Articles > Discovering the Turkish languageby Alexis Ulrich
A true bridge between the East and the West, Turkey is rich of a culture at the crossroads of many civilizations. The beauty of its language, which seems at the same time close by its alphabet, and already distant by its sounds and its vocabulary, invites to its discovery.
The Turkish alphabet and its pronunciation are very similar to English, even if some letters are pronounced differently, like the c pronounced /dj/, the ğ (g with breve, called
An agglutinative language
Like all Altaic languages, Turkish is an agglutinative language, meaning that it adds suffixes to express grammatical features. From
And in order for words to flow naturally, to be easily pronounced, rules of vowel harmony were developed, as we will see now.
The simple vowel harmony
Turkish vowels are grouped into two sets of vowels: a, ı, o and u on one side, and e, i, ö and ü on the other. The simple harmony indicates the suffix vowel used for plural, infinitive and cases according to the last vowel of the word.
The formation of plurals follows the rule of simple vowel harmony. We have for instance
Moreover, when we count things in Turkish, we do not put the counted word in plural:
The complex vowel harmony
Complex harmony groups vowels in a two-dimensional, vowel-harmony system: front vowels (e, i, ö, ü) and back vowels (a, ı, o, u), rounded vowels (o, ö, u, ü) and unrounded vowels (a, e, ı, i).
Without going into details, it is used for example in the interrogative particles:
A case-based language with six cases
Turkish has six cases: nominative, accusative (the object of the action), genitive (possession), dative (for whom the action is performed), ablative (the origin of the action), and locative (the place of the action). Accusative and genitive follow the rules of complex harmony; dative, ablative and locative, those of simple harmony.
No grammatical gender
At last some simplification: Turkish has no grammatical gender. The pronoun
And while we’re on the subject, the conjugation is done in the form of suffixes. The verb to be goes even further since in the present tense, it is directly suffixed to the word it concerns:
Turkish is a Subject-Object-Verb language, the most common order found in about 45% of languages (the Subject-Verb-Object order of English is found in only about 42% of languages).
My mother watches television is said
In the early 1930s, Atatürk, the first president of Turkey, launched a reform to replace the Arabic alphabet of the Ottoman Empire with an adapted Latin alphabet, the so-called Sign Revolution (
We find words from French, representing about 5% of the vocabulary, such as
Of course, there are still many words in Turkish of Arabic origin. There would be 6% of them. For example, we can mention,
To sum up (and go further)
As we have quickly seen, the Turkish language follows a SOV order, it has a vowel harmony, it is agglutinative by means of sufixes, and has no grammatical gender. All these characteristics are shared by the Turkic language family which includes about thirty languages covering a huge area from Eastern Europe to Western China and from Cyprus to Siberia.
Modern Turkish has about 80 million speakers, then there are Azerbaijani with 35 million speakers, Uzbek (25 millions), Kazakh (16 millions), Uyghur (15 millions), Tatar (8 millions), of which 500,000 speakers for Crimean Tatar, Turkmen (7 millions), Kyrgyz (4 millions), Bashkir (2 millions), Chuvash (2 millions), Yakut (500,000)…
In total, the Turkish languages count between 200 and 250 million speakers, some are written in the Latin alphabet, others in Cyrillic, but all with a relatively similar vocabulary. Learning Turkish allows you to touch a cultural and geographical immensity that goes far beyond Turkey, a true bridge between the East and the West.