Turkish Language


Turkish Language

Turkish belongs to the Altaic branch of the Ural-Altaic family of languages. Ural-Altaic languages were originally spoken by the Altai people who lived in the steppe area around the Altai mountains which form part of the border between China, Mongolia and Russia. The Altai people led a nomadic life and spread out over a vast geographical area, reaching as far as the Balkans. Turks, too, for centuries being nomads, took their language along where ever they moved. Today 100-120 million people speak these languages, generally called the Turkic Languages. A version of these Languages, Turkish, came to Anatolia with these people from the 11C and onwards. Turkish is a very ancient language, that goes back to 5500 years, and perhaps even 8500.

Ural-Altaic family of languages also includes Finnish and Hungarian, and is closely related to Mongolian, Manchu-Tungus, Korean, and perhaps Japanese. Some scholars say that the similarities are not fundamental, but rather the result of borrowings. However, Altaistic studies in recent years show that the languages listed here all go back to a common Ural-Altaic group.

The Turkish language is the sixth widely spoken language in the world, as through the span of history Turks have spread over a wide geographical area, taking their language with them. Turkish speaking people have lived in a wide area stretching from today's Mongolia to the north coast of the Black Sea, the Balkans, East Europe, Anatolia, Iraq and a wide area of northern Africa. Due to the distances involved, various dialects and accents have emerged. It is spoken in the Azeri, the Türkmen, the Tartar, the Uzbek, the Baskurti, the Nogay, the Kyrgyz, the Kazakh, the Yakuti, the Cuvas and in many other dialects from the Balkans across Central Asia into north western China and southern Siberia.

Turkish is the westernmost of the Turkic languages spoken across Central Asia and is generally classified as a member of the South-West group, also known as the Oguz-Türkmen language group. Except for superficial differences in vocabulary, the Turkic languages are similar enough that under other political circumstances they would very probably be considered dialects of the same language. The central Soviet government focused attention on, and fostered, the differences among the Central Asian republics and their languages. Now, with independence, these separate republics are exploring their similarities and differences, and working out their alliances with one another and with Turkey.

Other than differences in vocabulary, Turkish is mutually understandable among the Turkic languages spoken in adjacent areas, in particular Azerbaijani, Uzbek, and Turkmen, and a speaker of Turkish can be understood as far east as Kyrgyzstan.

Strictly speaking, the "Turkish" languages spoken between Mongolia and Turkey should be called Turkic languages, and the term "Turkish" should refer to the language spoken in Turkey alone. It is common practice, however, to refer to all these languages as Turkish, and differentiate them with reference to the geographical area, for example, the Turkish language of Azerbaijan.



The fundamental features which distinguish the Ural-Altaic languages from the Indo-European are as follows:

  1. Vowel harmony, a feature of all Ural-Altaic tongues.
  2. The absence of gender.
  3. Agglutination
  4. Adjectives precede nouns.
  5. Verbs come at the end of the sentence.

Linguistic Sketch of Turkish

As an Altaic language, Turkish has virtually nothing in common with English or other Indo-European languages except for some loan words, usually from French and some from English.

Like all of the Turkic languages, Turkish is agglutinative, that is, grammatical functions are indicated by adding various suffixes to stems. Suffixes may indicate passive, reflexive, causative, and other meanings. Separate suffixes on nouns indicate both gender and number but there is no grammatical gender in Turkish. The same word, "o", for example, means "he", "she" and "it".

Nouns are declined in three declensions with six case endings: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, and ablative; number is marked by a plural suffix.

Verbs agree with their subjects in case and number, and as in nouns, separate identifiable suffixes perform these functions. The order of elements in a verb form is: verb stem + tense aspect marker + subject affix.

There is no definite article; the number "one" may be used as an indefinite article.

Subject-Object -Verb word order in Turkish is a typical Turkic characteristic, but other orders are possible under certain discourse situations. As a SOV language where objects precede the verb, Turkish has postpositions rather than prepositions, and relative clauses that precede the verb.

One other descriptive feature of the Turkish language is the Vowel and Consonant. Turkish has 8 vowels, and 20 consonants. It also has Turkic vowel harmony in which the vowels of suffixes must harmonize with the vowels of noun and verb stems; thus, for example, if the stem has a round vowel then the vowel of the suffix must be round, and so on. Stress on words pronounced in isolation is on the final syllable, but in discourse, stress assignment is complicated especially in the verb.

Harmony: According to this principle rule front vowels (e, i,) and back vowels (a, i, o, u) go together with one another and do not make combinations with the other category. For example; "erik" plum, and "ucak" airplane.

There are suffixes are also added to the stem of the words to generate new words or even sentences. Take this extreme and interesting example for instance, "Cekoslavakyalilastiramadiklarimizdanmisiniz?." If we should translate this one word-sentence (43 letters) into English, it means " Are you one of those that we could not have possibly turned into a Checkoslavakian?" If we should have a closer look at the suffixes forming the sentence, we can find the following:

Cekoslavakya = Checkoslavakia
li = from
las = reflexive suffix
tir = causative suffix
a = ability
ma = negation
di = past tense
k = first person plural
lar = plural
i = harmony suffix
miz = first person plural
dan = from
mi = question suffix
siniz = second person plural

Interesting isn't it? I would again like to remind you that, this is one of the extremist examples and you don't usually get this long words.


Pronunciation of Turkish words is phonetic with all letters having the same value in every situation. The stress on Turkish words is more pronounced than in English. It usually falls on the last syllable. Names of places are the exceptions where stress can be on any syllable, such as Istanbul, Marmaris, and Izmir.

The Turkish alphabet is designed for the easiest phonetic description: For instance, to describe the sound of "ch" as in "chalk", in Turkish alphabet there is the letter of "c" with a cedilla, a dot under the letter "c". The same applies for "sh" sound as in "shore". In Turkish you simply put a cedilla under the letter "s". You can see these letters in the Turkish Alphabet chart above. (The reason why I refer you to that chart instead of writing these letters right here or why I don't use them in Turkish names in this site is that your browser might not support Turkish characters and you may find totally irrelevant letters if not signs instead.)

There is another interesting letter in Turkish and it is the so-called "the soft g". This symbol is created by adding a cedilla this time to the top of the letter "g". The reason why it is called "the soft g" is the fact that you prolong the preceding vowel when there is a "soft g", in a way softening the utterance.

The Turkish alphabet has 8 vowels (A E I I O Ö U Ü ) and 21 consonants. The letters Q, W and X do not exist in Turkish. Most letters are pronounced pretty much as you would expect, but some are not. Once the phonetic value of all letters is known, then it is rather easy to pronounce any word one sees or to spell any word one hears.

The following letters require explanation:

Aa = "a" as in "card" or "dark", never as "a" in"cat" or "back" ( kan = blood )
Cc = "J" as in "judge" ( can= life, soul, pronounced like "John" )
Çç = "ch" as in "church"( çay= tea, pronounced "chay", rhymes with "buy" )
Ee = "e" as in "bed" ( ekmek =bread )
Gg = "g" as in "get" ( gelin =bride )
g ( yumusak ge [soft g] Never appears as the first letter in a word; essentially silent; sometimes lengthens preceding vowel; sometimes pronounced like "y" in "yet" (dag =mountain, pronounced daa , rhymes with the "baa" of "baa baa black sheep"; diger =other, pronounced diyer )
li( undotted "i" ) "u" as in "radium" or "i" as in "cousin" (isik =ligth, irmak = river )
Ii( dotted "i" ) ="i" as in "sit" ( bir = one, pronounced like "beer" )
Jj = "j" as in "azure" (garaj = garage, pronounced as in French & English )
Oo = "o" as in "fold"(okul =school )
Öö German "ö" as in "König" or French "eu" as in "peur"( göl = lake, rhymes with furl)
Ss="s" as in "sing", never pronounced like a "z" as the "s" in "his"(ses = voice)
Ss="sh"as in "ship" (sey = thing, pronounced "shey" , rhymes with "hay")
Uu= "oo" as in "boot" (buz = ice, pronounced like "booze")
Üü German "ü" as in "für" or French "u" as in "tu" (gül = rose)
Zz="z" as in "zoo" (beyaz = white)

for more information http://www.turkey-kca.com/lang.html
If you also like to hear how these numbers are pronounced in Turkish visit http://www.onlineturkish.com/triala.asp

The three periods of Turkish language in Turkey

When Turkish in Turkey is considered in a chronological context, it can be classified according to three separate periods:

1) Ancient Written Records of Old Anatolian Turkish & Turkish in the Pre-Islamic Period

Turkish is a very ancient language, with a flawless phonetic, morphological and syntactic structure, and at the same time possesses a wealth of vocabulary. Recent studies show that this language goes back to 5500 years, and perhaps even 8500. Until the 10C AD, before the Turks adopted Islam and came to Anatolia, Turkish language was at its purest state because it was not influenced by any other language. Gokturk and Uighur Alphabets were used.

The oldest written records are found upon stone monuments in Central Asia, in the Orhon, Yenisey and Talas regions within the boundaries of present-day Mongolia. These were erected to Bilge Kaghan (735), Kültigin (732), and the vizier Tonyukuk (724-726). Apart from these, there are some one hundred inscriptions of various sizes mentioned by the Swedish army officer Johan von Strahlenberg. The first to read them and publish his results was the Danish Turcologist Wilhelm Thomsen, while the Russian Turcologist (of Prussian extraction) Wilhelm Radloff contributed in a major way to the deciphering of the script. The perfection of the language used in these records, which document the social and political life of the Gokturk Dynasty, proves that Turkish, as a language of letters, has been in use from very ancient times.

In later periods many forms of writing would appear: Nestorian writing in the northeast, Sogd, Uighur, and Pali writings in the southeast, Manichaean texts. In Brahman writing, and from the 11th centuary onward, Arabic script for Islamic texts. In addition, depending on the region in which they lived, the Turks have used Suryani, Armenian, Georgian and ancient Greek alphabeths, producing literary works which have transmitted the Turkish culture up to the present day.

After the waning of the Gokturk state, the Uighurs produced many written texts that are among the most important source works for the Turkish language. The Uighurs produced many written texts that are among the most important source works for the Turkish language. They abandoned shamanism (the original Turkish religion) in favor of Buddhism, Manichaeanism and Brahminism, and translated the pious and philosophical works of all of them into Turkish. Examples are Altun Yaruk, Mautrisimit, Sekiz Yükmek, Huastunift, etc. These were collected by european turcologists in Turkische Turfan-Texte.

The Kokturk (Gokturk) inscriptions, together with Uighur writings, are in a language called by scholars Old Turkish. This term refers to the Turkish spoken, prior to the conversion to Islam, on the steppes of Mongolia and Tarim basin.

With the emergence of the Cagatay Dynasty, which came about when the Empire of Genghis Khan was divided among his sons, a new wave of Turkish literature was born and flowered under the influence of Persian literature. It reached its pinnacle with the works of Ali Sir Navai in the 15th century.

The Turkish of Turkey that developed in Anatolia and across the Bosphorus in the times of the Seljuks and Ottomans was used in several valuable literary works prior to the 13th century. The men of letters of the time were, notably, Sultan Veled, the son of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, Ahmed Fakih, Seyyad Hamza, Yunus Emre, a prominent thinker of the time, and the famed poet, Gulsehri.

2) Ottoman Turkish & Turkish in the Islamic Period

Islamic period is the period between the 10C and 20C. From the 11C onward the Turks started to settle in Anatolia in large numbers, first as Seljuks and then later as Ottomans. They had already adopted Islam, which meant they were influenced by Arabic since the Koran was written in that language. However, Persian remained the language of art, refined literature and diplomacy. Common people spoke Turkish but used the Arabic alphabet to write it. This mixture was called Ottoman Turkish or the Ottoman language.

The "Divanü-Lügati't-Türk" (1072), the dictionary edited by Kasgarli Mahmut to assist Arabs to learn Turkish, was written in Arabic. In the following century, Edip Ahmet Mahmut Yükneri wrote his book "Atabetü'l-Hakayyk", in Eastern Turkish, but the title was in Arabic. All these are indications of the strong influence of the new religion and culture on the Turks and the Turkish language.

In spite of the heavy influence of Islam, in texts written in Anatolian Turkish the number of words of foreign origin is minimal. The most important reason for this is that during the period mentioned, effective measures were taken to minimize the influence of other cultures. For example, during the Karahanlilar period there was significant resistance of Turkish against the Arabic and Persian languages. The first masterpiece of the Muslim Turks, "Kutadgu Bilig" by Yusuf Has Hacib, was written in Turkish in 1069.

Ali Sir Nevai of the Çagatay Turks defended the superiority of Turkish from various points of view vis-a-vis Persian in his book "Muhakemetül-Lugateyn", written in 1498.

During the time of the Anatolian Seljuks and Karamanogullari, efforts were made resulting in the acceptance of Turkish as the official language and in the publication of a Turkish dictionary, "Divini Turki", by Sultan Veled (1277).

AhmetFakih, Seyyat Hamza and Yunus Emre adopted the same attitude in their use of ancient Anatolian Turkish, which was in use till 1299. Even after the emergence of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Orhan promulgated the first official document of the State, the "Mülkname", in Turkish.

In the 14th century, Asikpasa, Gülsehri, Ahmedi and Kaygusuz Abdal, in the 15th century Süleyman Çelebi and Haci Bayram and in the 16th century Sultan Abdal and Köroglu were the leading poets of their time, pioneering the literary use of Turkish. In 1530, Kadri Efendi of Bergama published the first study of Turkish grammar, "Müyessiretül-Ulum".

The outstanding characteristic in the evolution of the written language during these periods was that terminology of foreign origin was accompanied with the indigenous. Furthermore, during the 14th and 15th centuries translations were made particularly in the fields of medicine, botany, astronomy, mathematics and Islamic studies, which promoted the introduction of a great number of scientific terms of foreign origin into written Turkish, either in their authentic form or with Turkish transcriptions.

Scientific treatises made use of both written and vernacular Turkish, but the scientific terms were generally of foreign origin, particularly Arabic. However, the mixing of Turkish with foreign words in science and poetry did not last forever.

Ottoman Turkish was basically Turkish in structure, but with a heavy overlay of Arabic and Persian vocabulary and an occasional grammatical influence. Particularly after the 16th century foreign terms dominated written texts, in fact, some Turkish words disappeared altogether from the written language. In the field of literature, a great passion for creating art work of high quality persuaded the ruling elite to attribute higher value to literary works containing a high proportion of Arabic and Persian vocabulary, which resulted in the domination of foreign elements over Turkish. This development was at its extreme in the literary works originating in the palace. This trend of royal literature eventually had its impact on folk literature, and numerous foreign words and phrases were used by folk poets.

The extensive use of Arabic and Persian in science and literature not only influenced the spoken language in the palace and its surroundings, but as time went by, it also persuaded the Ottoman intelligentsia to adopt and utilise a form of palace language (Ottoman Turkish) heavily reliant on foreign elements.

As a result, there came into being two different types of language. One in which foreign elements dominated, and the second was the spoken Turkish used by the public.

From the 16th to the middle of the 19th century, Turkish used in science and literature was supplemented and enriched by the inclusion of foreign items under the influence of foreign cultures. However, since there was no systematic effort to limit the inclusion of foreign words in the language, too many began to appear.

In the mid-19th century, Ottoman Reformation (Tanzimat) enabled a new understanding and approach to linguistic issues to emerge, as in many other matters of social nature.

The Turkish community which had been under the influence of Eastern culture, was exposed to the cultural environment of the West. As a result, ideological developments such as the outcome of reformation and nationalism in the West, began to influence the Turkish community, and thus important changes came into being in the cultural and ideological life of the country.

The most significant characteristic with respect to the Turkish language was the tendency to eliminate foreign vocabulary from Turkish.

In the years of the reformation, the number of newspaper, magazines and periodicals increased and accordingly the need to purify the language became apparent.

The writing of Namik Kemal, Ali Suavi, Ziya Pasa, Ahmet Mithat Efendi and Semsettin Sami which appeared in various newspapers tackled the problem of simplification.

Efforts aimed at "Turkification" of the language by scholars like Ziya Gökalp became even more intensive at the beginning of the 20th century.

Furthermore, during the reform period of 1839, emphasis was on theoretical linguistics whereas during the second constitutional period it was on the implementation and use of the new trend. Consequently new linguists published successful examples of the purified language in the periodical "Genç Kalemler" (Young Writers).

3) 20th Century Turkish - The Republican Era and Language Reform

With the proclamation of the Republic in 1923 and after the process of national integration in the 1923-1928 period, parallel to all the changes and reforms in the country, there was consciousness towards the language as well. The subject of adopting a new alphabet became an issue of utmost importance. In this period no one played a more important role in the development of modern Turkish than Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had the Latin alphabet adapted to the Turkish vowel system, believing that to reach the level of contemporary civilization, it was essential to benefit from western culture.

The creation of the Turkish Language Research Society in 1932 with the objective of simplifying and purifying the language, was another milestone in the effort to reform the language. It's efforts produced positive results and important steps were taken to simplify the Turkish language by purifying it of Arabic and Persian words and idioms that had invaded the literary language during the Ottoman Empire.

The studies of the society, later renamed the Turkish Linguistic Association, concentrated on making use again of authentic Turkish words discovered in linguistic surveys and research and bore fruitful results.

At present, in conformity with the relevant provision of the 1982 Constitution, the Turkish Language Association continues to function within the organizational framework of the Ataturk Cultural, Linguistic and Historical Higher Council. The purification, simplification, enrichment and enhancement of Turkish are among the responsibilities of this organization.

Language reform has closed the language gap that used to exist between the classes in Turkish society and a certain democratization of language and literature has occurred during the 20C.

The essential outcome of the developments of the last 50-60 years is that whereas before 1932 the use of authentic Turkish words in written texts was 35-40 percent, this figure has risen to 75-80 percent in recent years.

This is the concrete proof that Atatürk's language revolution gained the full support of public.


In making this page, I referred the information on following sites:

Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs' web site  http://www.mfa.gov.tr/grupc/ca/caf/default.htm
Turkey Travel     http://www.turkeytravel.org/language.html