The meaning change of haylr during the Turkish constitutional referendum 2017

Woschitz J., YAĞLI E.

LANGUAGE SCIENCES, vol.72, pp.116-133, 2019 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 72
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.langsci.2018.09.003
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.116-133
  • Hacettepe University Affiliated: Yes


Hayir means both 'good' and 'no' in present-day Turkish. Hayir 'good' has been predominantly associated with a religious undertone. Recently, the Neo-Ottoman movement under the AKP has built on this connotation to promote their political ideology. In the 2017 Turkish constitutional referendum, the Turkish people decided whether they wanted to endorse this ideology: Evet (yes) meant increasing the power of the presidency and the AKP, while hayir (no) meant 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. No-voters soon began to take up this homonymy to contest the regime. By entering Neo-Ottoman 'good' into a dialogue with 'no', the second meaning of hayir, they managed to alter its meaning to directly oppose Neo-Ottomanism. To make sense of the mechanism behind this and such cases of lexical appropriation, we apply Silverstein's (1976, 2003) theory of indexicality and indexical orders. We put forward the idea that focussing on the motivations of the relevant parties initiating or contesting the change alone falls short of the complexity of the phenomenon. The meaning change can only be fully understood when accounting for the complex indexical history of the appropriated word. (C) 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.