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ABSTRACT This dissertation tracks what I term the public dispensability of language: the apportioning of particular language varieties to contexts deemed public by their users, and the dialectical, productive potential for language forms to assemble and shape publics of varying durability and form. The work of linguistic representation, as phenomena described in this dissertation demonstrate acutely, produces not only the people involved as participants in communication, but also the groupings to which they belong, against which they mobilize, through which they live their relationships to the world. These representational processes are deeply internalized and reproduced at both the most unremarkably quotidian and unabashedly spectacular scales. Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork in literacy classrooms, Kurdish language classes, and wider community spaces in Turkey, I examine how language is used in public and how language is used to assemble publics, and explore the fraught politics of a would-be public Kurdish. I investigate how ways with text – reading, writing, brandishing, and circulating text objects – become indices of, and means to, the transformations of selves, and explore some of the consequences – personal, political, linguistic, moral – that ensue. Although the official ban on Kurdish (the largest minority language in Turkey) was lifted in 1991, the use of Kurdish in public life in Turkey remains restricted and politically fraught. Decades of violent confrontation between state security forces and Kurdish militants continue to frame “the Kurdish question” in Turkey, defining national debates over the future of democratic pluralism and national security. In recent years, the Kurdish political project has been increasingly pitched in terms of expanded linguistic rights, particularly for “mother tongue education.” Yet the majority of able speakers – women and older generations, who grew up in monolingual rural settings – are also the least likely to have had formal schooling or to have developed comprehensive literacy skills. A paradox thus unfolds: a newly emergent Kurdish language press produces texts (grammars, novels, newspapers, etc.) that few can read, since those who wield literacy are unlikely to know Kurdish, and those most likely to be proficient in Kurdish are unlikely to know how to read. How do expectations around language forms both presuppose and produce contexts as variously public, and with what stakes for negotiations of political and personal sovereignty? I examine how language ideologies and linguistic practices mediate the everyday productions of self- and group-making, and highlight the importance of understanding the political economy of language in Turkey – the politics around which language is deployed in what contexts, to what purposes, and with what histories of association. Key words: language politics; publics; literacy; Kurdish; Turkey

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