The Troublesome Interaction of Two Languages: On the Way to School

  • Abstract:

    Republic of Turkey was established on the remnants of a collapsed empire that was composed of diverse ethnic and religious identities. The founding ideology of the new state by 1923 was based on ‘Turkish national identity’ besides adopting a westernized and secular world view. Though the national identity was a civic-territorial project rather than an ethnic-genealogic one, as classified by Anthony Smith, one can argue that Turkish ethnic core practically dominated and excluded all the ‘others’ in the outlook of Turkish nationalism. The side effects of nationalism have been ignoring some languages, religious beliefs, life styles etc.; those have been the ones counted outside the national identity. This exclusion has extensively been observed in politics, literature, cinema as well as in daily life. Nevertheless, counter discourses and patterns of representation have always existed, more in recent years. One of those representations, the film entitled On the Way to School (2009), displays one year’s course of an elementary school teacher appointed to a ‘remote’ Kurdish populated village in southeastern Turkey. While presenting the troublesome interaction between the teacher who does not speak Kurdish and the kids who do not know a single word of the official Turkish language, the film reminds many aspects of identity construction, including dialogism, the term coined by Mikhail Bakhtin. My paper first provides a historical background for the construction of Turkish national identity, its representation in cinema, and then analyzes the abovementioned film which incites the spectator to question this problematic issue.