^ Hermann, Rainer (2014). Where is Turkey Headed?: Culture Battles in Turkey. Blue Dome Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-1-935295-72-3. the sun language theory, which was abandoned in 1938, claimed that all languages had developed from Turkish. This kind of ultra nationalism had two different cloaks...
  5. ^ Somay, B. (2014). The Psychopolitics of the Oriental Father: Between Omnipotence and Emasculation. Springer. p. 215. ISBN 978-1-137-46266-4.
  6. ^ Aytürk, İlker (November 2004). "Turkish Linguists against the West: The Origins of Linguistic Nationalism in Atatürk's Turkey". Middle Eastern Studies. 40 (6): 1–25. doi:10.1080/0026320042000282856. hdl:11693/49528. ISSN 0026-3206. OCLC 86539631. S2CID 144968896.
  7. ^ a b "Turks Teach New Theories". New York Times. Istanbul. 1936-02-09.
  8. ^ a b "Urges Turks to teach culture of their race, Kemal says historians have maligned people, Sun Language revived". The News Journal. 2 March 1936. p. 24.
  9. ^ Lewis, Geoffrey (2002) p.62
  10. ^ Laut, Jens Peter (2002). "Noch einmal zu Dr. Kvergić" (PDF reprinted online). Turkic Languages (in German). 6: 120–133. ISSN 1431-4983. OCLC 37421320. urn:nbn:de:bsz:25-freidok-18307. Retrieved 2007-12-05.
  11. ^ Aytürk, İlker (2009). "H. F. Kvergić and the Sun-Language Theory". Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft. 159 (1): 27–28. hdl:11693/49479. ISSN 0341-0137. JSTOR 10.13173/zeitdeutmorggese.159.1.0023.
  12. ^ a b c Çolak, Yilmaz (2004). "Language Policy and Official Ideology in Early Republican Turkey". Middle Eastern Studies. 40 (6): 67–91. doi:10.1080/0026320042000282883. ISSN 0026-3206. JSTOR 4289953. S2CID 145469817.
  13. ^ See Speros Vryonis. The Turkish State and History: Clio meets the Grey Wolf, 2nd Ed. Thessaloniki: Institute for Balkan Studies, 1993.
  14. ^ Lewis, Geoffrey (2002). The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success. Oxford University Press. p. 57.
  15. ^ Aytürk, İlker (2004), p.16
  16. ^ Aytürk, İlker (2004), p.18
  17. ^ Laut, Jens Peter (2000). Das Türkische als Ursprache?: Sprachwissenschaftliche Theorien in der Zeit des erwachenden türkischen Nationalismus (in German). Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 105. ISBN 978-3-447-04396-0.
  18. ^ Göçek, Fatma Müge (2015). Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present, and Collective Violence Against the Armenians, 1789-2009. Oxford University Press. p. 288. ISBN 978-0-19-933420-9.
  19. ^ Szurek, Emmanuel (2019), p.266
  20. ^ Ertürk, Nergis (2011-10-19). Grammatology and Literary Modernity in Turkey. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-19-974668-2.
  21. ^ Ertürk, Nergis (2011), p.99
  22. ^ Paradigmanın İflası, Resmi İdeolojinin Eleştirisine Giriş, Fikret Başkaya, 1991, ISBN 975-8449-16-8
  23. ^ Türk Tarih Tezi, Güneş-Dil Teorisi ve Kürt Sorunu, İsmail Beşikçi, 1991
  24. ^ Türk tarih tezi ve Mu kıtası, Kemal Şenoğlu, ISBN 975-343-473-1
  25. ^ Cemal Kafadar (1996.). Between Two Worlds: The Construction of the Ottoman State. University of California Press. P. 163.
  26. ^ Szurek, Emmanuel (2019). Clayer, Nathalie (ed.). Kemalism: Transnational Politics in the Post-Ottoman World. I.B. Tauris. p. 265. ISBN 978-1-78831-372-8.
  27. ^ a b Lewis, Geoffrey (2002).p.60
  28. ^ a b Lewis, Geoffrey (2002). pp.62–63
  29. ^ Landau, Jacob M. (1984). Atatürk and the Modernization of Turkey. BRILL. p. 207. ISBN 978-90-04-07070-7.
  30. ^ a b Landau, Jacob M. (1984). p.211
  31. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil’ad (2003), ‘‘Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew’’, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 1-4039-1723-X, p. 165.

Further reading[edit]