Turkish is the most widely spoken of the Turkic languages, with around 70 to 80 million speakers.

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Sample text in Turkish

An extract from a Turkish version of the Little Prince.

Küçük prens

Alti yaşimdayken, ilk çagin ormanlarini anlatan “Gerçek Öyküler” adli bir kitapta çok güzel bir resim görmüştüm. Bir boa yilani avini yutmak üzereyken resmedilmişti Işte bu çizimin bir kopyasi.

A long time ago, when I was six years old, in a book about primeval forests, called 'True Stories from Nature', I saw a magnificant drawing. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal. Here is a copy of the drawing.

The Turkish language

The most characteristic feature of Turkish is that it is an agglutinative language. This means that it has a tendency to ‘agglutinate’ or stick together speech elements which might be expressed in English by separate words such as prepositions or modal verbs. This process is not unknown in English: a past event may be shown with an –ed or –d attached to a regular verb. For example, enjoy becomes enjoyed.

This process is widespread in Turkish. Affixes attached in sequence to the end of a word do the work of grammatical features. They build up nouns and supply verbs with tense and person. For example:

anlamıyorum – I don’t understand is derived from anlamak (to understand) to which is added a negative suffix, and the first person present continuous tense indicator and the first person marker.

Participles can be used to express what would require a relative clause in English: ‘the man whose father is speaking’ becomes ‘father-his now speaking man’ babasını şimdi konuşan adam. In this phrase adam (man) is qualified by babasını (father-his) konuşan (speaking) şimdi (now).

So ideas that English expresses in a phrase or sentence can be conveyed in Turkish by single words made up of smaller units each with a specific grammatical function.

Vowel Harmonization is an important feature of the Turkish language. Vowel harmonization means that vowel sounds are frequently under the control of a vowel occurring earlier in a word or phrase.

In Turkish the verb will often be at the end of a sentence. The usual order being subject-object-predicate. A sentence will frequently start with its object as the subject is incorporated in the verb. So for example:

Biz bunu sipariş etmemistik – Literally, ‘We this order did-not-make’.

Genders. There are no genders in Turkish.

Adjectives come before the noun referred to and there are no genders.

Turkish verbs are very regular in the way they form their tenses. They consist of three fundamental elements: verb root, tense particle(s) and personal endings. Using anlamak again: its first person present is formed as anla- vr, -(i)yor tp, and –um (pe) – I understand. Anlamak itself is the infinitive form, to understand. Infinitives end in -mek or –mak and their verb roots are usually one or two syllables in length (this infinitive is the form to look for in a dictionary).

A frequent verb usage is one in which a noun is followed by an auxiliary verb such as etmek (to do) or olmak (to be, become). The usual expression for ‘thank you’, teşekkür ederim , follows this pattern (ederim is first person singular of the present aorist of etmek) and it illustrates another feature of this construction, which is that the noun in the compound is nearly always imported from another language, usually Arabic. In this case teşekkür is from an Arabic infinitive meaning ‘to render thanks’.

History of the Turkish language

The Turkish language has very ancient roots. It belongs to the Turkic branch of the great Altaic language family, which gets its name from the area bordered by the Altai Mountains of north-eastern Asia in which it is thought to have originated. These mountains extend over a thousand miles from the Gobi Desert to the West Siberian Plain. They take their name from a Turkish-Mongolian word altan, 'golden'.

Altaic family languages share a number of features which are prominent in modern Turkish: vowel harmonisation and agglutination, no definite articles, no grammatical gender and no prepositions; finite verbs formed from verb roots plus personal suffixes; a double genitive in which both possessor and possessed are modified and the possessed precedes the possessor; widespread use of 'verbal nominals' - these are words built on a verb root which can function as nouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc. These compound words play an important part in sentence formation, encapsulating what would require a phrase in English and fulfilling the role of relative clauses (see separate Learning Turkish and Vowel Harmony).

The first written records in a Turkic language go back to Mongolia in the 8th century ad. A 'runic' script was used which was widely prevalent. Later the majority of Turkic peoples adopted the Arabic script upon their conversion to Islam in the 11th century. In 1928 Kemel Atatürk, as part of his Westernizing project, introduced language reforms which included Romanization of the Turkish alphabet.

The original Turkic peoples, like their Mongol, Tungu and Hun neighbours, were nomadic. They took part in the great waves of migration from the steppes whose impact was felt in the early Middle Ages throughout Eurasia. Modern Turkish has its origins in the language spoken by the Oguz branch of the Turkic peoples who spread out from western Turkestan towards the Caucasus, Iran, Anatolia and the Balkans. Oguz nomads entered Anatolia in large numbers in the 11th century, and settled in its eastern and central regions after defeating Byzantine forces. From this territorial foothold the Ottoman Empire developed, becoming a world power that absorbed parts of Europe, Africa and Arabia and endured for six centuries. Modern Turkey emerged from its collapse in 1922.

Turkish is the main Turkic language, spoken throughout Turkey and by significant numbers in the Balkans, Romania and Bulgaria, in northern Cyprus, and in some Arab countries. There has been a significant Turkish diaspora and Turkish speakers are scattered throughout the world. Germany in particular has been a focus for Turkish immigration.

The Turkish language shows the influence of the many different cultures it has come into contact with over the course of its long history. After the adoption of Islam, Persian and Arabic became the major influences and the official language of the Ottoman Empire, referred to as Ottoman Turkish, reflected this. After the foundation of the Turkish Republic the language reform initiated by Kemel Atatürk not only Romanized the Turkish alphabet but also 'purified' the language by removing many Persian and Arabic loanwords from official discourse. New words were derived from Turkish roots to replace them and Old Turkish words which had fallen into disuse were brought back into circulation.


Turkish phrases ordered by topic
The Turkish language

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