On Language Proficiency of Politicians and Foreign-Native Language Proficiency Differential


The paths to success in politics are varied. Political Theorists and Sociologists are long interested in understanding the patterns of political success. On the other hand, layman’s political vocabulary is dominated by “charisma” of leaders, “masculinity” and so on. The problem with such unprincipled approaches are apparent when one thinks about the elusiveness of these terms. Take charisma for instance, there are many “charismatic” figures in the history such that, the same person after some time, almost invariably becomes very hard to take seriously at all. Hitler is just one famous example. It is of course the tragedy of certain people to see through the “charisma” of such leaders the ridiculous elements before the herd does.

In the night of 23 of June (in Singapore time), a very curious event occurred. The mayor of the capital city of Turkey, as expressed colorfully by Andrew Duff (Andrew_Duff_MEP), had gone “completely mad”. The events that lead to this outrage is out of the scope of this article; but the readers are referred to http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/ankara-mayor-accuses-bbc-turkish-journalist-of-being-an-agent-in-twitter-campaign.aspx?pageID=238&nID=49345&NewsCatID=341 .


In this article, we will be interested in Ib. Melih Gokcek’s proficiency of using Turkish and English in his tweets. We will quantify the alleged “lack of sufficient proficiency” and also answer certain questions that were posed by many, including whether his English usage is better than his Turkish. Of course, the results are shown with complete objectivity and statistical care. However, the implications may be considered by political theorists and, of course, the people of Ankara. It may be particularly of interest to analyse the correlation of language proficiency and voter behaviour. But without further speculation, the results are presented.


Before giving the results of statistical analysis and the interpretations, the procedure of data collection will be briefly explained. To facilitate the analysis, the data regarding the discussions were collected by manually copying them from twitter (from 06 Ib. Melih Gokcek’s account) from a 24 hour period. Some very small tweets (say, less than 3 words) that are not indicative of language skills were omitted; but otherwise, all the tweets have been included. The data is divided into English and Turkish tweets; because one of the main goals of this study is to be able to detect a difference between the usage of these two languages, if any. Overall, 51 Turkish tweets and 15 English tweets were collected. It is, of course, a valid question when one asks how so many tweets (remember, there are also many smaller tweets that were omitted) are posted by someone with supposedly so many responsibilities. But, in this article, we are not concerned with this fact.

After the data collection step, the tweets were individually inspected to find any misuse of language. But, the following points are to be noted;

Errors due to spacing and common techniques to fit into twitter restricted message spaces are omitted.

Some errors can be attributed to typing, but they are still considered as errors. So some rate of error would be justifiable (i.e. we do not expect perfect usage).

Sometimes the “…” is used correctly; but it is most of the time wrong. Therefore, we analysed the errors in two parts, with\without including such cases. The complete errors (including misused “…”) are denoted as less-serious errors and the ones without those are called the serious errors. The results for both these cases are given in the text.

Errors due to EN/TUR keyboard differences were omitted.

Some notes on ellipsis usage

Many people believe that the characteristic of 06 Ib. Melih Gokcek’s tweeting style is the all-caps writing. One example among many is;


The above example also shows the extents of horrible communication. But returning to the point, one of our findings is that, it is actually the misuse of the ellipsis that characterizes his style.  The usage of ellipsis is thought to indicate intellectual depth and it is a common pitfall to use it too much. Our analysis of 06 Ib. Melih Gokcek’s tweets indicate that he uses it way too much (%84 of his Turkish tweets, though all-caps usage is slightly more: %92; but we believe ellipsis misuse is more unique in adults).  Without further discussion of this issue, we leave it to the reader and the experts to make their deductions.

Is His English better than his Turkish ?

When the responses to 06 Ib. Melih Gokcek’s tweets were analysed, it was found that a significant number of people claimed that his English skills were better than his Turkish skills; this is, of course, odd for a government worker. According to proper usage of statistical methods, we set up our hypothesis before collecting the data, which is whether the propensity of errors in Turkish is greater than that in English or not. The equal tailed hyper-geometric test (which is used as an approximation to the UMPU test as the author felt lazy) at %5 significance level indicates that the propensity of errors in Turkish can not be claimed to be greater than that in English, using his tweets at the indicated day.

To deepen our understanding, a point test of equality was also conducted which also showed that there’s not enough evidence to claim a difference in propensities of errors. However, when we inspect the ML estimates (lesser-Turkish-errors: %69, serious-Turkish-errors: %34, English errors: %66), we see that there is actually some reason to think that his English is actually worse, which is the more natural result. However, as indicated previously, statistical significance of this difference is not enough.


In this article, the language misuse of a government official was quantified and several questions from the general public were answered. Contrary to the wide claims, it was found that the misuse of both of the languages are almost equal; that is equally horrendous.



Red Sun Piercing Through the Haze

I saw it in Esplanade tonight. It was there when the brave young soldiers of the long march were saying farewell to their families, it was there when they broke the blockade of chiang kai shek, it was there when the Zunyi conference was held, with red flags and pictures of Marx, it was also there when the Red Army bravely crossed the Chishui river and captured the Luding bridge. I saw it when the Red Army soldiers passed through the snowy mountains and reached at Wuqi Town. It was the clapping hands of the crowd, the sympathy towards the struggle. It was the cheers at the end.

It was the rays of the bright red sun piercing through the haze.

As mentioned in the recitations of the Long March Suite, the dark clouds will go away; but the bright red sun always stays.


Glad there exist good movies…

One can get many benefits out of a good movie, depending on its type and goal. But, for me, all good movies share one thing, that they all give me the feeling that there are so many smart people thinking about various aspects of life; and this is encouraging. One would think that this kind of feeling should be commonplace in a university; but it seems academic excellence does not directly translate to cultural excellence.

The movie that gave me this feeling again was a Danish film The Hunt. This movie does a good job in creating the setting and playing the plot that makes you question the basis of society. The essential theme is this: what seems like a clockwork solid rational social relationships (job, friends, lover, etc.) can fall apart in a whim and you get to return to the almost barebones of human behaviour. I guess the idea of a rational environment suddenly becoming a mess with inexplicable events is appealing to me. Sort of like the “I was only trying to make a call” short story of Sadik Hidayet, where the protagonist hitchhikes after a car breakdown, her new carries turns out to be transporting mentally ill to the asylum and in the destination she gets confused as one of them.. Maybe the effects of reading Kaan Arslanoglu too much? 

The last time I remember feeling like this was after a student theater: Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay played in NUS museum.

Social context of suicides and Sadik Hidayet

Sadik Hidayet is an Iranian author, mostly known for his short stories and nihilistic style. I have recently read his short story named “The One Buried Alive”, which is not to be confused with the fine movie “Buried” (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/buried/) which suggest that perhaps there is something in the theme of being buried alive that ignites the imagination. Leaving aside all the dramatic details and analysis in the lines of post-traumatic stress disorder and the like, the story is very successful in conveying the feeling of detachment from the society which seems to be the central emotion at play.

It is not that a suicide is not a tragedy, but the cheesy representation of it in much of the literature that actually sets this writer apart. Keep in mind that we are talking about someone who did, unfortunately, successfully commit suicide.

The self poisoning scorpion figure is a usual metaphor in Turkish literature, but the way Hidayet used it in his story was new for me: “I knew the scorpion kills itself by poisoning when we encircle it with fire”. Sometimes I feel that, with all our accomplishments in the past centuries, we have yet to create the culture that sustains our advanced production and workplace organization. It seems to me that all this romanticism on rural life, nature,etc. , is a symptom of our recognition of this fact and our expression of longing for a better organization of our lives (Hell, the feudal societies had much more time to evolve their culture, right?). Can this not be a result of, or at least effected by, the discrepancy between the structure and superstructure (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Base_and_superstructure) ?

And I find out that suicide is not far away after all : http://sg.news.yahoo.com/nus-scholar-found-dead-in-utown-campus-185329134.html


Eleventh Thesis

Eleventh Thesis is famous among Marxist, stating that “the philosophers always tried to understand the world until now, now we should act to change it”. Incidentally, this is the name of an important Marxist book series in Turkey that was published in the 80’s, well regarded as a carrier of a tradition that was struggling for existence at the time. It occurs to me that this thesis is somehow related to how the inverse problems are handled in Bayesian paradigm, which is the idea I explore in this post.

I believe the notion of forward and inverse problems is very important and I am not so sure if this is well understood in the social sciences. The idea is that, forward problems begin with clear axioms and develop from there, as the theory of value started with Adam Smith, passing through Ricardo to be finally developed rigorously by Marx. Rigorous development of a theory helps in understanding what may be the implications of certain set of axioms, that may not be obvious from the start. Yet the rigour should not be confused with truth, as this stage of development is more of an intellectual exercise, lacking connection with reality. This connection (as I also discussed in: http://blog.nus.edu.sg/egealper/2013/06/12/hello-world) is necessary to make the rational decision. Some people say this connection is prediction, but what kind of prediction? It looks to me that passive prediction is what people hope for (observing some facts without any intervention and seeing if they fit the theory); but they tend to get nothing and still be happy about it. Just as the engineering discipline is interested in active prediction, that is predicting a system response after we modify it in some way, the economy-politics should be interested in predicting the social response after we actively attempt to change it in some way. This, I believe, is the likelihood that must be sought. Therefore, the eleventh thesis is not just some revolutionary spirited slogan, but a methodology of scientific progress and filter. Prior theoretic exercises determine the intellectual quality of a thesis, but we may still have tons of them to explain a single phenomenon, all of which seemingly viable. It is the real life’s likelihood that ranks them in the end.

Understanding Turkey

This post is meant to introduce a political book on Turkey, “Turkiye’de Sinif Mucadeleleri” (Class Struggles in Turkey) by Sungur Savran. I mean Understanding Turkey in a wide sense, in historical and class struggles context. The main goal of the book is to provide the “activists” (we still prefer ‘revolutionaries’) the conceptual framework to understand the foundation and conflicts of Turkey. From the “freedom revolution” of 1905 (The name of “freedom revolution” – Hurriyet Devrimi- was coined by the author who is largely sympathetic to it, contrary to many political thinkers in Turkey who accuse it from many angles, including the Armenian ‘Genocide’ ) to the foundation of the republic and the Kemalist ideological struggles. Finally, a discussion of the 1960 and 1980 coup d‘etat  concludes the book and gives the reader a framework to interpret today’s Turkey.

And I mean todays Turkey. It is a shame that the theses like “Duality of Kemalism”, “In-class conflict interpretation of the ’60s coup d’etat”, “Domination of the working class in ’80s coup d’etat” are missing from the mainstream discussion.  These are very helpful to explain and understand various milestone events in Turkey, including the protests today. The duality of Kemalism helps one to understand the enlightenment and the progressive elements of the founding period, while on the other hands explaining the darker aspects, including the heavy handed nationalism, oppression of more progressive thinkers and anti-unionism. The various intra and inter class struggles set the stage of both the progressive ’60s and the ‘national front’ darkness of the ’70s and its fierce opposition. Finally, the religious ideology sets the stage for a united front for the bourgeois which crushed the workers movement. In my humble opinion, the final part is where the book is a little weak, since the religious ideology has always played reactionary role in Turkey since the ’80s as a way to control working class, which lead to the deconstruction of Turkey today (which is sometimes called the 2nd Republic by many now). The fact that these ideological shifts happened rather rapidly, explains the fragmented nature of the protesters today, who come from such distinct backgrounds such as nationalism, anarchism, social democracy, liberalism and communism. But the process of protesting has a uniting effect, so let’s be hopeful.

I hope someone (perhaps the author himself) translates this book someday for the wider audience!